It was sad circumstances that saw us back in Mittagong for just one night. An extremely precious friend from our school days passed away very suddenly after his leukaemia returned, almost three years since his bone marrow transplant.
Around 30 of his school friends gathered in Mittagong the night before his funeral to share and swap stories and toast the mate whose life was cruelly taken way too soon.
Drew and I needed somewhere to stay for just one night and a google search led me to The Fitzroy Inn. How could I resist the appeal of this stunning example of early Australian history, built in 1836.
The Fitzroy Inn sits on the edge of the town of Mittagong in a quiet, peaceful and picturesque setting. Back in 1836, this was the first Inn that not only provided accommodation but also served liquor. It is also the property that had the very first tennis court built in Australia that today is an all-weather court.
There is no doubt the Inn built in the Georgian style was built by convicts. Down in the basement the original kitchen has been heralded as the finest example of a convict-era built kitchen remaining in Australia.
The original water-well remains in the kitchen although today there is a safety rail positioned around it. The well that has been hand-cut into the shale is a truly remarkable work of convict masonry and craftsmanship.
Down in the basement there is also a gaol cell. It was used to lock up prisoners on their way to Berrima Gaol. The iron shackles are still in the cell as are the hand-turned iron bars on the door that sealed in the occupants. Today the gaol cell is a much more happy place as instead of storing prisoners, it now cellars wine.
Emerging from the basement/cellar/gaol, we come into a ‘home’ that has been lovingly and painstakingly restored. And when I say ‘painstakingly’ I mean during the restoration works in 2003 every sandstone ‘brick’ was removed, treated, and then put back in its original position. Every inappropriate and unsympathetic ‘renovation’ that had occurred through the history of the property (it was the Fitz Roy Inn from 1836 – 1868, the Oak Grange School from 1871 – 1890’s, and the Oakland’s Guest House from 1920’s – 1960’s), was removed and the original features restored.
When you are within the building of the Fitzroy Inn, you can feel the convict history of our Early Settlers. Evidence is all around from the convict labour that built the Inn, the gaol down in the basement, the low height of the doorways, and the wraparound verandahs designed to keep the Inn warmer in winter and cooler in summer.
Our accommodation was in the newly-restored school master’s cottage. We stayed in one of the very generously-sized upstairs rooms with French doors opening onto the landscaped grounds. The room was warm and peaceful and cosy.
The latest news for the Fitzroy Hotel is that Geoff Jantz, a well-known Australian chef due to a 20-year TV career, has opened Farm Table, the Inn’s new restaurant. Geoff lives locally and grows the produce for the restaurant on his own property. Just that morning his arrival was delayed as he waited for the Autumn sun to warm up the lettuces before harvesting them.
The restaurant is positioned in the original stables of the Inn. The walls are made of hand cut stone and timber and today they’re decorated in fairy lights and candles. This is a beautiful and romantic setting for a lunch or dinner.
Unfortunately we were not able to experience the restaurant due to our tight schedule but Geoff kindly invited us to have a drink with him. When he asked me what I’d like to drink I said, ‘I was thinking of a white but I think it’s cold enough for red’. Geoff said, ‘Good choice; at this time of year we’re all drinking red in the Highlands’. And so hovering close to the fireplace we shared a glass of Pinot.
I’m not a winter person but Drew and I are now planning a winter escape to the Southern Highlands so we can enjoy the Fitzroy Inn for a whole lot longer and be there to experience Farm Table. I said to Geoff, ‘Winter in Sydney is just annoying but winter in the Southern Highlands is magical; we’ll be back’.
Fitzroy Inn: 1 Ferguson Street, Mittagong NSW 2575
Ph: 61 2 4872 3457