When John and Janice Teunis pictured their retirement 10 years ago, they saw themselves living in a cottage in a small country town and working part time to keep the boredom at bay.
Today though, they find themselves in a seven bedroom, heritage-listed homestead that boasts 14-foot ceilings, three living spaces, and 10-foot verandahs that wrap around three sides on both levels.
It’s no surprise they’d need the space, with five sons and 17 grandchildren, but the journey to claiming The Anchorage homestead at St George, Queensland, as their home has been nothing short of a “calling”.
“We thought it was nice to live in a little cottage but we outgrew the cottage; it was far too small,” Mrs Teunis said.
“But I don’t think we envisaged anything this big.
“We call this a farmhouse on steroids; it really is just a big farmhouse, it’s not fancy.”
The Teunis’ love affair with Anchorage homestead began five years ago when their youngest son, Simon, told them they should check out the beautiful old house up the river.
“We just looked at it and walked around and I said to John ‘it’s calling my name’,” Mrs Teunis said.
“And of course I said ‘no it’s not’,” Mr Teunis said.
“I just looked at this place and said ‘you could do this, you could renovate this’, because we’ve renovated houses before – big houses both in Australia and America,” Mrs Teunis said.
“A bit of time after that, John became very ill so we didn’t pursue it. He ended up having to have open heart surgery and he said ‘don’t talk to me about that house, I can’t do it’.
“The upshot of it was that 12 weeks after the surgery, I said to the cardiologist, ‘do you think he could renovate a house’. I didn’t say how big it was, and he said ‘sure, it’ll probably keep him alive, it’s a good hobby’.”
“So with that we both came back, Janice kept dragging me back to the place and it was like all of a sudden I thought yeah this should be our house,” Mr Teunis said.
Located on The Anchorage, owned by Cubbie Ag, John and Janice set about finding out how they could make Anchorage homestead their new home.
Twelve months later, with the help of Cubbie management and the Balonne Shire Council, they took ownership of the homestead and five acres surrounding it in partnership with Simon and his wife Amanda.
Restoring the magnificence
Empty for 12 years prior to purchasing the property, Mr Teunis said cattle had been wandering the verandahs and the house was full of dead birds, snake skins, fox poo, and about an inch of dust on every surface.
“The body of the house was in very good condition and we could see that even though the outside looked derelict,” he said.
“The first thing I did was get a gurney, started at the top and gurneyed the whole house out just to see what was there.
“We had to do a few things at the back to lift the house up, but the roof structure was good.”
Mr Teunis said bringing the building back to it’s former glory took a million gallons of paint and everyone on their hands and knees to restore the original timber floors.
Restoring a heritage-listed building is no easy feat, but for these seasoned renovators, it was a challenge they really enjoyed.
“Because we’ve done heritage before, Janice really studied all of the requirements – there was about 47 pages of what you can and can’t do,” Mr Teunis said.
“With heritage you can’t renovate, you can only restore. We kept everything original, and everything that was fallen down and rotten, we repaired.
“You have to do like for like. For instance, the verandahs have to be cypress and the boards have to be the same type of boards. We’ve been very lucky in that we’ve been able to source it locally.”
Despite none of the original furniture remaining, the character of the old homestead is clearly evident in the form of a winding staircase with steps barely wide enough to step on, the original coloured glass framing main doorways, and ripple-effect glass in most of the windows.
“To bring it to what you see now, it was a fair bit of work, but we achieved it in two-and-a-half years,” Mr Teunis said.
“As a building is concerned, it’s a magnificent old house. It was beautifully put together in the first place.”
A community affair
The resurrection of the magnificent homestead has been embraced by the entire St George community.
“We’ve had so much help from the local people. The council got behind us, Cubbie got behind us; they really went the extra mile,” Mr Teunis said.
“The whole town has been excited that we’ve done it up – they all claim it.
“One of the local builders insisted he keep his scissor lift here, and that was great to do all the painting outside. Another builder loaned me all of his scaffold, so it lived here for about 12 months.
“Someone just dropped a bobcat off for two weeks to clear the paddocks and clear the house yard.”
With the house nearly complete, the Teunises have now opened the homestead up for tours.
“To us it’s just a way of contributing to the economy, and we love to show it off,” Mrs Teunis said.
“They are only in the winter season from May until the end of September and they are only once a week so it’s not a huge imposition.
“We had no intentions of ever using this commercially, it’s really just to add to the cotton farm and winery tours, just to put another string in their bow.”
Anchorage homestead also plays host to community events, with the lawn area able to comfortably seat 100 guests, and the Teunis family is considering the idea of opening the grounds up for weddings.
An oasis in the middle of a parched corner of the state, the homestead is surrounded by an acre of green lawn and cottage-style gardens, adding to the beauty of the residence.
Step back in time
Built in 1903, The Anchorage is steeped in history.
When St George became the centre of a flourishing pastoral district in the late 1880s, several pastoralists began to find success, including Andrew William Nixon.
A blacksmith by trade, Nixon had established his own blacksmithing business in Jerilderie, NSW, around the time the Kelly gang of bushrangers was in the area.
Information from the Queensland Heritage Register says that by 1882, Nixon had made his way to St George with his family and was working in the district on contract work, including the construction of the first bridge across the Balonne River in 1890.
After reputedly amassing a small fortune from his contracting and having previously obtained shares in the Australian Steam Sawmills on the Balonne River, Nixon eventually redirected his energies towards agricultural pursuits.
His success in these pursuits allowed him to take up about 90,000 acres in the surrounding district, some of which had originally formed part of the Cypress Downs and Mona stations.
Nixon began construction of The Anchorage in 1903, situated on a 16,000 acre parcel of land on the western bank of the Balonne River and surrounded by a plantation of orchard trees and a flower garden.
Constructed primarily from local cypress pine, which was milled in the Australian Steam Sawmills, the two-storey, 12-room homestead was built to accommodate for Nixon’s large family.
Family at the heart
Almost 120 years after the homestead was built, there’s no doubt that The Anchorage is still a family home.
The voices of three generations of the Teunis family now bounce off the old walls, and countless little feet scramble through the halls.
Mrs Teunis said gone are the days when they didn’t have enough room for the family to visit.
“We can fit almost our entire family in here,” she said.
“For all the grandkids, it’s a lovely place to come and visit.
“At 6am it’s pretty rowdy; they run around upstairs and we roll over and say ‘oh wasn’t it quiet when they weren’t here’, but they have a ball.
“We have parties here all the time. Everyone has their birthday party here.”
Their labour of love is almost complete, with just the back of the house and upstairs verandahs left to be restored.
The Teunis family hope this will be possible through a grant for heritage conservation projects.