IT was once proudly called ‘The house at the end of the road’. Better known as Barrington House (BH), the logo was even printed on its greeting cards.
The popular wilderness guesthouse, which quietly opened in 1927, was a Hunter Valley institution for 79 years before fire destroyed it in 2006.
Former guests and day-trippers have fond memories of the distant bush icon at Salisbury, via Dungog, nestling at the foot of the magical World Heritage-listed Barrington Tops. For being there was a unique experience.
For a start, electricity was connected to BH in late 1954, about 24 years after it officially opened.
“Even if someone did ever manage to rebuild it, I don’t think it would ever be the same,” former long-time co-owner Darryl Lewis told Weekender.
“It had its own special atmosphere because it was remote. In the 1980s we were at the end of the line, the furthest (Hunter) electricity customer of Shortland County Council up there.”
About 46 kilometres from Dungog and surrounded by rainforest, Barrington guesthouse was on about 8ha by the Upper Williams River. It was a rare surviving 1920s country guesthouse.
Built on wooden piles and edged by three verandas, BH’s exterior was blue gum and its interior walls were lined with red mahogany. No rooms were ever locked, but it had inside barrel bolts for use at night.
The Hunter-based Lewis family owned BH for 25 years until early 2002 and were its longest owners. Recently, Darryl and wife Lyn gave Weekender a glimpse into the workings of the resort, seemingly unchanged for decades. “People prized the place. They knew they were very close to nature here and far away from everyday worries,” Darryl, 80, said.
“But we virtually had to rebuild the place, then build the business up. Decades ago, before we owned it, there was no carpet, iron beds and only four visitors. We had to get the cook and a waitress so we could play doubles at tennis.
“Later, as the business grew popular, especially with families, it got very busy. We had about 20 rooms, including 14 around the main guesthouse. We hit 102 guests one Easter, but the average was 90. Sometimes we have three separate sittings for Sunday lunch,” Darryl said.
“There’s a whole lot of stories associated with Barrington Guest House. It was there, for example, that actress Nicole Kidman rode a horse for the first time. She learned to ride up there from when she was five years of age until she was about 13.
“She would spend Christmas holidays up there with her father. He was a wonderful man, he used to play the pianola every weekend. I’ve a photo somewhere of Nicole and her sister sitting in a horse and buggy and I’m driving it.”
Darryl said their pet kangaroo, Rocky, slept by the fireplace, the kitchen fuel stove, by the back door every night.
“We even gave him a rug, a cushion and a pillow to make him more comfortable and fed him toast each morning,” he said.
But Lyn has other memories of the same roo. “Rocky was notorious. One night a female guest got up in the middle of the night in her nightie to go to the outside toilet. When she returned in the dark she got back into bed and put out her hand to her sleeping husband, saying: “I’m back darling”.
“Instead, she let out this almighty scream. She’d felt a furry arm in the bed between her and her husband. Rocky had climbed in between them to sleep.
“Rocky thought he was human. Every time we had a bush band up at BH, Rocky would come up the front steps and bound into the room. The band would immediately strike up the TV tune, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo and he’d go through the dining room and out the back door. He knew he had to appear.”
Running BH was only one of Darryl’s roles during his busy working life. He also built homes in Newcastle, became MBA president, ran a Denman farm and was a Newcastle alderman (1974-1980).
“My memories of Barrington include once driving one of our tour buses and coming across a diamond python snake on the track. He was comatose with the cold so I put him inside the football jumper I was wearing and drove on,” he said.
Lyn remembers another relatively harmless snake, Monty. “He was unusual in that he had an extra nostril. He used to live in a bag hung on a doorknob until he disappeared, possibly stolen,” she said.
Darryl said one probably unknown fact was that the BGH design (in 1925) was a copy of one at Kangaroo Falls, near Bundanoon, called The Bungalow.
“You know, there were also once 14 little guesthouses, each of four to five rooms, between Dungog and us. Originally, in the 1920s, our Barrington Tops region was going to be the Katoomba of Newcastle for tourists.”
But Lyn did reveal: “We’re never been back to see where our guesthouse once stood.
“It’s all so sad.”