TO say the Merrang property at Hexham near Mortlake is historic is an understatement.
The National Trust-listed property is a beautifully preserved example of when Australia rode “on the sheep’s back” and abounds with opulence, stories and physical connections to earlier eras.
It was established in 1839 and bought in 1856 by Scots settler, Robert Hood, when the property extended over more than 8900 hectares (22,000 acres).
Now after 156 years and four generations in the Hood family, it has been put on the market.
The decision to put the property up for sale is an indication of the massive changes in agriculture that have occurred in the past 150 years.
After farming the property for the past 35 years, David Hood and his wife Joy have decided to sell up and move on to another chapter of their lives.
None of their four children are interested in a career in farming and the property has contracted over time to 769 hectares (1900 acres).
Mr Hood said soldier settlement schemes that followed each of the world wars last century had taken large slabs of the property.
However, even as a much smaller property in 1989, it was still large enough to run 20,000 sheep.
During the Hoods’ time, it has also been used for cattle production and cropping but in recent years it has focused primarily on prime lambs and wool.
When Mr Hood started on the farm in 1978, it was worked by seven people.
Presently it is worked by Mr Hood and an employee.
While Merrang abounds with its history, it wears its age well and is far from worse for wear.
The 70-square single-storey Italianate bluestone homestead was created through extensions in 1865 to an original four-room bluestone cottage.
According to the sales pitch, it offers modern conveniences as well as all the lavish scale of the past.
It has a grand 3.5-metre-wide hallway, a drawing room, sitting room, sunroom, large modern dining room and kitchen, six bedrooms and two bathrooms.
A cast iron verandah with lacework and tessellated paving tiles and an Ionic portico of double pillars on either side of the entrance with fanlight over the door makes for a stately presence.
The homestead sits high on a rise atop a ha-ha wall that keeps livestock out while allowing picturesque views over a billabong beside the Hopkins River, which flows through the property.
It is surrounded by about .8 hectare (two acres) of park-like gardens and an elm grove, bordered by stone fences.
A long driveway leading to the homestead has been planted with a second avenue of trees after aged cypresses were cleared away.
A bluestone gatekeepers’ cottage at the property’s entrance, a three-bedroom manager’s residence, six-stand woolshed, bluestone stables, an early cookhouse for workers and the Hood family cemetery are among the other historic and evocative gems on the property.
But Merrang’s rich history is also about people and events, not just the buildings.
One of the characters is the Aboriginal maid Jeanie Farie, who worked first for the Farie family — an early owner of Merrang — then the Hoods.
She vowed she would live there until her death and achieved just that, dying at the front gate as the family took her away for medical treatment.
Another is of David Hood’s grandfather, Robert Alex Hood, who played polo for Australia.
He also led the Hexham polo team, which was known as Hood’s Pups.
Merrang was also famous as a Lincoln sheep stud in the 1870s and renowned for its Polwarth flock which was started from the Merrang Lincolns in 1924.
David Hood said the name Merrang is believed to have come either from the name of one of the early Aborigines who worked on the property, or meant brown snake.
“But I’ve only ever seen tiger snakes on the property,” he said.