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What the blazes,
let's share a bottle of wine on the terrace


When the January bushfires were at their worst around Penrith, they came right to the verandah of James Broadbent's early colonial cottage at Mulgoa. His cottage was saved but the destruction in the nearby national park at Regentville brought to light the remains of one of Australia's earliest vineyards.

By Geraldine O'Brien

Left: The bushfires at Regentville have revealed the horizontal terraces of Jamison's vineyard laid out by Frederick Meyer in 1830 - the first terraced vineyard in the colony.

 Although the location of the vineyard had always been known to scholars and historians, thick scrub, lantana and wild olives had effectively hidden it from view. Dr Broadbent, a curator with the NSW Historic Houses Trust said the the fires had revealed a whole gully, carefully terraced with river boulders up both sides and an early dam at its foot. "The terraces are about a metre wide by half a metre high. For years, they have been so heavily overgrown, you couldn't see anything. Now they have been revealed."
 The land had been owned by Sir John Jamison, who, at one point, "owned half of Sydney", was one of the founders of the Bank of NSW and of the Sydney Turf Club, first president of the Australian Patriotic Association, and master of extensive agricultural holdings. These included lands on the Namoi and Richmond Rivers, at Bathurst and at Capertee.
 According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, his mid 1820s Regentville Estate became a famous country house and model property, "with vineyards, an irrigation scheme and a woollen mill built about 1842". He even had his own racecourse at Penrith.
 Colleen Morris, a heritage landscape consultant, had previously studied the site for the National Trust with colleague Geoffrey Britton, and for their draft study, Colonial Cultural Landscapes of the Cumberland Plain and Camden. She says that in 1829, Jamison claimed to have been cultivating grapes in the colony for the past 12 years.
 In 1830, he reported that he had employed a German, Frederick Meyer, to lay out a vineyard along the latest German and French lines - the first terraced vineyard in the colony. "The terraces ought to be carried from the bottom, horizontally along the hill," he wrote, "...and fronted with a dry stone wall if possible." The "most appropriate part of the natural soil" should be applied, "carefully avoiding manure...where the vines are to be planted. Afterwards, attention must be paid to keep the vine-yard clean of herbage and grass, by light hoeing of the surface, as frequently as may be necessary."
 She quotes an early description of the vineyards as "enclosed by hedges of the chine rose and lemon" (roses are still used in vineyards as an 'early warning system' for certain fungal
diseases) and containing 30,000 to 40,000 vines representing over 200 varieties.
 Among those who laboured in Jamison's vineyard, Ms Morris reports, was Sir Henry Parkes, who worked there for a year from 1839. "It was his first employment in Australia, and he didn't think much of Sir John Jamison's treatment of his workers". The vineyard appears in a pencil sketch and an early 1835 painting by Conrad Martens, with the latter clearly showing the terraces, a small house (or winery), a dam, and a road skirting the crest of the hill to the north of the vineyard.
 Meyer also laid out several other vineyards in the colony, including one Ms Morris believes was near Paddington's Scottish Hospital site. But Baron von Hugel was less than impressed with Meyer's work. He wrote that the Jamison vineyard "has been laid out according to mistaken notions current in the colony: wherever there is very arid, cold, sandy soil, the settlers think this is the best place for grape vines." The terraces, he said, were "none of them wide enough for the (vine) roots, with retaining walls of stones. The grape vine cuttings were then stuck into the sand here, without any soil or manure. The whole thing certainly looks like a vineyard, as these are painted in pictures - any child can recognise it instantly as such - but the results will not be satisfactory."
 Ms Morris said the discovery at Regentville posed an interesting management dilemma for the future. "Previously, I would have thought getting rid of the weeds was quite important but they seem to have protected the fabric." If the National Parks Service were to promote native vegetation on the site it would have to be carefully managed to preserve the terraces.
 Geraldine O'Brien is the Heritage Writer for the Sydney Morning Herald. Story reproduced with the permission of Geraldine O'Brien and courtesy of the Hearld.

Above: Pencil sketch of Regentville by Conrad Martens - by courtesy of owner Caroline Simpson and Sotherbys.

 

Original story appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on the 18th February 2002 and has subsequently been reprinted under the title "Devastating Bush Fires Reveal Early Vineyard" in the May-June 2002 edition of The National Trust Quarterly publication Reflections. Images scanned in from the Reflections publication.

 

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