Slice of paradise, Hughes Park Homestead

In a quintessentially Australian bush farm setting, surrounded by rolling hills and huge gums, stands the majestic Hughes Park homestead.

A tree-lined driveway leads in and it is easy to let your mind wander briefly to the era it was built, plentiful times during early South Australia’s mining and wool booms.

But the welcome at Hughes Park pleasantly returns you to the property’s modern-day charm, a bustling farm filled with the laughter and fun of its youngest residents.

Despite the new era, the beauty of Hughes Park and its place in the state’s history is not lost on sixth-generation custodians, farmers Andrew and Alice Duncan.

The couple opened up the property to visitors at their Hughes Park Cottage bed and breakfast in 2009 and last year added the renovated Sir Walter’s Cottage to its B&B accommodation offerings.

Hughes Park Cottage was crowned best accommodation in the Clare Valley in Gourmet Traveller’s 2021 Best Cellar Door Awards. Already popular for wedding ceremonies and receptions, adding a second B&B has proven successful despite the complications of COVID-19.

“We opened Sir Walter’s Cottage for a week in March 2020 and then had to shut it down for six weeks due to COVID,” Alice said.

“But COVID has turned out to be a blessing for us really because both the cottages have been booked up and we really are busier than we have ever been.

“We’re finding that a lot of people who might have chosen to go overseas or interstate for holidays are looking to holiday in our state instead.”

Located about 125 kilometres north of Adelaide and tucked away two kilometres behind Watervale, the Hughes Park homestead was built by Sir Walter Watson Hughes, who had arrived in Australia from Scotland in 1840.

Hughes was originally involved in trade and commerce on his arrival in Adelaide but took up a pastoral lease and sheep farming at Macclesfield during the financial crisis of 1840-43.

His careful management enabled him to buy another sheep flock, which he moved north and, in 1851, Hughes took up The Peak at Hoyleton, before Wallaroo 

Station in 1854 with his brother-in-law, Captain John Duncan, husband of Hughes’s sister Joan.

It was at Wallaroo that a resourceful Hughes realised that there may be mineral deposits on the property and instructed his shepherds to keep an eye out for any traces.

“It paid off, and in 1860 one of the shepherds made the first discovery of copper on the Wallaroo station,” Andrew said.

“Soon after, another shepherd found copper on Hughes’ Moonta property further igniting the mining boom.”

With his fortune, Hughes was instrumental in the establishment of the University of Adelaide and, today, a large, bronze statue of the man sits outside the University’s Mitchell building on North Terrace.

Back in the Clare Valley, Hughes also owned large pastoral properties around Watervale. Hughes Park was one of them, established in the early 1860s where he planted the first riesling vines.

He also bought several other properties with Captain John Duncan including Gum Creek near Burra – Andrew’s childhood home many decades later and where Andrew’s father, Jock Duncan still lives today.

“The original Hughes Park homestead was a single-storey home, the second storey was added in 1890 by my great, great grandfather, Sir John Duncan, after Hughes had returned to England where he died in 1887, leaving most of his land to Duncan,” Andy said.

“We believe the stone used in the house is from the two quarries on the property.”

The property was once a bustling village in its own sense, with blacksmiths’ cottages, maid’s quarters, workmen’s cottages and stables.

Parts of the homestead remain largely untouched, its grandeur still evident.

Paintings of the family’s forebears still adorn the walls and much of the original paperwork from the daily operations of a busy pastoral lease are still filed.

Nearby, Hughes Park Cottage and Sir Walter’s Cottage were built by Hughes in 1845 and maintain their charms with slate floors and open fireplaces among modern conveniences where visitors can share the Hughes Park experience.

In another chapter to its history, Andrew’s uncle, well-known rose guru Walter Duncan of the Heritage Garden, also lived at the property and grew roses alongside the sheep farming enterprise, before moving to his current home and re-establishing his garden near Sevenhill.

The Hughes Park homestead remained unoccupied for 10 years when Walter moved out.

Andrew was given the opportunity to take on the family farm and he and Alice renovated, modernising parts of the homestead, including joining the main building to the original servant’s quarters to create a modern kitchen and living area.

Alice’s passion for modern art is evident throughout and it somehow blends seamlessly with the historical elements of the home.

The Duncans moved in with their children Daisy and Millie about eight years ago, and have since had Sophia and Tommy born to add to the next generation of Duncans at Hughes Park.


This article is courtesy of the Plains Producer and is from the 2021 Spring Valley & Flinders Magazine which can be read online in full.