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Wine and Oysters - two of the main industries in the Greater Port Macquarie region in the 1800’s.

Updated: Apr 26

✦ One of the remaining success stories from that period to this day in its original surroundings is Douglas Vale Homestead and Winery, albeit on a smaller allotment.

The original property was 46 acres and took in the Westport High School and TAFE grounds where they stand today. By 1990 there were only 10 acres left of the original property as the Education Department had acquired the land.


At that time, the last of the family descendants who was still living at the Homestead was an old gentleman called Patsy Dick. The proviso was he could stay, but then he passed away in 1993. Following Patsy's death the TAFE then put a fence around the house.


Over the next 12 to 18 months, people jumped or went through the fence and totally trashed the house. This caused so much community concern about what was happening, that there was a public meeting called for in Port Macquarie.


By 1995, the Douglas Vale Conservation Group was formed from that meeting and continues to this day, as a group of volunteers restoring and conserving the old homestead as a working house Museum from the 1800’s. The museum takes in the house, gardens and vineyard.


THE HOMESTEAD


Listed by the National Trust, the home is quite significant. Douglas Vale Vineyard was initially established in 1859. The homestead, the oldest timber building in Port Macquarie, was built in 1862 on what was then the "New England Road".

It was lived in for 132 years by four generations of the one family and is filled with original and eclectic items from that family.


Douglas Vale Homestead was built by George Francis, and named after his wife, Margaret whose maiden name was Douglas. Margaret’s family originated from Scotland.


It was passed down from one generation to another, being expanded and promoted all over the world. On the death of her father, in 1898, George’s daughter, Margaret Wilson, continued to maintain Douglas Vale as a successful vineyard until the last vintage in 1918. Its wines were exhibited in Amsterdam, London, and even Calcutta. When Margaret Wilson died in 1932 the ownership of Douglas Vale then passed to her daughter, Margaret Ethel Isabella Dick, the widow of Earnest Dick. His father had been responsible for establishing the oyster farming industry on the Hastings River.


Margaret Dick was joined by her youngest son, Patsy, who remained living in the homestead after his mother’s death. In later years the State Government progressively resumed the land, mainly for educational purposes.


Patsy was a very interesting fellow. He was a builder, a miner, an oyster farmer, and a gravedigger, still digging at the age of 80. I think it's safe to say he was a man of many talents!


The vineyard was once converted into a pineapple farm, but was quickly returned to growing the delicious grapes grown by George Francis.


Following Patsy's death, the place was left on its own, and over the years vandalism took its toll and the property was basically a ruin until the Douglas Vale Conservation Group was formed in 1995.

The homestead has been the subject of much conservation work

Authentically restored, the Homestead and outbuildings are classified by the National Trust of Australia. Within the homestead is a dedicated museum containing a unique collection of artefacts depicting early Colonial lifestyles; the families who lived on the property were pioneers of both the wine and oyster industries in Port Macquarie.


Set on seven magnificent acres including an established vineyard and orchard, the well-kept gardens still display old trees, shrubs, bushes and a 150 year old Heritage bamboo glade entrance.

Unique in Australia, Douglas Vale is the only volunteer-run, not-for-profit enterprise, producing six exclusive wines, including the famous Portabella Port from original vine stock.


In the centre of Port Macquarie, a unique historic tourist attraction has been developed by the local community to bring back and interpret the last remaining fabric of a successful wine industry of the 1800's


In recent years since the "rebirth" of the property and its rescue from the wrecking ball, Douglas Vale has once again commenced producing a variety of wines which are for sale through its Cellar Door. As for the wines, they are produced off-site, but the profits earned from selling them go directly to the Estate for maintenance purposes.


Due in no small part to the lovingly manicured lawns and gardens as well as the Museum housed within the main building, the property has become an ideal venue to hold a variety of events and has proven very popular for occasions such as concerts, weddings, birthdays and community activities.


GRANTS, STUDENT HELPERS AND VOLUNTEERS


The homestead is refurbished from the outside, but inside it is conservated to retain its over 150-year-old beauty. Grants have been obtained from the Heritage Office to enable lifting and restumping of the building plus rebuilding of all the verandahs. The Isabella grape has been planted along the verandah areas as this is the grape that was grown on the grounds back in the 1800’s.


East Port High School students have helped the restoration works by building the cottage garden fences, and West Port Primary students planted trees in the orchard in 1999.


In 2006, the property was transferred from the Education Department to the Lands Department who granted The Douglas Vale Conservation Group Long Term Tenure.


Made up of 30 to 35 volunteer members that actively visit (WORK) at the Homestead two to three times a week, the Group aim to keep it going forward. They have restored the outside of the homestead, but are conserving and interpreting the inside.


The museum has a very strict collection policy. They do not want anything that doesn't relate to the Francis family and the homestead.


Wednesday 30 May 2018 was an historic day at Douglas Vale Historic Homestead and Vineyard


The next stage of restoration work got underway for the preservation of the cellars built in the 1870s. New concrete footings were poured for walls that will help protect the remnant brick walls built by the founder of Douglas Vale, George Francis.


This project has been years in the planning and now the Douglas Vale volunteers have excavated the footings, placed the reinforcement, and local concreter Luke Seears and his team assisted by pouring the concrete. A fantastic community effort all round.


This is Stage 2 of a 9-stage preservation project for the old cellars; progress will continue as funding becomes available.


GRAPES, PINEAPPLES & BAMBOO


Remaining today is the original entrance to the property; a 150 year old stand of bamboo. Back in the day and now, it is grand, opening into the manicured grounds and revealing the home, the cellars and sheds. Douglas Vale is the last vineyard from the industry of the 1800’s.

The last vintage produced at Douglas Vale was in 1918. By 1922, they had taken out all the grapes except around the house and put in 22,000 pineapples on the property.


Nothing really happened in the Port Macquarie Hastings wine region from about 1921 to 1980 when John Cassegrain introduced a French hybrid grape called Chambourcin. Nowadays there's about half a dozen growers in the Hastings Valley based around Chambourcin and a couple of other grape varieties.


MEET MARIAN CHISHOLM - VOLUNTEER VINEYARD COORDINATOR


Marian is a very busy lady. As well as being the Vineyard Coordinator, she has found herself taking on other roles including Events Coordinator and Public Relations. She tells us, “We keep the place open to the public on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, from 10am to 3pm. The cellar door has a roster with people pouring wine and talking to the customers and the house has a Tour Guide roster.”


And then there's general property maintenance and the running of a full working vineyard to be done. “We need at least seven to ten people there as well," Marian says. "This morning, we had 30 pickers come and harvest Isabella.”


At the moment a recruitment campaign is in motion seeking more volunteers. “We invite people to come and work alongside our existing volunteers. We are a diverse range of people. To keep Douglas Vale open to the public there are certain jobs that have to be done, there is a big variety of jobs.”


Marian told us it is a balancing act. “We try to let them do what interests them, what they would like to do. There's gardens to upkeep, there's plants to pot, there’s marketing and events.”


So just come along and get involved. If you're new to Port Macquarie, or a local that wants to meet new people, if you want to be part of the community, Douglas Vale welcomes you with open arms.


Volunteers Wanted, Contact

Phone: 02 6584 3792 Email: volunteering@douglasvale.com.au

Self guided tours of our Museum & Grounds, Wine Tastings & Cheese platters are available on: Wednesday: 10:00am – 3:00pm Saturday: 10:00am – 3:00pm

Sunday: 10:00am - 3.00pm Group Tours, Tastings and Functions by arrangement

 

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