1 November 2022

Where there's a mill, there's a way - to help others

| Sally Hopman
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Woman in front of stone house

Susan Hutton outside the old mill in Crookwell which she has renovated. The old stone building will be open to visitors on Friday and Saturday, 4 and 5 November. Photos: Neil Waldron for Hector Abrahams Architects.

Ever since Susan Hutton saw, bought, moved into and restored Crookwell’s old flour mill, she knew she would only ever be its custodian.

Known as Stephenson’s Mill, the tall stone building, which dates back to 1871, was used to process flour in the village – and has always been part of the community’s landscape. Not only have families banked on it for their livelihood, many of their descendants are still about today in the NSW Southern Tablelands town and retain fond memories of the mill and its important role in the community.

“The town raised a significant amount of money to save this building,” Susan said.

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“It actually bought the mill back in 1987, thanks to what they raised and they also got a heritage grant. That kept it going from completely decaying. They put in new floors up and down, and connected up the water and septic.

“The plan then was to set it up as a museum. It ran for a while but it couldn’t generate enough income to survive so they had to give up.

“Over the next years, two couples took it on. I think they wanted to run it for weddings but the zoning wouldn’t allow it.”

When Susan spotted it, although she had been initially looking for an old shearing shed to renovate, the mill ticked all her boxes – particularly its stonework of which Susan was a big fan. She did much of the renovation work herself, including taking to the scaffolding to paint the outside of the building: “I did it in the summer and sometimes it was so hot the paint would dry in the tray”.

Inside stone house

Inside the newly renovated Stephenson’s Mill at Crookwell with its timber floor and rafters.

Working with architects Hector Abrahams, she has made the upstairs section her home, while she runs a bed and breakfast below. She used locally sourced materials where possible for the renovation, including tallowood for the stairs.

“This place has such a history here,” she said. “People always stop by if I’m in the garden and ask about it, and I know they want to see what we’ve done.”

Sadly, not many records exist about the mill’s early life. “Apparently the council ran out of room years ago and destroyed a lot of the records about this place before anyone realised its historic significance,” she said.

“But we do know a fellow called Bruce Belford ran it as a barbell club, we’d probably call it a gym today …. because I found one of his old barbells out in the garden one day.”

Buying and renovating the mill also ticked an important box for this woman who has spent much of her life helping others, in parts of the world where few people go voluntarily.

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It provided her with a safe, secure home in a caring community – and also allowed her to continue the work she has devoted her 68 years to – helping others.

Susan plans to open the mill to locals and visitors next week, on November 4 and 5, to raise money for two people who couldn’t be closer to her heart – students whom she met while working as a missionary in Rwanda.

A nurse/midwife, Susan was in Rwanda in 1994, just after the genocide where, within the space of about 100 days, more than 600,000 Tutsis were killed.

Susan was to stay in the region until 1997, helping women and their babies, in some of the harshest environments imaginable. Since then, she has been supporting two young people, students Jenesia and Kenneth, whose family she met when she worked at a small hospital in Tanzania’s Ngara district. She has been supporting the family ever since.

Old hpuse

Now a stunning home and bed and breakfast retreat, Stephenson’s Mill at Crookwell will be open to visitors on 4 and 5 November between 10 am and 4 pm.

She had earlier worked in Pakistan, on the border with India, in a small church hospital. “I wanted to go back to Pakistan to work but I couldn’t get another visa so I went to Tanzania instead,” she said.

Now, with the mill finished, Susan is on to her next project – which is actually returning to an old favourite.

She has re-registered as a nurse to go back to work, helping out in this current healthcare staff shortage.

“I’m going to Crookwell Hospital,” she said, “working as a general nurse – as soon as they sign me up.”

Stephenson’s Mill will be open to residents of the Upper Lachlan Shire on Friday 4 November and to the general public on Saturday 5 November, with tours starting at 10 am and running hourly until 4 pm. Morning and afternoon teas will be available. Entry will be by a paper money donation.

All money raised from both days will provide financial support for the Tanzanian students.

The open days coincide with the Crookwell Garden Festival, also on next weekend. More information is available from the Crookwell Visitor Information Centre website.

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