John Philip Sheahan was onto a good thing when he built a pub in Jugiong in 1845.
Intended to meet the needs of travellers on the track between Sydney and Melbourne, he’d be pretty chuffed, maybe a bit agape, to see The Sir George today.
There are few people far and wide who haven’t heard of The Sir George. The impeccably restored old pub has led the renaissance of the little town that used to be a dot on the Hume Highway. Its thick-stoned, double-storey occupation of the corner of Jugiong Road and Riverside Drive is as good a citadel for the little colony that swirls around it.
A stronghold for those seeking replenishing and respite, step through its doors or into the cooling mists of the gardens featuring sumptuous lavender, rosemary, silver birch and snow pear.
This a place where detail matters. Even if it doesn’t it’d take days, beers, to pore through every fraction of thought that continues to go into its resurrection.
Then another day to take in the artisan bakery, eat through its sourdough loaves, flavoured focaccia and leave room for the donuts, which will only be remedied by a short walk to the potting shed and its array of glamorous gardener’s goodies.
It’s no surprise people stay at The Sir George seeking accommodation in its hotel, motel, riverside campground or up on higher ground in the black barns or stables in a bid to keep living that dream.
Before the pub, though, it was the Long Track Pantry that people talked about – the people from near, far, the pit-stoppers, the day-trippers, the curious, epicurists, gangs of gastronomes and the more than occasional hungry farmer.
Here, it took immense work and more than a lick of paint to transform Jugiong’s former General Store into a cafe/grocery store/gift store, where plates and shelves heaving with produce elevated the senses with a tilt towards food bon vivant. And the experience would often continue out the door in smart paper bags to destinations unknown where all the trappings – jams, relishes, sauces, vinegars, olives, cakes, cookies and breads – would serve as a reminder of that meal and allow patrons to tell everyone you’d been there!
Going to The Long Track Pantry was a badge of honour.
Today – thanks to the pioneers, the stayers and the new players – everything that was oddly Jugiong is now uniquely exclusive and the town, population 222, is the badge of honour.
In NSW, people talk about Orange being the ‘new Paris’. But that’s too easy. What isn’t easy is being built on a highway, being washed away by flood, rebuilt and then bypassed during the course of 170 years.
Jugiong, where entryways were long embroidered with the green and gold of strikingly tall poplars which, in between, you might blink and miss the buildings because the cops would be fast on your tail if one’s foot was made of lead.
Here, where gold hungry bushrangers bloomed, Richie Benaud started school and, oddly, in a region well-known for wheat, sheep and beef cattle, there also emerged an asparagus industry.
Now you can arrive for breakfast and leave two, even five, days later.
Here where you encounter the happiest of feet – bare feet, espadrilled feet, thonged feet, sneaker feet, Birko feet, little feet, big feet, pawed feet, all weaving joyfully along the paved and unpaved streets that lead from car, park, carpark, BnB, grassy verge and shop to shop.
Like the Jugiong Wine Cellar with its range of boutique wines selected from 28 wineries in the local regions of Gundagai, Tumbarumba, Hilltops (Young) and Canberra (Murrumbateman).
Lickety Splits serves gelato sourced from award-winning Sydney-based Pure Gelato – passionfruit, Oreo, salted caramel, coconut and espresso are the standouts.
Zooming around the corner to Four Doors Up – a rustic new commercial complex on Jugiong Road – represents a spread of interests including Woodstock Resources, which is in the business of supplying original and recycled European Oak for an array of uses.
It ain’t just about wood here – there are tiles, sinks, basins, troughs, firepits, gates, doors and cobblestones, and that’s just outside. It’s a veritable farmer’s Santa stocking inside with leather, linen, lamps, hand-forged knives and handmade furniture.
Curator’s Collective – furniture, homewares and fashion by stylist and curator Carlie Oates – has moved into The Sir George as a pop-up store and its array is splendidly led by the linens of Hale Mercantile Co. amid brassy pepper mills, salt dishes, scented soaps, candles, jewellery and books.
“Build it and they will come” pretty much exemplifies Jugiong today and there aren’t enough words to cover it all.
The town sits in the Hilltops region of the South West Slopes, just 90 minutes south of Canberra.
It’s a trip worthy of a few days so with the holiday season here, head down and have a look.