History a growth business at Old Farm

Headshot of Malcolm Quekett
Malcolm QuekettThe West Australian

Around the grounds of the oldest farm in WA, new life has been growing. But it is new life with a past.

As part of the work at the Old Farm at Strawberry Hill in Albany, species of wheat, fruit and vegetables - some dating back to the farm's earliest days - are being gradually reintroduced.

If all goes to plan, the wheat will be harvested with a scythe, threshed by hand, turned into bread and enjoyed with a fresh topping of strawberry jam, also from the farm's gardens.

It is all part of the National Trust's restoration and conservation of the property, which aims to give visitors a real sense of what life was like there through history.

That history began with the area's use by the Mineng people as an important camping ground.

In 1826, before the Swan River Colony was established and driven partly by fear that the French might annex the region, a small military detachment and labour force of convicts from Sydney reached King George Sound and named their settlement Frederick's Town.

In 1827 they began to grow crops and vegetables at the Government Farm at what was named Strawberry Hill.

In 1833 Sir Richard Spencer was appointed Government Resident at the town.

He bought the farm and lived there with his wife Ann and 10 children.

By 1836 the gardens were producing a wide variety of produce and the family's home was the centre of the district's social life.

The property went through various ownership changes until it was transferred to the National Trust in 1964.

The trust has set about halting and reversing the property's structural decline, chiefly through putting on a new roof using slate from the same quarry in Wales from which the original slate came.

Wallpaper has been removed and parts of the walls show scrapings aimed at determining earlier paint colours.

Much has been done and more remains to be done as the building and grounds are turned into a new version of an old heritage property.

Sarah Murphy, director of conservation and stewardship at the National Trust of Australia WA, said the property revealed layers of ownership and use.

"The landscape, buildings and setting are sufficiently intact that with a little imagination you can still see into the past from the present," she said.

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