From exquisite handmade jewellery and singular artworks to quirky antiques and high-end homewares, there’s no end to the tantalising treasures to be found in Bungendore. Charge up the credit card and head for this shopper’s paradise, right on Canberra’s doorstep.
Stepping through the door of the pretty grey and white cottage at 14 Malbon Street is to enter a world of style that wouldn’t be out of place in an interiors magazine. Manon & Moss’s sophisticated collection of European homewares and furniture is so unexpected in this rural town that I have to blink a few times to make sure it’s not some sort of magnificent mirage.
Owner Alix Burnett assures me I’m not going mad. The treasures that fill every room of this restored cottage (and the outdoor furniture displayed in the back courtyard) are architectural and design pieces hand-picked and imported by her, including contemporary and antique lamps and pendant lights, 19th-century gilt mirrors, textiles including rugs, throws and cushions, fabrics and wallpapers, vases and candles, and all manner of decorative homewares.
Alix is the stockist for a variety of well-known names, including home fragrance and cosmetics brands Cire Trudon 1643 of France and Italy’s Santa Maria Novella 1612, as well as Sydney-based furniture and homewares store MCM House. It’s not surprising that Alix’s clients come from far and wide to peruse this wonderful collection which, she tells me with some excitement, will soon be complemented by a range of dramatic outdoor sculptures from celebrated British artist David Harber.
Canberra photographers Susan Foxlee and Sam Cooper were keen for a tree change, and so it was that they focused on a vacant plot of land in Bungendore to pursue their dreams. At first, they planned to build a photography studio alongside their new home. But these things can be a moveable feast, and Susan and Sam eventually opened Suki & Hugh Gallery, showcasing the works of Australian artists of all stripes – painters, glassmakers, ceramicists, illustrators, paper sculptors and more.
The gallery celebrated its fifth birthday last month and has come a long way since those early days when, says Susan, “We had no idea what we were doing, but we had an amazing mentor in Ann McMahon from Belconnen Arts Centre, who guided us through it”.
At first, Susan and Sam put out a call to various artists whose work they admired to see if they’d exhibit in their new space. Today, the artists are knocking on their door, with exhibitions booked out two years in advance.
Colourful glassworks and ceramics share space with carved wooden decorative items, small watercolours and feature works such as a mesmerising painting created with egg tempera and molten beeswax on board by Canberra artist Sara Freeman on the day we visit.
“We wanted [artists] who are exceptional, across all types of mediums,” says Susan. They nailed it.
The antique wicker chair, church pulpit, wrought iron wine storage cage and porcelain phrenology head that greet visitors before they’ve even entered Village Antiques are a fair indication of the eclectic experience that awaits. This enormous store, across three buildings and what seems like miles, is a little like entering a Tardis. Just when I think I’ve clocked everything in one display area (Egyptian Pharaoh’s bust … carved Mahjong table with nesting stools … large cast-iron rabbit … antique petrol bowser…) up pops another room that houses even more highly browsable bric-a-brac.
When owners Mike Lloyd and Tim Bowcock took over this landmark just over four years ago, they didn’t mess much with a winning formula, but did make the call to buy in more locally made goods and to focus on “anything that’s cool and that you can’t buy anywhere else”.
In addition to “antiques, chinoiseries, garden follies and architectural oddities”, there’s a nice range of contemporary homewares in this weird and wonderful collection that I intend to come back to and explore more fully, perhaps with a packed lunch. I’m sure I can find a place for that traditional Japanese hot tub.
Xanthe Gay – the X behind her gallery’s name – is sitting at a low table strewn with all the accoutrements befitting any good silversmith. In this tiny room (inside the tiniest of buildings on Gibraltar Street, just a few metres from Suki & Hugh), she displays the fruits of her labour – rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings and more, all handcrafted on-site.
A silversmith for 16 years, Xanthe is also a supporter of other local artists and makers, whose works appear alongside her silver treasures.
Familiar Fink water jugs and beakers sit on shelves at the front of the room, while nearby works by Braidwood couple, painter Kate Carruthers and ceramicist Michael Warner, tell the story of the enormous impact the 2019/20 bushfires had on this region (Michael uses the ash from the firegrounds in his glazes, Xanthe tells me, while Kate captures telling ‘before and after’ images of the landscape in her oil paintings).
X Gallery rotates exhibitions every couple of months, but Xanthe’s signature silver pieces are a constant.
