Old world charm and trea­sures

His­toric homes and Mary Pop­pins, beau­ti­ful Mary­bor­ough has it all, writes Ali­son Cotes

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - SHORT BREAKS -

RE­MEM­BER those mys­te­ri­ous old houses that used to fas­ci­nate you as a child, ei­ther in a street in your neigh­bour­hood or in creepy ad­ven­ture nov­els? They were usu­ally very run­down with an over­grown gar­den hid­ing them from view, and you were con­vinced that a mur­derer lived there, or at the very least an old witch, and your one am­bi­tion, which you were too scared to carry out, was to sneak in­side one day and have a peep.

We dis­cov­ered one such house in Mary­bor­ough on a two-day stopover on our way to Fraser Is­land. Mavis Bank, dat­ing from 1874, has only just been opened to the pub­lic. I’m there are ghosts in there, and what ne­far­i­ous goings-on took place in that down­stairs laun­dry with its old wooden man­gle and strange old wash­ing tubs, not to men­tion those kerosene-heated smooth­ing irons, I shud­der to think. But the charm­ingly ec­cen­tric cou­ple who live among this glo­ri­ous jum­ble of 19th-cen­tury trea­sures are im­mune to it all, and Liz cheer­fully shows vis­i­tors around for the princely sum of $ 6 a head, and points out trea­sures like 18th-cen­tury desks with hid­den draw­ers, cut-throat ra­zors and granny knick­ers, as well as home­made toys.

There’s al­ways some­thing dif­fer­ent to do in Mary­bor­ough, which is much more than just a stop-off point on the way to the Great Sandy Straits. It’s all his­tory and beau­ti­ful ar­chi­tec­ture and there’s some­thing to please every­one, from train buffs to an­tique buy­ers to doll lovers to hearty walk­ers and afi­ciona­dos of war his­tory. And there’s al­ways the beau­ti­ful Mary River, where you can take a re­lax­ing cruise past her­itage houses and ob­serve the wildlife – al­though if you suf­fer from bat pho­bia, as I do, be­ware.

Mary­bor­ough is where P. L. Travers, the cre­ator of Mary Pop­pins, was born, and there’s a statue of the for­mi­da­ble nanny out­side her cre­ator’s house in the Portside Precinct, looking very cross in­deed be­cause she was re­cently moved to the other side of the street dur­ing ma­jor road­works.

From the look on her face she could fly away again at any mo­ment. But maybe she’s just cross be­cause it was a Mon­day, which is when the whole of Mary­bor­ough closes down, it seems.

There’s nowhere to eat at night ex­cept for clubs and var­i­ous eth­nic take­aways, no per­for­mances at the Brolga The­atre, so that I missed

again ( for this re­lief, many thanks), and not even the river boat runs. So per­haps if you’re us­ing Mary­bor­ough as a base for your Cen­tral Coast hol­i­day, Mon­day is the time to take that day trip to Fraser Is­land or Lady El­liot, or to do the self­guided walk or drive around this beau­ti­ful city ( brochures are avail­able at the In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre).

The her­itage-listed Bren­nan and Geraghty’s Store is one place that’s open all week, a gen­eral store that was closed in 1972 af­ter 101 years of trad­ing. Closed by Geraghty’s youngest son Ge­orge, then 88 years old, it con­tained the com­plete stock from the 1890s through to ad­ver­tis­ing signs of the 1920s and packaging from the 1960s.

The place is now a her­itage-listed build­ing, filled with more nos­tal­gia than you can shake your walk­ing stick at. A great treat for chil­dren who know only su­per­mar­ket shop­ping.

Mary­bor­ough re­ally comes to life on Thurs­days, when the lo­cal mar­kets oc­cupy the whole of the pop­u­lace, it seems, and when the minia­ture steam train the Mary Ann chugs through Queens Park with two car­riages full of ex­cited chil­dren and nos­tal­gic grand­pas.

But you can look up all th­ese ac­tiv­i­ties on the web­site be­cause, hav­ing de­cided to take a few days off in this lovely port city, you need to find some­where to stay, and I’ve found a new place that is ideal for a short or long hol­i­day.

It’s a ram­bling, sim­ple, old Queens­lan­der house that has been metic­u­lously re­stored by French woman Ce­cile Espigole and her Aus­tralian hus­band, Stephen.

It sleeps two to six peo­ple and it’s comfortable without be­ing fussy. The kitchen is big enough to swing a cat in ( prefer­ably not Ce­cile and Stephen’s French tabby, who will prob­a­bly come to visit) and there are four bi­cy­cles on which the whole fam­ily can do some ex­plor­ing. Clean and spa­cious, with ev­ery fit­ting the heart could de­sire, the house is all yours for as long as you want to stay, and it of­fers so much more free­dom than a B& B or a mo­tel, and is just as cheap.

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