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Toorale Homestead to be restored to former glory

Andrew Heighway outside the historic Toorale Homestead. Photo contributed

The iconic Toorale Homestead west of Bourke, will rise again to become a major tourist attraction and a rare example of building techniques more than a century old, according to the works manager tasked with bringing the grand old lady back to her former glory.

Andrew Heighway from National Parks and Wildlife is overseeing the restoration of the glorious homestead on the Warrego River at Toorale.

Mr Heighway says he is passionate about the project but said the restoration work was commissioned in the nick of time, with white ant damage, collapsing structures and decay taking a heavy toll on the structure.

He is working with a team of experts to source the rare materials originally used on the structure but said it was the enthusiasm and commitment of local tradespeople that was making the job even more satisfying.

He has a timetable that will see the enormous task patiently completed, stage by stage.

“The Toorale Homestead is an extraordinary building, a wedding gift in 1896 to Samuel McCaughey’s favourite niece, Louisa Robinson.

“It was the family home and also housed the workers in the house and the property, people like the overseer, the book-keeper, jackaroos, stockmen, cleaners, gardeners and others who lived on the property.

“It is an exceptionally large house - 1070 square metres, with 24 bedrooms, 14-foot ceilings and more than six square metres of courtyard underneath a large apexed roof of skylights to let natural light into the courtyard and into the bedrooms through manhole sized glass windows.

“There were many innovations with natural light and open fires in each room. The materials are mostly timber, including the local Gidgee timber, for joists and frames and the only masonry is the fireplace, chimneys and two cellars, because McCaughey considered the collapsible soils in that environment.

“The 14-foot Wunderlich tin ceilings were very ornate and on the walls are strips of timber and plaster, again to take local conditions into account.

“I’m told the fireplaces were made of Italian marble which were removed before we started work and I am working on a plan to try and get them back.

“There are so many unique features, like the ripple iron on the exterior which was imported from Chile or Britain in the 1890s and not used otherwise in Australia, so that’s rare.

“It is testament to Sir Samuel McCaughey’s design to put in those materials in that environment on collapsible soils, so it has a lot more give, not like masonry that will crack and break away, and it doesn’t retain heat either, so there is a lot of innovation regarding climate and location in the Toorale Homestead,” he said.

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