Sunnyside Cottage, Newham review: For those about to rock

Read our writer's views on this property below

The town may have changed but a familiar figure still casts a spell over Jo Chandler.

Within minutes of arrival we had an answer - if not the answer - to that old conundrum about a tree falling in the forest. From deep within the copse of tall eucalypts a stone's throw from our cottage comes the splintering crash of something very big falling down.

The comatose koala we have been observing in its perch high in a nearby gum tree - debating whether it was the real McCoy, or a stuffed ornament for we tourists - resolves the question by suddenly stirring and looking around, vaguely alarmed at the sudden shattering of the peace. A rough translation of the body language would be the marsupial equivalent of "what the hell?"

And then - back to sleep.

So there you go, folks. When a tree falls, the koala hears.

I am pleased to report that we, however, hear nothing of the koala or any of his/her kin during our weekend stay at Sunnyside Cottage. Anyone who has endured the blood-curdling serenade of koalas by night will agree this is indeed a blessing - unless you are wishing to provide foreign visitors with take-home stories of fearsome "drop bears".

We are more than content with a recuperative evening of silence and many stars, swaddled deep in sprawling farming country, feeling a million miles from the city - though in truth the suburban lights are less than half an hour's drive and a few hilltops away.

I spent many of my childhood years in Woodend, not 10 minutes from the location of this cottage. I must have ridden the roads around these parts hundreds of times - Sunday driving with my folks, on my bicycle, aboard my poor old pony (a reluctant steed saddled by a petulant princess).

Back then I found the landscape not so much bucolic as . . . well, boring. The most excitement I ever recall in Newham was watching my friend's dad exercise his trotters - round and round and round again. I don't recall having any awareness or appreciation of just how gorgeous the acreage out beyond Hanging Rock really is. Funny how dotage changes one's perspective.

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Mind you, Newham has changed too. You certainly couldn't quaff an al fresco latte at the Newham General Store back in my day. Or wander up to the Hanging Rock winery to sample their offerings and scratch the bellies of a fine collection of waggy wine dogs. Dancers in the Newham Hall executed the Pride of Erin - not Spanish flamenco, as the sign now advertises.

But there always was, and still is, the Rock, wraithed in meandering bush paths and mystique. Climbing it, contemplating it, always stirs a little bit of magic, no matter how often you have done it.

Sunnyside Cottage sits within cooee of the rock, a neatly preserved bit of old Newham.

It was likely constructed about the same time as the adjacent grand bluestone homestead, which was built by one of the region's pioneering families in 1862.

The cottage was at least for a time used as shearers' quarters. The original bluestone fireplace and slate roof endures.

Today it's at the heart of a working beef cattle stud, Lemah Park. The Simmental-Red Angus bulls are a humbling part of the scenery and best appreciated from the right side of the fence.

If you prefer your beef a little less animated, your hosts can supply a barbecue kit for your evening meal - steaks (home grown), baked potatoes and all the trimmings including home-made chutneys and fresh-baked rolls.

Breakfast supplies are delivered in a basket to the doorstep at whatever time you nominate - bread baked to order with farm-grown everything (except the bacon). Hostess Bronwyn's jams are a treat.

The cottage is snug and simple. It has a single bedroom with a comfortable queen-size bed, a well-equipped little kitchen and small, antique-furnished dining room. The bathroom is tiny, shower only - this is not the place to come if you are yearning to wallow.

There are fine views from the living area, which opens to a deck and a large garden where you will find some splendid roses, a friendly cat and a cranky dog.

It's ideal for couples or a single's getaway.

VISITORS' BOOK

Sunnyside Cottage

Address 136 Millers Lane, Newham.

Ideal for anyone wanting to escape the city but not drive too far. Hanging Rock and Hanging Rock Winery are nearby.

Price Self-catering accommodation costs $380 for a minimum two-night stay, with breakfast provisions provided. Barbecue dinner available on request.

Bookings Phone 5427 0248; see sunnysidecottage.com.au.

Getting there From Melbourne, drive via the CityLink Toll Road (follow the Calder Freeway towards Bendigo), or over the West Gate Bridge to the Calder Freeway via the Western Ring Road. From the Calder, take the Hanging Rock exit ramp (C324), turn right and follow route C324, turn right at Newham into Rochford Road, and Millers Lane is four kilometres away.

Wheelchair access No.

Verdict 17.

The score: 19-20 excellent; 17-18 great; 15-16 good; 13-14 comfortable.

All weekends away are conducted anonymously and paid for by Traveller.