Australia's Historical Places · History · Postcards from Australia

Iandra: Australia’s Very Own ‘Castle’.

I’ve always loved castles. When I was a kid I used to envy the Europeans their castles (still do). They always interested me and I was fascinated by their history. Growing up in Australia, the closest we were likely to get would be a castle at a theme park, which doesn’t quite have the same appeal. It was only recently that I discovered that here in Australia, we actually do have a castle and it is situated closer to my home that I realised.

Situated near Cowra, a country town in Central Western New South Wales is Iandra Castle. Technically, it is not a castle, but a homestead; it is referred to as ‘The Castle’ by the locals. Built between 1908 and 1910, it is made of concrete with Tudor influences. Iandra is only open a couple of times each year and is popular amongst the locals.

Walking around the castle is like walking into a maze with numerous doors and corridors. With two storeys, it consists of almost sixty rooms. Situated in one of the downstairs hallways is a detailed floor plan of the castle. I couldn’t help but think of the difficulties new house staff must have felt during their first weeks of employment.

During its heyday, Iandra employed about 350 men to work the 32,000 acres. It also had its own store, post office and school. Iandra even had its own church, which still stands today. Inside, the castle includes its own games room, observatory and a smoking room for the gentlemen of the house. My husband was surprised to see more than one fireplace within the large stables, situated behind the house. With a clear distinction between the servant’s quarters and that of the gentry, it is believed Iandra is a rare example of the manorial system within Australia.

My only disappointment was not going into the turret, which, like some of the other rooms in the castle was inaccessible to the public. Who knows? Maybe we were inside the turret and we didn’t even know it! I may well have had a chance to play Rapunzel and let down my hair after all. 😉

Are you fascinated by castles? Have you spent some time in one – or even more than one?

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Postcards from Australia

Parkes Elvis Festival, 2016.

Elvis Festival Fun in AcapulcoAs a child, I grew up on Elvis music and my family knew a guy who wanted to be an Elvis impersonator. When he came over to visit, he would sing for us and even made up his own songs; so when Elvis died, our family were in mourning.

On a whim, for the start of 2016, my family and I made our first visit to the Parkes Elvis Festival. It has been held every year since it began back in 1993, and coincides with Elvis’s birthday on 8 January. This is in the middle of summer here in Australia, which is why I have been putting it off for so long even though I don’t live that far away.

Every year has a different theme and this year was ‘Fun in Acapulco’. With so much to see, this year we only took in the markets and the street parade.

Here come the Elvii….

Here Come the Elvii

American Elvis tribute artist Donny Edwards was there with this years Miss Priscilla.

Donny Edwards and Miss Priscilla

There was also a Las Vegas Showgirl.

Las Vegas Showgirl

New Zealand Elvis impersonator Brendon Chase, believed to be one of the best in the business was also there in a rather impressive looking limo.

Brendon Chase Elvis

One of the highlights of the street parade was this Kiwi Elvis doing the haka.

Kiwi Elvis

Even the law was getting in on the act.

Police Escort 2

The festival was a lot of fun and it certainly managed to freak my kids out! And just for the record, no I did not see the Elvis impersonator I knew during my childhood. But, I’m sure I’ll be going back again. It’s well worth a visit.

Are you an Elvis fan? Have you seen an Elvis tribute artist? Have you visited Parkes for the Elvis Festival or visited Graceland? What have you been doing to kick off 2016?

Enjoy this article? Subscribe to my blog and never miss a post. You can also follow me on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Google+ and Goodreads.

Images by Debbie Johansson.

Australia's Historical Places · Photography · Postcards from Australia

Australia’s Historical Places: Parramatta.

Elizabeth Farm VerandahRecently, I visited Parramatta, a suburb of inner western Sydney. I grew up around the area, and frequented the shops, movie theatres and other venues of interest here during my teens and early twenties. It is this area of Sydney where some of my stories are located.

