Kim Kelleher may have bought Blair Athol Estate on a whim, but the elegant manor house has allowed her to realise her grandest dreams.

As the 19th-century Canadian farmer Nelson Henderson observed, the true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit. And so it was for pioneering pastoralist and winemaker Frank Charles Lewin who, in the 1870s established a park-like garden on the property his father owned a few kilometres from Inverell in north-western NSW.

Frank came to Australia from England with his parents in 1854 and seven years later, accompanied his family on the arduous three-month journey by bullock dray to Inverell, where they established a flour mill and bought land on the Warialda Road. The Lewins also planted Rosenstein, the region’s first winery, on the property, which Lewin senior later subdivided, giving Frank 320 acres (130 hectares). Frank called his block Pinehurst and set about building a bungalow surrounded by magnificent shrubbery, an orchard, exotic trees from all over the world, most grown from seed, and a majestic avenue of native Bunya pines. Tragically, Frank never got to see his trees grow to maturity as he died prematurely at the age of 36 in 1889, when he was poisoned while sampling his own young wine.

Pinehurst then passed to the Jardine family before being sold in 1898 to widow Anne Murray and her daughter, Florence. Florence later married Theopilus Cooper and the couple changed the name of the property to Blair Athol and engaged architect Herbert Ross to design a magnificent two-storey Federation house to be made from locally quarried stone. The house was completed in 1904, but sadly Florence never lived in it as she died during childbirth shortly before it was finished. The Coopers, however, lived on the grand homestead until 1938 and it then passed through a succession of owners until the vendors established a B&B there in the 1990s.

The full story was originally published in the February 2016  issue of Australian Country. Subscribe to the magazine here.

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Words Kirsty McKenzie
Photography Ken Brass
Styling Bronte Camilleri