WORROWING, JERVIS BAY: Sunlight beams onto the veranda of the Robertson family home one morning in August of 2020; the air brisk, the wind ever so still. Jenny, an artist and matriarch of the family, smiles as she recalls her husband Adrian’s fascination with a brick path in the distance.
“Years ago we went to a wonderful garden in England and Adrian looked down and saw this beautiful brick pavement,” she says, her voice gentle and kind. “He said with great passion, ‘I’m going to make this sunken garden at home.’ None of us really knew what he was talking about but there it is over there.”
A few steps across the gravelled grounds, the path lay; each brick meticulously placed by hand and the scene hemmed in by bare trees. Surrounding it is an Elizabethan stone fountain and camellia bushes; their lush crimson flower petals forming canopies for the insects on the ground beneath them. While this is only the entrance to the property, the most apt word I can think to describe Worrowing is enchanting. It’s magical, it’s romantic, it’s serene – but it’s ultimately enchanting.
Upon my visit to the Robertson’s sprawling homestead, I had just returned home to Australia from living and working in New York City. I was somewhat craving a reprieve from the hustle and the hassle of a vibrant place whose economy churned on the keen ambition of its workers. I was feeling tired, pockmarked by the anxiety of whether I would ever return to Manhattan given it was now the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic. But there was something about staying on this estate that made me feel more centred; the clean air, the roosters in the morning, the horses in the paddock, the fences which would open up to space, to an open mind, to creative nourishment… to freedom.
“At Worrowing, you have the best of both worlds in that Jervis Bay and Hyams Beach are only minutes away but you can come back to this – this space and freedom,” says Jenny.
“I like seeing guests walk around the property and take it all in.”
After I checked in, I drove up to my home for the next couple of nights. Originally the property’s horse stables, huge vintage wooden mirrors adorned the modern, open-plan living space of my two-bedroom house. Private and self-contained, rustic accents in the form of a pair of stirrups, a felt hat and a riding saddle take pride of place around the accommodation. A long wooden table (which would comfortably seat eight people) would mesh well with linen napkins, a cheese board and copious bottles of red wine from one of the many local wineries, as would the cosy outdoor fire-pit.
But it was a special moment on that first morning that made me really appreciate being home in Australia. With a coffee in hand and warm socks on my feet, I opened the door to panoramic views; horse stables, the rolling hills, beautiful trees and a lake. While I was exhausted from NYC’s pace, I’d also been missing it terribly. But all of that worry dissipated on that icy morning at Worrowing.
IN THE FAMILY
For the past 25 years Worrowing has been home to the Robertson family; Adrian, Jenny and their four children Maddy, Tom, Sam and Alex. In the 90s, Adrian and Jenny (who had designed over 50 contemporary homes in Jervis Bay) visited the “mysterious old home on the hill”. They decided to sell their award-winning home in the neighbouring suburb of Vincentia in order to move their young family to Worrowing and transform it into a rural retreat with unique boutique accommodation. Just like the brick path, Adrian and Jenny took design cues from rural cottages and homes they visited in France and Italy during a family trip in 1996.
“We drove all around Tuscany and visited a lot of places with conservatories in England and France, and we thought it would be the perfect renovation extension to this house,” explains Jenny. “We created the rumpus room and an upstairs studio. The conservatory – or the glass room – joins the two.”
The couple also built little cottages across the 250-acre property for guests. From small homes to huts – all private and with views across the paddocks and bushland – a stay at Worrowing must be booked well in advance. Take a look at the accommodation options here.
“You can take some bread down and feed Rosie the horse, if you like,” says Jenny when I quiz her about the occupant of the front paddock. I wondered what it would have been like to grow up here.
“For our young family, it was absolutely fantastic,” she says smiling. “Every friend in town would be over – we had motorbikes, horseriding, swimming in the dams, kayaking and every party was in a different location! We had lambs, calves, chickens. We had a flying fox that went from half-way up that tree and finished over at the Oak tree. It was pretty scary for the kids to get on but they all loved it once they did. It was amazing.”
Like most children with strong familial upbringings, Tom and Maddy have now become part of the business. Tom’s experience in visual and graphic arts has seen an impressive upgrade to the facilities while Maddy who has a background in marketing and advertising now promotes events and weddings at Worrowing. She directs me the Kissing Tree, two trees naturally entwined trees together on the property.
“The Hereford Shed is where we hold our weddings. This property used to be a cattle farm and the shed was a sales yard so it’s been reconverted,” explains Maddy. A peek inside shows large scribbly gum timber columns set against polished concrete flooring. While you can have a ceremony in more than 12 locations around the property, this reception location looks over a private lake, many trees and lush bushland. Find out more here.
“While a lot of our weddings have had to cancel due to the virus, it’s been so nice to see people from Sydney travel down and stay,” says Maddy. “A lot of our properties have fire-pits and there’s so much wildlife like kangaroos hopping about. During this time, we’ve been doing a lot of renovations to the farm-style cottages and wilderness huts. There will be some outdoor baths going in soon.”
“The boatsheds are really nice out on the water,” Maddy continues. “There’s lot of bird life and the turtles in the lake zoom around.”
PLUMES OF SMOKE
While everywhere you look is so idyllic, in December of 2019 and January of 2020, these scenes were “apocalyptic”. Fanned by wind and fuelled by scorching heat, the worst Australian bushfires on record threatened the south coast of New South Wales, and Jenny remembers the plumes of smoke, amber skies and shooting embers well.
“It was frightening,” she muses, her eyes staring off into the distance. “We’re sitting here now and imagine the whole sky being red. The wind is blowing fiercely. We’re getting all these burnt pieces of ash and leaves coming at us all the time. There’s smoke…” she pauses. “…and you know some of the scariest footage on television is all but 15 minutes down the road. The conditions were so windy and horrific that if the fire came and the trees went up, they can throw those embers a long way.”
Adhering to state government orders, Jenny and Adrian were tasked with getting guests off the property but some were slow to get moving and then were unable to leave as the roads had closed.
“Adrian’s brother Peter and his son drove all night to be here with a fire-fighting pump to make sure they could defend our home,” recalls Jenny. “Adrian, Peter and my son Tom stayed back while we seeked refuge. and that was enough to worry about. I really didn’t want the younger ones being here because they are inexperienced. But we were lucky.”
“The unpredictability of it,” Jenny continues. “You didn’t know where the fire was going to go.”
Come March, COVID-19 had hit Australia and halted all travelling plans.
“If you can call it a positive, I think once COVID started, we just took a deep breath,” says Jenny. “I guess a lot of people in these fire-affected areas had experienced a high level of stress, there was a lot of anxiety. Since December 17 in 2019, we had weddings cancelled, we had to get people out of properties at short notice, we had a lot of stress financially but also emotionally when it came to family and staff.”
“For us, the pandemic caused us to take a big deep breath as a family and go, ‘OK this is what it is now. We’re all staying in’,” she continues.
“Family becomes more important than anything. The important things in life become more important.”
Like the bricks in the pathway, at Worrowing the appreciation of building a home you can always return to has never felt more tangible. And my appreciation for being home has never felt greater.