Back in 1850, before gold turned Victoria into Australia's richest colony, agricultural centres like Kyneton (now just over an hour north-west of Melbourne by road or rail) were kicking along quite nicely: bluestone flour mills humming, stock changing hands in the saleyards and wool cheques banked. In June that year, the Church of England started work on a rectory for its ministers on the corner of Ebden and Piper streets which they thought would be the main intersection (the location of the station some time later threw a spanner in the town planner's plans). The rectory was a solid building for a solid institution, built with a mix of Colonial and Georgian styles. Fast forward to 2017 and after extensive renovation and restoration work to house and garden, the Old Rectory has emerged as Kyneton's most luxurious accommodation.
The renovation of the house can't be faulted, but it's the quality of the 2000-plus square metres of gardens that really puts the Old Rectory on another plane. On the Piper Street side, a 160-year old walnut tree dominates, standing over huge lawns and outdoor dining areas. Moving around the corner are a series of hedged garden rooms (some secret ones for a surprise) and a long crab apple walk that leads from the entrance to the homestead-style veranda, shaded by wisteria with its showers of colour in spring and autumn.
A house of this age is rich in history – one of its residents was preacher David Unaipon, he of the $50 note, so one of the bedrooms is named for him. Another is one of the owners' forebears, Thomas Walker – well-named for a person who once walked from Sydney to Melbourne to get in on the land boom in the southern city. All three are big rooms, with equally big bathrooms, but the biggest is the Caroline Chisholm room. A library/lounge and dining area off the kitchen complete the package. A Bose sound system runs throughout the house.
Stay in and a smart, if not overly-spacious kitchen is there for you to use and for ingredients there are some outstanding local produce stores nearby, like the Piper Street Food Company for traditional French-style charcuterie and Duck Duck Goose with its larder of fresh provisions and some wonderful cheese and smallgoods. Around the corner in Mollison Street, Banks Fine Wine is an excellent source for wines of the region and beyond. Want to eat out? Those options are also a stroll away, with two outstanding country restaurants in Midnight Starling and Source Dining. Chefs are available at an extra charge if you'd like to eat in at the Old Rectory. Breakfast ingredients are supplied.
The gardens are so vast and spectacular, why go beyond, other than for food and beverages? If you must, galleries in Piper Street include Sarah Gabriel's, who also holds drawing classes. Another belongs to John Lloyd – also a musician, Lloyd played in Icehouse and Paul Kelly and the Dots, among other bands. There's a river walk along the Campaspe and, if wineries are what you're looking for, there are some gems inside a thirty minute drive, like Curly Flat, near Lancefield or Passing Clouds, near Musk. The Kyneton Racecourse, one of country Victoria's most charming, is a 10-minute stroll from the Old Rectory
The best accommodation and probably the best garden in an old town on the rise, thanks not least to tourism and the life it gives the local artists, artisans, restaurants and produce stores.
Whole house rental only (bedrooms can't be booked individually), starting at $1000 per night, minimum two nights on weekends and three on long weekends, with a maximum six guests (18 and over) in three bedrooms. One bedroom can be converted to have two single beds. 61 Ebden Street, Kyneton, Victoria, 3444. Phone 0439 867 480, see kynetonoldrectory.com.au
That walnut tree – it soars like a sentinel over its lawns and filters and frames the day and the seasons like a sculpture.
The kitchen – it functions perfectly well, but maybe a house like this deserves a big country kitchen with a well-worn kitchen table.
Jim Darby, who lives nearby in the Macedon Ranges, was a guest of the Kyneton Old Rectory.