The local aboriginals named it ‘the place where the eels lie down’, due to the large number of eels that frequented the river. Parramatta was founded in 1788 (the same year as Sydney) and is the oldest inland European settlement in Australia. Parramatta River became useful for farming and was a popular form of transporting goods into Sydney. Parramatta is now a major business district.

These are just three of the historic buildings in the area that I visited:

  • Experiment Farm Cottage: This home is the site of the first land grant made in Australia in 1789 (30 acres). Former convict James Ruse successfully farmed the site, which became an experiment in self-sufficiency. Surgeon John Harris later bought the land, and the house that stands there today contains the largest collection of early colonial furniture in the country.
  • Elizabeth Farm: John Macarthur was a lieutenant and was granted 100 acres from the acting governor. Together with his wife, Elizabeth, they became pioneers of the wool industry (although his wife’s contribution is rarely credited). Today, the house is a hands-on museum, complete with a re-created 1830s garden.
  • Old Government House: Once the country residence of early governors, including Governor and Mrs Macquarie, Old Government House is Australia’s oldest surviving public building. The appearance of the house today owes much to Governor and Mrs Macquarie, where visitors can capture the period of the 1820s.

Here I some of the photos I took on the day.

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Do you enjoy visiting historic houses? Does your home town have a rich history? If you’re a writer, do you use your home town as a setting?

Images by Debbie Johansson.

Australia's Historical Places · Photography · Postcards from Australia

Australia’s Historical Places: Abercrombie House.

Historical Places of AustraliaThe country town of Bathurst, about 200 kilometres (124 miles) west of Sydney is best known for its annual car racing, yet tucked away on the outskirts of town visitors can discover a little piece of history.

William Stewart arrived in Australia in 1825 and became Lieutenant Governor General of New South Wales. He was granted land in Bathurst in order to help colonise the region; his land extended as far as where the town is currently located, including Mount Panorama itself, about 6 kilometres (3 miles) away.  Abercrombie House was built in the 1870s by his eldest son, yet after World War I it fell into decline. It became the home of the current owners during the late 1960s and since then they have spent many years restoring the house, grounds and outbuildings, and is now heritage listed.

Today the house would be best described as a mansion, containing at least a dozen bedrooms, a turret and a ballroom. For some months now I have had an idea for a new novel and I think I may well have found the perfect setting with Abercrombie House.

Here is a glimpse of the photos I took inside the house and around the grounds of Abercrombie House.

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I have something special coming up, so I’ll be taking a break from blogging for a couple of weeks and will return on the first week in April. Consider yourselves warned! 😉

Do you visit historic houses? Are you one to enjoy undertaking a big project – like house renovation? Have you made a lucky discovery recently?

Images by Debbie Johansson.

Australia's Historical Places · Ghosts & The Paranormal · Photography · Postcards from Australia · Spooky Stories

Monte Cristo – Inside Australia’s Most Haunted House.

Side view of Monte Cristo smallerLooks can often be deceiving; belying its exterior as a beautifully renovated Victorian mansion, Monte Cristo has become well known as Australia’s Most Haunted House. Many who have visited here have experienced disturbing phenomena, and in April of this year I visited it for the first time. It has been on my ‘must see’ list for some time now and I was even more enthusiastic to make the visit when I discovered it was only about a three hour drive from where I live.

Built in 1876 by owner, Christopher Crawley, he became one of Australia’s richest men.  His wife, Elizabeth, was believed to have ruled the household with an iron fist.  When the house was newly built, it was already showing evidence of ghosts.  A photo taken during the time reveals a figure standing in a position where nobody can possibly stand.  It is believed that the ghosts of both Mr and Mrs Crawley, staff members and other unidentified personalities haunt the premises.

After the deaths of the original owners, the furniture was sold at auction in 1952.  It eventually stood abandoned, vandalised and in ruins, until the current owners bought it in 1963.  The owners have lovingly restored it and furnished the interior with antique and Victorian furniture representative of the periods up to the 1880s. The coach house and stables contains one of the finest collections of horse drawn vehicles within Australia.

