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

Updated: Mar 31

✦ 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.