Rookwood Cemetery set to buy historic Fernhill Estate, Mulgoa

Rookwood Cemetery set to buy historic Fernhill Estate, Mulgoa
Rookwood Cemetery set to buy historic Fernhill Estate, Mulgoa

Rookwood General Cemeteries Reserve Trust (RGCRT) is conducting due diligence as it explores the option of purchasing the central parcel of the historic Fernhill Estate at Mulgoa being sold by Adelaide-based finance house Angas ­Securities for about $30 million.

“Our objective is to maintain the homestead and heritage landscape, ensuring it is conserved for future generations. To support this initiative we would in turn utilise the undeveloped and non bio-banked sections of the property as a predominantly lawn style cemetery,” the trust says on its website.

The trust is organising meetings from May 16 to May 31 with the Mulgoa community on its plans to use undeveloped areas of the property as a heritage cemetery.

The trust plans to preserve the homestead and heritage landscape and would create a buffer of more than 25 ha around the Georgian mansion and another 220 ha of bio-banked land on the site at Mulgoa in far western Sydney.

The rest of the property would become a predominantly lawn-style cemetery.

The Rookwood trust is buying the estate as cemeteries across Sydney are expected to be full in the next 20-30 years.

“We pride ourselves as heritage custodians and we welcome the opportunity to conserve Fernhill in the same way that we conserve Rookwood,” RGCRT chief executive George Simpson said.

The trust, which manages more than two-thirds of Sydney’s Rookwood Cemetery, said it was determined that facility would ­always be available for burials, but said developing a heritage cemetery at Mulgoa “will provide the community with another option (for) a dignified and historically significant final resting place”.

“We are committed to implementing strategies that will enable us to meet the needs of our vast multicultural communities well into the future. One of our longer term solutions in this area is the acquisition of new land,” Simpson said.

Angas last month revealed plans to carve up parts of Fernhill Estate in efforts likely to reap about $60 million in total, including proceeds from smaller land sales and bio-banking deals, according to a report in The Australian.

Fernhill, the former home of bankrupt property tycoon Warren Anderson, was until last year controlled by a venture between Angas and businessman Simon Tripp, and will now be subject to a six-month period of due diligence.

Agent Ken Jacobs of Christie’s International declined to comment to The Australian but the vendor last month confirmed interest from a purchaser.

The Mulgoa Progress Association is opposes turning the historic Fernhill Estate into a general cemetery.

The association’s president Wally Cox was cited by The Daily Telegraph as saying that a lawn cemetery on a heritage site would be destructive.

An eight-bedroom mansion and outbuildings, constructed over four years, are on the portion of the property the trust is eying.

The 1830s heritage listed homestead is complete with a 16-seat dining room, ballroom, 12 sandstone fireplaces and a horse racing track and stables that, over the centuries, have been home to two Melbourne Cup winners.

“RGCRT confirms that a sale has not yet occurred, but it has entered into a six-month exclusivity period which will allow the trust to conduct the required due diligence process, commencing with a period of community consultation,” the trust’s spokeswoman told the Penrith Press.

Fernhill was built by 20 Irish stonemasons following a land grant by Gocernor Macquarie to Colonial Magistrate William Cox in 1810.

Penrith Cemetery has “at least 40 more years till it reaches capacity”, Penrith Council’s spokesman previously told the Press.

“There are approximately 10,500 interred at Penrith, either buried or ashes placement,” he said. 

Trust CEO George Simpson said Rookwood has been exploring options outside Lidcombe “for many years now”, particularly “larger undeveloped areas in the west”.

He said Fernhill was zoned for cemeteries.

In response to the concerns voiced by the Mulgoa Progress Association, Simpson said Rookwood Cemetery, which has been operating since 1867, is a heritage site too with many buildings within the site dating back to the 1870s.

“We pride ourselves as heritage custodians and we welcome the opportunity to conserve Fernhill in the same way that we conserve Rookwood.”

Fernhill has a great thoroughbred history, as one of the greatest racehorses that ever trod the Australian turf, Yattendon died at Fernhill in 1880.

Winner of the Sydney Cup in 1866, Yattendon produced Melbourne Cup winners Chester (1877) and Grand Flaneur (1880).

Fernhill was built by William Cox, an engineer who oversaw the road that passed over the Blue Mountains, for his son Edward.

It remained in the ownership of the Cox family until 1896, when it sold to the Wright family, of Wright, Heaton and Co, who billed their firm as the most extensive carrying firm in the colony.

The Bachelor filmed the finale at Fernhill Estate when Bachelor Sam Wood chose his leading lady Snezana Markoski.

  

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Mulgoa Fernhill Estate

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