Take a tour through historic Bundanon

The Bundanon Homestead has a long and varied history, filled with tragedy and triumph. The following information is courtesy of Bundanon Trust, bundanon.com.au.


In 1838 Dr Kenneth Mackenzie settled at Bundanon with his wife Julia, just west of Haunted Point on the Shoalhaven River. He built a timber house on the edge of the tree line above one of the natural water sources at Bundanon (the foundations are still visible on the property). The following year they made application to lease the neighbouring 850 acres. Their five children were born in that house.

The disastrous flood of 1860 impacted dramatically on the landscape of Bundanon and would have hastened the construction of the two story Georgian stone homestead which had begun in the 1850s. Sandstone blocks from the local area, cedar from the property and lime mortar made from shell deposits collected from the Shoalhaven River were used. The house, completed in 1866, was built on high ground above the flood level and doors, ceilings and all internal fine joinery were of local cedar, except for the floors which are hardwood.

A filmed tour of Bundanon

In 1866 the Mackenzie family moved into the newly constructed, Sparrow Peck finish (also known as Convict or Quarry Pick), sandstone block, two-storey homestead ‘Bundanon’. Sadly Julia had died from cancer in 1858 and so never saw it finished. The homestead had been carefully sited above the flood levels of earlier deluges. The floods of 1870 washed away most of the Bundanon outbuildings; however the homestead and the worker’s huts survived as they were situated at a higher elevation.

Dr Kenneth Mackenzie and his eldest son Murdo returned to Scotland in 1869 to take up ownership of the ancestral home in Dundonnell. On the death of his father, Murdo inherited this property in 1878.

Second son Hugh Mackenzie, inherited Bundanon that same year. Hugh had married Bella Mary Biddulph of ‘Eearie’ (an adjacent property) in 1876. By 1901 they had 11 children all born at Bundanon who, when old enough, were taught by a governess. A tennis court to the east of the house had been constructed by 1902 and was frequently used by the extended family and friends.

Their eldest son Kenneth took over the property on the death of his father in 1917. Under Kenneth, Bundanon was home to between 25 and 30 people, including the Mackenzie family and five to six farm labourers and servant families. However, Kenneth Mackenzie Jnr’s ownership of the property was short-lived as he drowned in 1922 in the Shoalhaven River trying to save his daughter Helen, who had been washing her pony before going to the Nowra Show. The Jacaranda tree in the garden was planted in memory of Kenneth and Helen.

The two-storey homestead Bundanon.

The two-storey homestead Bundanon.

Tenant farmers

Following the drowning death of her husband in the Shoalhaven River Kenneth’s widow, Aylene Mackenzie, with her daughter Jean and son Colin, departed the property in 1926. The ‘Bundanon Farm’ was then leased to tenant farmers for the next 40 years, including the Henry, Martin, Scott and Warren families.

Bundanon was finally sold out of the Mackenzie family in 1967 to Jim Lawrence for $23,000. Alan Warren, with his wife Joan and young family stayed on as the tenant farmers until the property was again sold in 1968 to Sandra and Tony McGrath and Frank McDonald for $56,000.

The punt

Access by boat or punt to Bundanon was already possible by the late 1840s, and mandatory, given the poor condition of the track from the west. Hugh Mackenzie included the punt in his description of farm structures in a letter to his sister about a major flood they had recently survived in early 1870.

The two Bunya Pines planted to the south of the Homestead identifying the track to the punt, and were used as markers for visitors coming up from or across the river. In the late 1920s milk was taken to the factory at Bomaderry every day at 7.30 am using the punt.

There was a punt cable and a tin shed on the Bamarang side with a sulky or buggy. A bell was rung to attract attention. Later the punt was replaced with a larger version capable of carrying a horse and buggy, and a small boat was left on the opposite side to the punt.

When there was heavy rain and floods were imminent the punt was pulled up high onto the bank of the river to avoid it being washed away. Unfortunately it was washed away in the early 1970s. After this the road from the west via Cambewarra was the main means of access to the property.

By the 1900s, the homestead was the focus of the estate, which was now mostly self-contained. Farming activity was serviced by the various buildings, including a smithy, laundry and buggy shed, sited near the western gate to the homestead yard. To the north a range of buildings, including a curing shed for hams and bacon, were located in treed areas which gave way in the east to large fenced vegetable and orchard plots above the dam. The orchard at Bundanon provided fruit for those on the property and for neighbouring farms in the 1880s.

