Crooke’s nook a pic­ture-per­fect es­cape

ROOM AT THE INN

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SHARON FOWLER

AUS­TRALIAN painter Ray Crooke is best known for his vi­brant, pat­terned land­scapes in­hab­ited by smooth­skinned Pa­cific is­landers, yet he once made his home in a place far re­moved from any trop­i­cal idyll.

In 1960 Crooke pur­chased Lit­tle For­est, a pic­turesque, ru­ral prop­erty in the NSW South­ern High­lands, where he gath­ered the sand­stone blocks re­main­ing from a for­mer inn and built an artist’s stu­dio. It was here that he painted his 1969 Archibald-win­ning por­trait of author Ge­orge John­ston (whose ashes are in­terred on the prop­erty), and en­ter­tained a colony of artists and writ­ers over the next decade.

To­day, Crooke’s stu­dio is one of six cot­tages for rent at Lit­tle For­est, and it’s where my fam­ily has ar­rived for an au­tumn week­end.

When we step through the front door into the open kitchen and liv­ing space it’s chilly, but there’s plenty of chopped wood and kin­dling on hand and we soon find the kitchen fire­place (there’s an­other, larger one, in the lounge) ef­fec­tively heats the cot­tage to near-trop­i­cal tem­per­a­tures.

The Stu­dio has a large, well-stocked mod­ern kitchen (in­clud­ing a cof­fee ma­chine), din­ing ta­ble and cosy lounge with flat-screen tele­vi­sion, a big DVD se­lec­tion and a wall of books invit­ing lazy evenings by the fire. The decor is eclec­tic: a coat of arms, minia­ture suits of ar­mour, griz­zly bear lamp and a signed Ray Crooke above the fire­place — is­lander women, cobalt seas and scar­let hi­bis­cus.

Be­yond the kitchen is a large bed­room with an an­tique bed and French doors, and a large bath­room with a claw-foot tub. The van­ity’s swan brass tap is an amus­ing touch. Up­stairs is a blue-hued loft with two sin­gle beds, an invit­ing hide­away for older chil­dren (al­though steep stairs make it un­suit­able for tod­dlers or the el­derly).

Lit­tle For­est is a beau­ti­ful, sprawl­ing es­tate, its grounds dot­ted with sculp­tures, wrought-iron signs, a full­sized gypsy car­a­van, a tree­house, a minia­ture MG and plenty of other quirky finds.

Af­ter ex­plor­ing, we sit by the lake on the gazebo steps watch­ing geese am­ble by and later en­joy a short bush walk at the rear of the prop­erty.

Fiona Brown bought Lit­tle For­est in 1996, and has ex­tended the ac­com­mo­da­tion to in­clude Eco Cot­tage (where gover­nor Mac­quarie once camped) and Oatley Cot­tage, a 1910 home des­tined for de­mo­li­tion that was trans­ported here and re­built on site.

Lit­tle For­est is an ideal op­tion for ex­tended groups or fam­i­lies, and chil- dren will love the an­i­mals — chooks (col­lect eggs for break­fast), a pair of alpacas, pigs, two Shet­land ponies and a don­key named Hec­tor, who never fails to greet us when we visit his pad­dock. For our tod­dler, the only thing more ex­cit­ing than Hec­tor is the old train car­riage that Brown re­cently had trans­ported to the site.

We’re shown in­side and I’m stunned to find a con­tem­po­rary kitchen, liv­ing area and bath­room, and a row of lov­ingly re­stored sleeper cars.

It may not be a trop­i­cal is­land par­adise, but Lit­tle For­est is a dis­tinctly re­lax­ing haven of an­other kind. Sharon Fowler was a guest of Lit­tle For­est Coun­try Cot­tages.

SHARON FOWLER

The Stu­dio, one of six cot­tages at Lit­tle For­est

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