Egleston

The decision to sell their famous family estate, Kameruka, was gut-wrenching for Frank Foster and his wife, Odile. It meant severing ties with more than 150 years of a Tooth dynasty tradition, about 4000 hectares of prized beef and dairy country on the New South Wales south coast, an 1834 verandah-lined homestead and gardens that were a six-time winner of the Sydney Morning Herald garden competition.

But it also led the couple to Egleston, near Campbell Town in the Central Midlands, and they still can't believe their luck.

They are now the proud custodians of a stunningly restored Georgian mansion that is steeped in history, with gently sloping gardens above river flats that would bring a tear to any former dairy farmer's eye, and it is all just one hour's drive away from the trout-fishing heaven of the Central Highlands.

The original owner of this property, John Headlam, and his family arrived in Hobart in 1820 from the English village of Eggleston, in County Durham.

They were 'the first who built and established a respectable Boarding School in Hobart at great expense', Headlam wrote in a memorial to Governor Arthur for land. They received 775 acres of land on the Macquarie River, but didn't move to Egleston until 1830, when Headlam retired as headmaster of a government school in Launceston, reportedly amid controversy over his teaching style.

His grand seven-bedroom brick and stucco Georgian mansion was built about this time.

Son Charles Headlam took over Egleston upon his father's death and, in 1851, founded the Egleston stud flock with five Saxon Merino ewes and one ram. He would become the biggest pastoralist in Tasmania, with holdings eventually totalling some 80,000 acres, on which he ran 60,000 sheep.

In 1852 Charles Headlam pleaded with the colonial secretary for the continuation of convict transportation as it was already so difficult to find enough workers for his farms.

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Tasmania's first shearing machines were installed in the Egleston woolshed, which established a reputation for fine, dense, top-priced wool.

Egleston had several other owners before Launceston sawmiller Stephen Kerrison made it his home. Kerrison is credited with much of its restoration, which included lavish use of wood, from blackwood parquet floors laid in a 1980s addition to the home, to the fittings in the modernised kitchen, and even the authentically colonial-looking built-ins in some of the formal rooms.

In 2003 Kerrison, aged about eighty, drowned at Bakers Beach, in Tasmania's north. After his death, his daughter lived at Egleston for a year before it was put on the market.

The Campbell Town community was abuzz after the October 2004 auction, when a mystery bidder paid two and a half million dollars for Egleston.

Tongues were really wagging when, two weeks later, Virgin Blue co-founder Rob Sherrard snapped up nearby Lake House at auction and was revealed as the new owner of the two. Mr Sherrard had his heart set on Lake House, the auction of which was to take place two weeks after that of Egleston. Not wanting to risk ending up with neither, Mr Sherrard bid on Egleston, and then Lake House, and ended up with them both.

While Egleston was already in good condition, Mr Sherrard did some updating, adding bathrooms, removing wallpaper and carpet, and polishing up the cedar and Baltic pine floorboards, skirting boards and other fittings.

Water that had filled the cellar was removed, and a pump installed to keep it that way, and drainage problems between the house and the outbuildings were fixed in a major operation that involved correcting the ground levels to create raised lawn areas, and then putting in stone retaining walls in front of the old outbuildings and around some of the ornamental trees.

Significant work was also done to tidy up the magnificent established gardens and orchard.

When his job at Egleston was done, Mr Sherrard put it up for sale so as to turn his attention to Lake House, which was in need of decidedly more work.

Having made the decision to sell the vast estate of Kameruka, Frank and Odile wanted a home with historic significance to replace it. They scoured New South Wales, Victoria and New Zealand without success before it occurred to Frank that Tasmania, where they had both enjoyed fishing, might be just the place.

A real estate agent insisted they inspect Egleston, and the Fosters had not even set eyes on the homestead when they knew they would buy it—the feel of the place was enough as they turned off the road through grand green wrought-iron gates and headed past prime grazing country towards the Macquarie River. It was a bonus that there was nothing to do to the place but move in, which they did in November 2007.

Neighbouring farmers, who all have their own fine historic homes too, have rapidly become great friends and it's emerged that some of them, also Fosters, are quite possibly related.

Egleston does not have a modern heating system, so winter could prove a challenge, however one of Mr Kerrison's many legacies at this property was a new open-plan living and dining sunroom area that is much cosier than the grand formal rooms.

The formal dining room and drawing room both have marble fireplaces with sandstone hearths at each end, and two sets of French doors. These open out onto a wide flagstone-paved verandah with elegant fretwork that looks down over the formal garden, tennis court, and Macquarie River plains.

There is a blackwood-panelled library with open fireplace and, upstairs, seven bedrooms with extensive views across the countryside through delightful twelve-paned windows.

In the cellar are four stone rooms that will undoubtedly prove themselves useful in the future, while a giant billiard room and granny flat have been incorporated into one of the old stables.

The outbuildings, which also include a stone barn and blacksmith shop, form an impressive courtyard at the back of the home.

Frank Foster's great-grandfather, Sir Robert Tooth, made Kameruka famous after he acquired it from his uncle in 1857. At one stage the property was about 500,000 acres, although that reduced significantly over time.

Sir Robert's family founded Tooth & Co., which owned Sydney's inner-city Kent Brewery and later several other brewing interests, and he was actively involved in their management. At Tooth & Co., employees didn't just brew the beer—they apparently drank it four times a day, with a schooner ration provided at morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and when they clocked off at the end of the day. Carlton and United bought the brewery in 1983, and an era ended when, twenty years later, they announced it would close to make way for a new residential development.

At Kameruka, Sir Robert established an entire agricultural community. He built six-roomed cottages for his tenant farmers, a school, church, meeting hall, store, post office, golf course and a cricket oval where, in 1885, the touring English XI took on a Kameruka XXII and won by an innings and twelve runs.

English trees were planted on a large scale, a lake was built and dairying was pursued, using Australia's first herd of Jersey cows. From there came three cheese factories and the production of the highly popular Kameruka cheddar cheese, still manufactured today, but by Bega.

In 1882 Sir Robert Tooth also built castellated Gothic mansion The Swifts at Darling Point, to specifications that included its ballroom being bigger than the one at Government House. In 1997 The Swifts was sold for a reported twelve million dollars, and it's said an equal amount has since been spent on its restoration.

Robert had divided his estate into thirds for his sons to inherit, but all three were killed in World War I. Kameruka passed to two grand-daughters, and then to one of their sons, Frank Foster, who came out to Australia from Scotland in 1975 to take on the estate.

By this time, Kameruka covered about 4000 hectares that were used for beef, sheep and dairy farming. But with no children of his own to inherit the property—complete with its village and twenty-five or so houses—and no one else in the family line interested in taking on the property, Frank came to the conclusion that eventually the estate was going to have to be sold, it was just a question of when.

By chance, an Englishman heard about the possible sale of the property from two separate sources within a week and it was sold before it even went on the market.

The odd pieces of Kameruka memorabilia hang proudly at Egleston in a fabulous fusion of history.

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