Almost 160 years after it was built, historic homestead Jarvisfield is at the centre of an epic stand-off between Wollondilly Council and descendants of the Antill family.
On the one side is Marie Reeves, a direct descendant of John Macquarie Antill, who built the heritage listed house between 1863 and 1864.
Mrs Reeves has been leading the family battle for almost 30 years to either force the council to take seriously the need for proper restoration of Picton’s most important heritage structure or sell it to her family so they can do the work.
On the other side of the stand-off is Wollondilly Shire Council, who insist they acknowledge and respect the prime historical importance of Jarvisfield, and are doing their best looking after it.
However, the council – which owns Jarvisfield and the land around it – says it does not have the funds for the full restoration Mrs Reeves insists is needed to bring the building back to its original glory.
She says around $1 million is needed to make Jarvisfield Picton’s tourism jewel.
In the meantime, according to Mrs Reeves, the homestead, which is used as the clubhouse for Antill Country Golf Course, is being allowed to fall into disrepair. She also accuses council of approving work on the building which are not aligned with its heritage values, including turning the barn into the pro shop.
“I can’t see any hope of progress at all,’’ Mrs Reeves has told the South West Voice in Macarthur.
“I have been pursuing this since 1995 and I still find myself in the same position.
“Council’s replies, across the board, are not transparent; in fact they are evasive when answering questions and they fail to provide definitive answers as to their commitment and ability to restore the property,’’ Mrs Reeves said.
The Antill descendant is also trying to establish the ownership of Vault Hill, the family’s final resting place for more than 150 years – which is currently in abject disrepair.
In response to a list of questions submitted to them by the Voice, Wollondilly Council responded with the following points:
“We acknowledge that the Jarvisfield estate and Vault Hill are important parts of the history of Wollondilly and New South Wales, especially with the connections to Major Henry Colden Antill.
“Council and our tenants who run the Antill Country Golf Club take the maintenance and upkeep of the estate and the former Antill family home seriously and have invested significantly in the ongoing upkeep and maintenance of the heritage buildings, in particular making sure the building meets contemporary fire safety standards.
“Maintaining historical masonry buildings built before current requirements (power, sewage management, emergency egress and fire safety) is challenging and costly and has to be balanced with other public needs and priorities
“In 2021/22 alone a further $110,000 will be invested in planned upkeep and maintenance works.
“Regarding Vault Hill, the vault is wholly contained within private property without a public access route and accordingly Council’s capacity to protect or reflect on the heritage significance as a potential tourism site at this time is very restricted.”
Here’s the thing: the history of the Antills is so inextricably linked to the area that it is fair to state without fear of contradiction that without them there would be no such place called Picton at the edge of the Southern Highlands of NSW.
Major Henry Colden Antill was the first of the clan in the colony of NSW, having arrived on December 31, 1809, along with Governor Lachlan Macquarie.
The latter is considered by historians as the governor who not only saved the colony, but built the foundations for its long term success.
At his side was his right hand man, Major Antill, whose reward were two land grants, of just under 3000 acres.
Major Antill, pictured, named the estate Jarvisfield, after Jane Jarvis, the first wife of Governor Macquarie.
In 1844 he subdivided the estate and Picton was created – the first private town in the colony.
John, one of six sons of the major, commissioned colonial architect William Weaver in 1863 to build Jarvisfield in the “Victorian Regency style’’.
The estate was in Antill family hands until 1974, when Wollondilly Shire Council became the owner of both the Jarvisfield homestead and the land around it.
Coming up are a couple of key milestones in the links of the Antill family to the area: next year is the 200th anniversary of the land grant to Major Antill, while in 2023 the golf club lease with council expires – on the 160th anniversary of Jarvisfield homestead.
Most current councillors, especially ones that have been there for some time, are aware of the importance to Picton of both the history of the Antill family and Jarvisfield.
Cr Judy Hannan, a former mayor, says of Jarvisfield: “I adore the building.’’
However, Cr Hannan believes there would be a public outcry if council sold the property as it is valued.
She says council money at the moment is being desperately applied to the Shire’s roads.
“There has been money spent lately to stop decay [at Jarvisfield] but we will have to look for grants to restore.’’
Michael Banasik is another veteran councillor with a keen interest in heritage issues, including Jarvisfield and Vault Hill.
“In relation to Jarvisfield, various works have occurred but I agree more needs doing,’’ Cr Banasik said.
“Council continues to look at heritage grants. The golf club do a great job but have limited funds.
“I personally oppose selling any of the golf course. It’s Wollondilly’s only public course. It’s the historic entrance to Picton and would be a sad day to see it developed,’’ he says.
“In relation to Vault Hill, the graves are landlocked. I have been lobbying for many years for a walkway and lookout which give access to it and enable grants to restore the graves.’’
In 1981, seven years after taking possession of the Jarvisfield estate, Wollondilly Council commissioned a report on the conservation of the homestead and barn.
“Properly restored, Jarvisfield would be one of the finest remaining examples of its type in the country. Wollondilly Shire Council is fortunate to have such a complex, substantially intact, in its care,’’ concluded the firm of architects commissioned to prepare the report.
In their statement responding to the Voice questions, Wollondilly Council also said: “Council’s guidelines with respect to publicly owned land have been conveyed to Ms Reeves on numerous occasions and council will consider the future of the site towards the end of the current lease in line with those guidelines and its obligations to the broader community’’.
On that point at least, Mrs Reeves more or less agrees:
“My feelings are that council has a responsibility to detail their plans for the longevity of the property not only to the local community, but also the people of NSW and Australia due to its unparalleled significance to our country’s heritage,’’ she says.
“Their inaction over the last four decades has shown this resulting in significant deterioration of the property.
“If council allows this to continue, I have grave fears for the future of Jarvisfield.’’