At the top of the stairs is a bedroom known as ‘the boys’ room’, where my husband and I were amazed at the heavy wooden furniture. They were big, solid antiques and when questioned, the guide told us that they had to be lifted by crane over the balcony.  A guest had apparently once put in quite a substantial offer for the bedroom suite – none other than Russell Crowe!

Here is just a glimpse of some of the photos I took inside the house and around the grounds of Monte Cristo.

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Monte Cristo has been visited by journalists and film crews, as well as investigators from around the world.  The house is now open for daily visits and ghost tours. To find out more about this fascinating house and its many hauntings, visit their website.

Be sure to stop by again next month when I’ll be discussing my experiences within Australia’s Most Haunted House.

Have you ever visited or lived in a haunted house? Do you collect antiques? Would you fancy having to say ‘no’ to Russell Crowe?

Images ©Debbie Johansson.

Postcards from Australia · Research

The Three Sisters & Their Legend.

The setting for some of my stories is based within the Blue Mountains, a National Park, west of Sydney.  I lived there for a number of years with my young family before moving to our current location in the country.  The Australian bush is vast and home to many mysteries, making it an ideal setting for stories.

The Three Sisters are a favourite tourist destination within the Blue Mountains, a unique rock formation, at Echo Point, Katoomba.  People have been known to climb them, but due to their cultural significance to Aborigines, some restrictions have taken place.  Women would give birth in a cave near Echo Point while men would watch the third sister for a sign that the birth had occurred.  It is believed that this third sister is sacred.

When I was a child, I loved reading the story of The Three Sisters.  My copy was a Little Golden Book, which I still have to this day.  This week, I thought I’d share with you this legend.  It is a story of family, love, loss, magic and monsters.

Once, a wise medicine man named Tyawan, was good at imitating the lyre bird and it was rumoured that he could change himself into one if he wanted by using his magic shin-bone.  He had three daughters, named Meenhi, Wimlah and Gunnedoo.

One day as he left the girls alone while he hunted, a rock fell over a cliff, waking a bunyip from his 100 year sleep.   Seeing the girls, the bunyip went after them.  Tyawan arrived back in time to point his magic shin-bone at the girls and turned them into stone.  The bunyip chased Tyawan, who turned himself into a lyre-bird, but in his efforts to get away, his magic shin-bone became lost.

The bunyip returned to his cave, but to this day, Tyawan continues to search for his magic shin-bone to turn himself and his three daughters into human form once again.

What was your favourite book to read when you were a child? Do you have a favourite legend? Have you ever visited a place that you only ever read about?

Image of the Three Sisters, Katoomba by Debbie Johansson

Postcards from Australia

Photo Friday – ‘Confusion’.

This week’s Photo Friday will be a little different.  Fellow campaigner, Susanna Leonard Hill has started something different on her blog.  A theme will be posted every week, so that others can place a photo representing that theme on their own blogs.  As she’s a children’s writer, the photos need to be kept in a range appropriate for 0-12 year olds.

As this week’s theme is ‘Confusion’, I didn’t have to search far amongst my photo collection.  A few years ago, I went to the Mulga Bill Bicycle Festival at Yeoval.  This was once the home of famous Australian poet Banjo Patterson, better known for his poem The Man from Snowy River.

The confusion?  Well, along the road as we got closer to the town, we encountered things like this:-

Somebody obviously went to a lot of effort for the day’s bike ride (you certainly wouldn’t be seeing me doing this).  And it certainly can create a bit of havoc when you’re the one driving!

Fortunately on the day I was honoured to meet the legendary Australian actor Jack Thompson.  I’d also show you photos of me with him, but unfortunately, my husband couldn’t work my camera! 🙂

Image by Debbie Johansson.