Visitors can journey into a colonial past at the nation’s oldest surviving homestead at Rosehill.
Built from 1793 on an initial land grant of 100 acres, Elizabeth Farm is now hidden amongst homes and apartment blocks on a built-up residential street.
The museum, next open on March 22 and every day during school holidays, offers both a quiet haven and a glimpse through time.
‘‘It’s a house that really tells the story of the development of the fortunes of the colony,’’ said curator Scott Hill. ‘‘Of the shift from those very early, precarious years of food scarcity, through to the years of abundance in the 1820s.’’
The property, built for the wealthy wool industry pioneer John MacArthur and named for his wife, includes replicas of key furniture pieces of the early 1800s, allowing guests to wander inside and touch the displays.
Decorated in period style, its rooms help tell the tale of Macarthur’s privileged yet tumultuous life.
MacArthur’s former bedroom is darkly lit, with an almost impossibly high bed and accompanying stool to help you climb into it.
‘‘We keep this room intentionally very sombre,’’ Hill said. ‘‘Clinically, he was highly depressed. It would leave him completely incapacitated.
‘‘Here's the man who overthrows governors and runs a sheep empire, yet in his private life he's racked by physical and mental illness. So we've got the public face and the private reality going on inside these four walls of this house.’’
Outside, the gardens feature some of the MacArthurs’ original plants, including the oldest olive tree in Australia.
‘‘They’re tiny little olives though, they don’t taste very nice,’’ Hill said.
Originally a combination of a pleasure garden and a produce garden, the grounds featured cannas from India, aloes from South Africa, native punya pines and giant bamboo and camellias from China.
‘‘The bunyas are what you'd call a signature plant, which are two or three plants that have survived and really tell you that an older colonial garden used to be there,’’ Hill said. ‘‘When you're looking at Parramatta and Rosehill, you can really read these different layers of the landscape.’’
Asked about his favourite aspect of the house, Hill points out the eastern verandah in front of the stroll garden, under the roof’s ‘‘majestic sweep’’.
‘‘Of all the houses looked after by Sydney Living Museums, this is the one I could move into tomorrow,’’ he said. ‘‘I love the way all the rooms interconnect, they’re all designed to Georgian proportions – it just feels right.’’