Regular visitors to Jugiong will know that the riverside town’s rebirth began about a decade ago when Juliet Robb and her husband Hew swung open the doors of the Long Pantry, an eclectic providore that sells coffee, cakes and local produce.
While the Long Pantry continues to do a brisk trade, the gentrification of The Sir George is drawing hundreds more visitors to the town every day, and a quick scan of the numberplates in the car park indicates many are from Canberra.
When Kate Hufton and her mum, Liz Prater, bought the iconic watering hole in late 2015 it was run-down, partly boarded-up and had only opened sporadically for the previous decade. However, with Hufton’s business acumen and Prater’s design flair, they’ve transformed The Sir George into much more than a pit stop on the road to the Riverina and beyond, it’s now very much a destination pub.
Actually, calling The Sir George a pub is a misnomer. Sure there’s a boutique bar, but there’s also a wisteria-draped pottery shop, an artisan bakery, children’s playground and a farmyard.
Then there’s the restaurant and its not-so-standard pub grub concocted by head chef Nick Williams and his Spanish MIBRASA charcoal oven (one of only 10 in Australia) which ensures the original flavour and texture of ingredients is maintained. Little wonder people are travelling hundreds of kilometres just for a grilled steak.
As enticing as the food and drink scene is here, it’s my penchant for the quirky and the mysterious which draws me places. Here is no exception.
In fact, it was a photo of The Sir George’s 166-year-old Cobb & Co stone stables and their narrow slit windows which first lured me here. Regular readers may recall the curious stone structure this column stumbled on near Gunning last year. With angled window slits, some believed it was used aa a fort and ever since I’ve been in search of similar structures in the region.
Unfortunately, close inspection reveals the window slits in the stables at The Sir George, which are currently being converted into luxury accommodation, aren’t angled.
“Oh, they were just to ensure the flow of air,” explains Hufton who notices me getting a little close for comfort to the chief stonemason who is perched precariously atop a ladder.
However my quest for curious artefacts doesn’t go unrewarded, for while in digging the foundations Hufton reveals they “uncovered a set of tags from the Cobb & Co days.”
“Apparently the tags went on the horse and the number on the tag was noted in the pub ledger corresponding with the room their owners slept in,” explains Andy Van der Wacht, the renovation project manager who unearthed them.
The tags, which now take pride of place on the wall above the bar, aren’t Van der Wacht’s only brush with the past, although his other one is far less tangible.
He also claims to have sighted “a ghost … a lady in the window, in broad daylight”.
“It was about 11am one morning during the early days of restoration, there was no one else on the site and I clearly saw the outline of a woman in the window,” he explains, pointing to the top floor of the pub.
“There was definitely no one in there, I’m not really a believer [in ghosts] but I don’t know what else it could have been, I can’t explain it”, he says.
For the history buff, another must-see at The Sir George is an adjoining circa-1852 stone cottage.
“We call it ‘Ben Hall Cottage’, an homage to the bushranger who terrorised these parts in the 1860s and who was known regularly to borrow horses from the stables only to return them exhausted after his gang’s night raids,” explains Prater’s partner Kim Gamble.
While his official title is ‘customer experience manager’, Gamble also doubles as The Sir George’s sommelier, affineur and vexillologist.
“If it’s national meatball day we’ll put up a Swedish flag, if a French lady walks in, we’ll fly the French flag,” says Gamble, “it’s all a bit of fun and makes people feel at home”.
Snooping around this historic watering hole is like a choose-your-own adventure book. One door leads to the billiard room, another to a long room, and the other to the whisky room. Each room has an open fire, stylish furnishing and warm lighting.
While walking over the floorboards in the main lounge if you look down you can see through a grill in the floor into a knock-out cellar. Accessible via a small trap door, laden with local wine and with a long wooden table running its full length, it’s tailor-made for King Arthur-style feasts.
“We have special cellar nights down there,” says Van der Wacht. Oh, I bet they do.
Despite their obvious success, Hufton, Prater and their merry team plan to lure even more people to Jugiong and The Sir George with baking classes, wine weekends, stonemason courses and music festivals. They are also hoping to capitalise on the area’s natural features by offering mountain biking on farms and kayaking down the Murrumbidgee from early 2019.
Just like Gundagai a bit further south, Jugiong is enjoying a renaissance and at just over an hours’ drive from our border, Canberrans are best placed to take advantage of this.
See you at The Sir George!
The Sir George: Located in the main street, Riverside Drive, of Jugiong, which is 120km from Canberra, between Yass and Gundagai, and a one-minute diversion off the M31. Closed Mondays. www.sirgeorge.com.au
Don’t miss: Across the road from the Long Pantry and The Sir George is a memorial to local police officer Sergeant Edmund Parry, killed in action against bushranger Ben Hall’s gang in1864.
Contact Tim: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @TimYowie or write c/ – The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick.
Given this column’s recent focus on the significant wildlife carnage on our highways, I thought it might be time to even the ledger. So today, a live macropod, a very cute female wallaroo spotted recently by Matthew Higgins on the slopes of Mt Ainslie. The females are much lighter in colour than the much darker males; and unlike the ubiquitous eastern grey kangaroo, are relatively uncommon on Mount Ainslie.
Where in the region?
Degree of difficulty: Medium (easy with the clue)
Congratulations to Rosemary Parker of Fisher who was the first reader to correctly identify last week’s photo, sent in by Ian Loiterton, as a flow gauging station for Icon Water located near ‘The Waterholes’ on the Orroral River close to the Orroral Campground in Namadgi National Park. Not only is Orroral a great spot to camp, but also for some wildlife spotting.
“On my last visit there I saw a platypus in the river and not far away a lyrebird in the bush,” reports Loiterton.
Parker says she and her husband have camped at the Orroral Campground on a number of occasions following bushwalks. They took their 7-year-old grandson, who lives in Melbourne, camping there last year for his first ever camping trip and “he loved it”.
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to email@example.com. The first email sent after 10am on Saturday October 13, 2018 will win a double pass to Dendy – The Home of Quality Cinema.