The Singleman’s hut at Bundanon.

The Singleman’s hut at Bundanon.

The Singleman’s Hut

The Singleman’s hut at Bundanon is reported to have been originally built as a dwelling for an Aboriginal employee. It was built after the homestead was completed, in the early 1870s.

Located across the lagoon, it provided permanent accommodation for one person, originally there was a second identical room for overnight visiting workers. Each room held an iron bed and mattress, table, billy can and pannikin (tin mug), cutlery, tea and sugar and tin of biscuits; a built-in timber cupboard at the side of each fireplace provided storage.

The Singleman’s hut, with stone fireplace and chimney, was built above the high flood level of 1870 (and therefore the previous flood of 1860) as was the main house. The structure displays good workmanship and displays similar masonry techniques to those used in the homestead.

The pastural grounds of Bundanon.

The pastural grounds of Bundanon.

The homestead, gardens and grounds

The first house built by Dr Mackenzie at Bundanon was on the ridgeline west of Haunted Point overlooking the river flats. The hearth and other footings from the original cedar homestead remain. Following floods in 1860 the Mackenzies hastened to complete the current sandstone and cedar house.

From the available evidence Bundanon homestead, completed in 1866, was constructed using well detailed machine sawn timber in the roof, floors and ceilings. Machine sawn hardwood joists are visible below the stairs while the wide boards of the cedar ceilings downstairs show large diameter machine saw marks in some places.

Around the time of the building of the homestead the Mackenzies started the garden. Some of the first plantings were the landmark Bunya pines to the south. These were to assist visitors coming up the river to identify the location of the house.

Similarly the Norfolk Island pine and the Cook Island pine planted to the west greeted visitors who came in via the track that is now our road. Dating from the 1860s these 150 year old trees have a potential lifespan of 400 years.

The original orchard and vegetable garden were located to the north east of the homestead, between the ridge line and the 1870s constructed dam. The orchard was producing fruit including loquats for those living at Bundanon and neighbouring land holders into the late 1880s. The introduction of coral trees to the landscape dates from 1950 at the earliest.

During the late 1920s the property appears to have changed slowly. Changes were limited to removal of one of the early slab sheds at the stockyards and the addition of new sheds on the ‘common’.

The McGraths and McDonalds

During their ownership of the property (1968-79) the majority of the working buildings around Bundanon homestead were removed and the grounds extensively landscaped. A breezeway was added in 1969 to link the homestead to the weatherboard kitchen and servants quarters, and a pergola was added in between.

Inside, the downstairs front bedroom was converted into a library with extensive shelving, the rear room became a dining room and upstairs a bedroom was converted into a bathroom. Electricity and running water were added and much of the cedar trim for windows, doors and skirting boards was painted gloss enamel white.

The McGraths and McDonald visited Bundanon largely at weekends bringing family and friends. McDonald was responsible for inviting Arthur and Yvonne Boyd to stay on the property for the first time. Their network of creative contacts were regular visitors who enjoyed generous hospitality.

The McGraths and McDonald had a vision for Bundanon to become an artistic retreat but were not successful in interesting the State Government in acquiring the property, eventually selling it to the Boyds in 1979 for $300,000.

Boyd's studio as he left it.

Boyd's studio as he left it.

The Boyds

In 1979 when Arthur and Yvonne Boyd purchased Bundanon they added it to their existing landholdings on the Shoalhaven River at Riversdale (acquired in 1973).

They sent a shipping container of rugs and furniture from England and moved their Shoalhaven base from Riversdale to Bundanon. As a priority Boyd built a studio west of the homestead adjacent to the sculpture garden.

For the next four years the Bundanon property was managed by David Blackall, then from 1983-93 property management was taken over by Rod and Debbie Walker until it was bequeathed to the Australian people. The property continues to be managed by the Bundanon Trust, on behalf of the Commonwealth Government for the people of Australia.

For more details on events happening at Bundanon, like The Big Draw and performances, visit bundanon.com.au

The walks of Bundanon

The walks of Bundanon

This story Take a tour through historic Bundanon first appeared on South Coast Register.