The property ‘Retreat’ was owned and occupied by the Brown family from the early 1850’s to 1998. Retreat was a selection granted to John Brown. Included in the original selection was the adjoining property ‘Wongalee’.
In 1852, John Brown left the Jerry’s Plains (Appletree Flat) area in pursuit of greater riches in the gold fields. When he returned, none the richer and by some administrative mistake, ‘Wongalee’ had been sold to someone else. Although John Brown had legal redress, he decided he had more than enough land left with the current holding of Retreat.
In the very early 1900’s, prior to the First World War, John Brown sold ‘Retreat‘to his son Wallace Brown. Wallace Brown constructed Retreat Homestead in 1912. Most of the materials were cut from the surrounding bush with cypress pine and ironbark being the preferred timbers. Retreat Homestead was a very majestic home for its time, standing proud with its red roof and white facade.
In 1918 Wallace Brown married Florence Annebelle (Acey) Hinde (1891). Although given the middle name of Annebelle, she was christened with the middle name of Acey. Mrs Brown was known as Belle, a name given to her by her father, because she was ‘the belle of his heart’. In her adult years she was known to many as Aunty Belle. Wallace and Belle were blessed with two daughters, Joan (born 1920) and (Florence) Joy (1922).
Mrs Brown was a lovely lady who had time for everyone. Some called her a ‘nature’s gem’. Mrs Brown was renowned for her cooking and actually enrolled in cooking school around the time of World War 1. Her nephew Jim Williamson recalls arriving at Retreat when he was a young boy. Mrs Brown would see the car coming around the top bend of the roadway and pop the scones in the old fuel stove that still has pride of place in the kitchen today. The scones would be coming out of the oven as their car pulled up!
Retreat was, and remains, a highly productive property. Still hidden amongst the grass are relics of bygone days, packing cases and implements used to work the ground.
Wallace Brown was described as a good bloke, an honest and religious man. He was also very generous. In the 1920’s the community was in search of funding to carry out repairs on the local Anglican Church. Wallace donated a pony to raffle to raise money. Only problem was, he won the raffle!
Wallace was a ‘clever farmer’. He kept orchards growing oranges, apricots, water melons, rock melons and quince. Wallace supplied local communities with all classes of vegetables. In fact, he drove his produce to Denman twice a week and to Singleton once a week. He also grew lucerne and slaughtered beasts to feed the local community of Jerry’s Plains, which was much larger than it is today.
In the 1930’s Wallace had four men working on the property. Family remember around this time, an eight year old nephew Frank Williamson, was placed inside the leaves of a cabbage and he could not be seen!
Neither Joan nor Joy ever married. Rumour has it that Wallace and Mrs Brown did not meet anyone good enough for them. In fact, workers on the property could not call them by their first names, merely Miss Brown.
Joan left the property and became a nurse. She travelled to Papua New Guinea to help set up the first maternity hospital in Port Moresby. In 1957, whilst in New Guinea she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She was taken to Brisbane for surgery but died as a result of a cerebral haemorrhage.
This was obviously a very tough time for a very close family. Further tragedy struck in 1958, when Wallace collapsed and died on the property. A stand of lilies was planted just above the creek crossing where he fell. When they are in bloom, you can see them from the homestead. A plaque is laid in his memory.
From 1958 the property was worked by Joy. Joy became an icon in her community. Loved by all, called Aunty Joy by many, she did not have a bad word to say about anyone. She, like her mother and sister, was a real lady.
Joy had a great affinity with her animals. In fact, she had names for all of her cows and treated them like household pets. Joy would resist selling any stock, allowing many of them to live out their days at Retreat.
A once proud showpiece, Retreat deteriorated over the years – understandably so, with Mrs Brown restricted to the house and Joy herself aging.
Mrs Brown passed away in 1984 at the age of 93. This left Joy to fend for herself, to manage the property and the homestead. With modern machinery, this was more than a full time job for a strong man today. It is quite unthinkable that Joy was able to manage basically by herself from the mid 1950’s to her death at the age of 76 in 1998. In fact, she didn’t manage, with the property and the homestead falling into disrepair as Joy aged.
When Joy died Brown family era ended. The property and homestead sat idle for decades. Restoration of the actual property began in 2007 and was completed in 2012. Retreat Homestead has undergone an 18 month renovation, restoring it to its previous beauty and adding some modern touches, such as electric lighting and hot water.
The Brown family, Wallace, Florence, Joan and Joy are all buried in the Jerry’s Plains cemetery together as a family. You may wish to visit their resting place to acknowledge true pioneers and true Australians. On the other hand, many say that the girls have never left Retreat.
We trust that the Brown family will look down on their beautiful home and property and smile with satisfaction. We trust that you enjoy Retreat Homestead and the glorious surrounds. Please spare a thought for the wonderful family who called Retreat home for so many decades.