The homestead at Boree Cabonne in the Orange district of central western NSW commands sweeping views of the surrounding pastoral land. And rightly so, because for more than a century from the mid-1800s the Smith family owned as far as the eye could see. They ran a vast Merino empire, which could trace its origins back to the very foundations of the Australian wool industry.
The land on which Boree Cabonne now stands was part of a larger grant given in 1830 to Sydney merchant and later Bathurst farmer Captain Thomas Raine and explorer and statesman William Charles Wentworth. Named from the Aboriginal words for the big myall trees that punctuated the landscape, Boree Cabonne was sold to Thomas Hood in the 1840s and then in 1851 to John Smith, the great, great grandfather of the present owners Tina McGeoch and her husband, Andy.
The original low-slung, single-storey homestead is believed to have been built in 1855. The later homestead, a grand, 35-room, two-storey mansion of double bricks made on-site, was built by John Smith’s son, Lancelot Noel Smith, between 1894 and 1896. Its architect was William Lamrock, whose CV also includes St Matthew’s church in Cumnock and St Patrick’s in nearby Wellington. Tina McGeoch says that from the way the cast-iron balustrading surrounds all sides of the Victorian-era homestead, the family believes the first house was planned for demolition once the “big” house was built. However, for reasons lost to history, it survived and the building, which has served as a dairy, gun and poisons store (during the rabbit plague), meat house and bachelor quarters, is now used as a guest wing.
Lancelot’s first wife was Gertrude Machattie, daughter of Bathurst’s first doctor, and they took over Boree Cabonne in 1872. Gertrude died in 1889 shortly after the homestead’s completion and the role of furnishing and decorating it fell to Lancelot’s second wife, Emily. Many items that remain in the homestead today were bought on the couple’s honeymoon tour of Europe and the UK. “Over the years pieces went and came back to the house,” Tina explains. “But the fact it has remained in the same family for so long is probably the reason so much of the house is original.”
In the 1830s, John Smith had bought the nucleus of his merino herd from W.M. Betts, a nephew of the Reverend Samuel Marsden, who is credited with importing the first Merino sheep from Spain. Smith’s stud was subsequently registered as the colony’s Flock Number 8. In John Smith’s time the property covered 35,840 acres (14,500 hectares) and boasted a herd of nearly 8500 sheep. “We have record books that show that in 1853 John Smith cut 80,366lbs [about 36 tonnes] of wool from 30,318 sheep,” Tina says.
When Lancelot Noel died in 1931, Boree Cabonne passed to his son James Machattie (Mac) Smith who lived there with his wife, Bertha, and family until 1956. Mac’s son, Jim, and his wife, Toots, became the next generation’s custodians until they sold in 1989 to Tina and Andy. These days, the property is reduced to 150 acres (60 hectares) but Tina’s cousins continue the family tradition by farming some of the former Boree Cabonne land and Andy uses the homestead as the home base for his career as a stud stock specialist with Elders.
The entrance hall of the homestead remains much as it was at the beginning of the 20th century, with its tessellated Italian floor tiles and Italian rosa marble fireplace. The heavy cedar door features painted glass panels depicting scenes of Sydney Harbour and Fort Denison. Pride of place goes to a ship’s piano, believed to be one of the first pianos transported over the Blue Mountains for Dr Machattie’s wife.
Furniture may have come and gone from the house and other items rearranged but there’s no shifting the billiard table, which stands on piers that go through the floor to support it. The table was installed before the room was finished and the room built around it. The wallpaper and hand-painted friezes are original as are the blinds on the north-facing windows, a rack of cues and scoring device. Unusual features include a raised seat for spectators to watch the game and a wash basin in one corner of the room as players had to scrub up before they were allowed near the green baize.
The drawing room also preserves many original features including the wallpaper, frieze, cornicing and ceiling rose. The gold mirror and many paintings came from Tina’s great grandparents’ honeymoon trip and the clock on the mantelpiece and a music stand also belonged to Emily. All the joinery in the room is red cedar, as are the doors and skirting boards.
The morning room remains one of Tina’s favourites, a tranquil space also designed for Emily. Because it’s relatively small, it was easy to heat, making it a great spot for entertaining visitors, writing letters and sewing, the principal entertainments of women of her generation. The dining room contains the original dining table, which can be extended to seat 18, chairs and dinner wagon. The sideboard and dinner wagon display the many cups and trophies awarded to the station through the years for their sheep as well as race and buggy horses. Tina’s father was baptised from the Dubbo Cup won by Pierrot in 1903.
There was only a hatch between the pantry where the silver and crystal were cleaned and the kitchen until Tina’s grandfather put a door through. It was a sign of the changing times that until the 1940s and ’50s it was unthinkable that the owners would actually spend time in the kitchen. When he was at the station on his own, Mac often ate there with the cook and other staff.
Of course, many things have changed at Boree Cabonne over the years. In its glory days the homestead employed 10 servants, one of whom was solely responsible for cleaning the fireplaces. Today that task, like most duties around the house and extensive gardens, falls to Tina or Andy. But the McGeochs wouldn’t have it any other way — they are justly proud of the homestead and the fact that their little grandson Jamie represents the seventh generation of the Smith family with connections to the property. Tina and Andy open the homestead for tours by appointment. Tina’s afternoon tea is as legendary as the many stories she is able to tell about her ancestors. Be sure to take a look at the miner’s couch in the master bedroom; family lore has it that it gained its unusual shape as a result of a family dispute over whom its rightful owner was and the argument was resolved by cutting the piece in half.
To arrange tours of the homestead and grounds, phone Tina McGeoch on (02) 6364 2007.