Brushing up the Bush

Ann Hills explores heritage Down Under.

Gerald Terry, in his mid-eighties, showed us around Rouse Hill House, an hour's travel west of Sydney. 'They want to leave the holes in the ceiling,' he complained in the once pristine stone-flagged hall.

'They' are the Historic Houses Trust, an agency of the New South Wales government who acquired the house through compulsory purchase when family disputes threatened its sale. Conservation is being carried out with as light a touch as possible so that Rouse Hill can be seen through its rise and decline, retaining imperfections as part of the story of the Rouse family, who arrived in Australia from Oxford in 1801 and later became influential landowners.

Australia is in the grip of a fascination with its historical roots. In New South Wales, which boasts the oldest and richest cultural heritage, Rouse Hill is a jewel, lauded by Sir John Betjeman during a visit in 1971. This year it is opening to the public.

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