17 May 2023

Sisters doing it for themselves, and their community, at Bookham

| Sally Hopman
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Two women and dogs outside old church

Tess and Marguerite Julian, with Ruby and Leo, outside the old Bookham church, which they have transformed into a bed and breakfast. Photos: Sally Hopman.

There have been Julians in the rural hamlet of Bookham, about half an hour’s drive from Yass, since there was a Bookham.

From around the mid-1800s when one Joseph Julian is credited with bringing some of the first merino sheep to the district, to today, where the farm, Bogolong, remains in the family.

For sisters Marguerite and Tess Julian in particular, there’s always been the strongest of connections.

It’s a community oozing with history, with many of the original farming family names like Julian, Hazell, Shannon, Ticehill and Armour still around today.

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It’s this history that the sisters are keen for the community to maintain.

Although they’ve spent much of their working lives in high-flying careers in the city, Marguerite in public relations and Tess in corporate consultancy work, Bookham has never been far from their minds. It’s been the place to return to for downtime, for getting back to their roots – a resting place.

There’s something about the place that always draws them back. That “something”, they reckon, has inspired them to spearhead a resurgence in the small rural community – a passion to bring it back to life.

Woman in front of stained-glass window

Tess Julian in the old Bookham church, with the stained-glass window donated by her family in the 1900s.

It started with the old general store, which Marguerite transformed into Barney’s Cafe, and continued when she bought the nearby old church, which is now a popular bed and breakfast, the Old Bookham Church. The sisters’ descendants had helped build it, so it made sense that it should come back to the family – especially when it was in danger of becoming derelict.

The women worked hard on the B&B to ensure the original features, including the stunning stained-glass windows, were kept intact. The main window was donated to the church by the sisters’ grandmother Ellen Julian in memory of her husband Joseph Julian in the early 1900s.

Tess meticulously sourced pieces that would complement the old greenstone building and maintain the family connection, including an original table from the family’s shearing shed, which was brought back to life by local craftsman Kevin Schofield.

“It works because Marguerite is really good at seeing the whole vision of something, where I like doing the details,” Tess said.

Marguerite said: “It was when they put the bypass through. We just wanted to do something to make sure the place didn’t die.”

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Today, both buildings, and a cartload of passion for the village, have sparked a resurgence in the community. Barney’s does a roaring trade as a refreshment stop for travellers driving between Sydney, Yass and Melbourne. It also sells a variety of produce and craft made by locals or those with a connection to Bookham. The B&B is running at more than 80 per cent occupancy.

But according to the women, it’s just the start.

With only half a dozen houses in town, and just a few dozen more on surrounding properties, the sisters don’t want to spoil what is so special about the place. They’re just keen for it to come into its own. And, with the community spirit shown so far, they’re confident it will. For them, it’s all about more trees, history, peace and quiet rather than a commercial mecca.

They’ve already formed a community association and had talks with Yass Valley Council and among themselves.

Bookham sign

The Julian sisters of Bookham are keen to welcome more visitors to their community.

“It’s a lovely little place for people to stop and visit,” Marguerite said. “We’ve got the old bush cemetery here, some lovely walks. In the old days, it was always the place to stop for Pauline’s famous egg sandwiches.”

In such a small community, the sisters believe the cafe also plays an important role for locals.

Once a week, a group of retired farmers drops in, just for a chat.

“They come in, just sit and talk, it’s great to see,” Marguerite said. “It’s like a Men’s Shed.”

Tess said it was this community spirit that she, as the newly elected president of the Bookham Community Association, wanted to foster.

The next step is beautification of the main street and then the association will look at making the village hall more of a general-purpose venue where people could meet.

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