You could have cracked the silence at the Bellbrook Hotel with a blunt butter knife. Commandeering the microphone from Anne Kirkpatrick (Slim’s Dusty’s singing daughter), ‘Cookie’, in front of a packed capacity house, had just proposed to Brenda. Ominous silence followed as the crowd waited with baited breath. “Come on”, cajoled the potential groom, “what you see is what you get!” This proved irresistible to Brenda and the proposal was accepted. Phew.
Double phew – not only was a marriage on the cards, but it also meant cool ales all round, and on a randomly hot day (read, 42 degrees) in October, everyone needed a cool ale. This is Slim Dusty territory (the country music legend was born in Kempsey) and the appearance of Ms Kirkpatrick at the pub had drawn a huge crowd – the front was lined with dusty utes and men in akubra hats lined the bar. Ze German was non plussed. “Everyone here looks like Corocodile Dundee!” He was right – they did.
Just an hour from South West Rocks, this is true Australia. There isn’t much else in Bellbrook, except this corrugated iron pub. No phone reception. No internet. On a scalding Sunday, just beer, a BBQ and country tunes. Oh and another 10 mins down the road, the Bemurrah Homestead.
If you have ever sought the quintessential Australian experience, this is it. Set amongst a verdant valley with moo-ing cows, tree lined ridges and bubbling Macleay River, the homestead is located where mountains fold in upon each other like casually draped handkerchiefs.
Sunsets here are some of the best in the country, the sky turning orange and the neighbouring hills a bruised, hazy indigo. Unless you’re hungry, it’s Sunday eve and the pub has decided not to serve dinner (due to the Anne Event). Which leaves you with the inventory of one packet of Just Right and a pack of chips in the glove box.
Carolyn and Dave to the rescue! Within 20 mins of a food query (aka SOS), a 4WD comes roaring through the valley and up pop the owners with fish, salad, cheeses and fruit. In fact, this is serendipity, as we get to meet the brains behind this picturesque homestead with a view down the valley and river.
They’re not just hosts, they run 5000 heads of cattle, breed guide dogs, know everything you can know about rural living and in general offer genuine country hospitality.
We visit the river where guests canoe – although not tonight. Others did ask if they could launch heir boats, but if you have booked the 3-bed house, exclusive of the riverfront comes with it. All 2km of it. Dabbling our feet in the cooling waters (still 33 degrees at 7pm), we decide this is the perfect family holiday spot – it would take days to roam the property and soak up the ambience. And the homestead itself? Boutique, spacious (perfect for two families) and so clean it shines.
It’s a world away from South West Rocks. Just the night before we waddled the 20m from The Heritage Guest house to Sea Breeze – the bar where surfies, locals and visitors all mix. The town’s population is 7,000, at Christmas it swells to 20,000 – but their bistro is the place to be with some of the best prices on the East Coast.
Apart from the Trial Bay Goal, the drawcard here is Smoky Cape Lighthouse. There are only nine major lighthouses in Australia and this is one of them. Freshly white washed with accents of deep blue, it is almost Santorini-esque. There has been no lighthouse keeper since 1987, but Pat and Wendy have been running the National Parks keepers cottages as B & B’s for the past ten years.
Expect some nautical themes (small replicas of The Endeavour and Bounty plus lighthouse statues) – and with a $2 million renovation 3 years ago, they are in five star condition. But the scene stealer is the back yard. Walk out the door and almost fall into a postcard picture of golden beaches. Would I like to wake up here? Oh yes.
From ocean to mountains today – this little area has coast and country wrapped up in one neat package. People never leave the seaside here, but that’s a shame – the hinterland also has much to offer.