Stylish (and comfortable!) footwear from Turkish shoemaker Cabello, dresses from Made In Italy, summer tees, cotton tops, linen pants, bags and scarves, as well as a range of jewellery that will add a pop of colour to any outfit, are the order of the day at Jemayca RED boutique.
Owner Jenny Cameron has curated a lovely selection of garments and accessories through her regular buying trips, keeping local (and visiting) clients happy.
“I have a lot of customers from Canberra and the surrounding region, and people travelling through stop by as well,” she says. Jenny plans to broaden the range of shoes on offer, which have proved particularly popular during the five years she’s run the business.
Perusing the range, it’s all I can do to stop myself flinging my suitcase into the bushes and telling my other half I need to do an emergency clothes shop, but he’s unlikely to fall for that one (again).
When Brian Lake’s dad Barry gave his wife Meg a leathercraft kit more than half a century ago, little did he know what he was setting in motion.
“Dad was a lieutenant-colonel in the Australian Army and mum was an army wife – he must have thought she had nothing to do,” says Brian with a grin.
READ ALSO: A food-lover’s guide to Bungendore
The industrious Meg parlayed her ‘hobby’ into an enduring business that has clocked up 51 years, with engineer Barry originally doing the design work and Meg decorating and dying the leather goods. Their kids (including Brian) helped out with smaller jobs to earn pocket money.
There’s not an inch of space unadorned by leather goods in the Ellendon Street store, and if you can’t find what you’re looking for here, you might as well give it up as a lost cause. From saddles to handbags, wallets, Akubras, penknives, gloves and leather-bound journals to oilskin coats, belts, rugs and bookmarks, current owners Brian and his wife Wendy have pretty much got it covered. “[That leathercraft kit] created a magnificent business,” says Brian.
‘Natural luxury living’ is the ethos behind Louise Sailer’s business Wild Rose Organics, which has been selling ethically sourced, chemical-free clothing and homewares on Bungendore’s Ellendon Street since 2005.
“I started selling organic goods but have now expanded to include quality ethical products,” says Louise. “You don’t have to sacrifice quality to be ethical and natural.” Wild Rose Organics caters for every aspect of everyday living, from clothing to soaps, teas, skincare, cosmetics and more.
“Everything in our store has been ethically made, which means people don’t have to worry about where their products are coming from,” says Louise. There are some lovely gift ideas to be found here – from cute kids’ onesies and socks to handmade costume jewellery, amusing tea towels and soaps in fragrances including lemon myrtle, mintwood and lavender.
The old saying about strength in numbers seems to have born fruit at Bungendore Fine Art, which has operated as a successful partnership of eight artists for 15 years. The artist/owners share the responsibility of running the Ellendon Street gallery and each has a regular spot in which to feature their own work.
Today the gallery is being overseen by Ray Barnett, one of the eight, whose vibrant watercolours drawing on his lengthy travels across the globe (and his love of the country races) fill one wall. Works by his seven colleagues are similarly displayed across the various rooms, offering a diverse, and affordable, selection for those seeking original pieces.
The opportunity to have a chat with the artist while you browse makes the experience all the more special. A guest artist is thrown into the mix on a monthly basis, says Ray, adding that the partnership has been able to highlight the work of “hundreds of artists” over the years.
Lattice trivets, salad tongs, salt and pepper shakers jewellery boxes, chopping blocks, chess pieces and even a selection of walking sticks sporting cute carved animal heads are among potential purchases at one of the town’s oldest businesses, Bungendore Wood Works Gallery. If you’re after a big-ticket item (a beautifully crafted dining table, perhaps, or an ornate console or desk) you’ll find that here too.
Woodworker and designer David MacLaren built the gallery 37 years ago (it originally functioned on a smaller scale from premises directly across the road) and this dramatic purpose-built space today displays the works of about 170 makers (the gallery represents about 220 craftspeople in total). The business has earned the loyalty of customers and staff alike. Behind the service desk today is Penny Ford, who tells me she and her colleague Lesley have been with the gallery for 20 years. Mahala Hill, working alongside Penny, has been here for five. She knows the secret behind the gallery’s success, particularly in these unsettling times. “People really appreciate hand-made, and particularly Australian-made things,” says Mahala.
For more ideas to explore the Treasure Trail – Braidwood, Bungendore & Queanbeyan – see visitqueanbeyanpalerang.com.au.
Original Article published by Michelle Rowe on The RiotACT.