JAMES FAIRFAX, the philanthropic former chairman of the publishing company that bears his family name, will bequeath Retford Park, his imposing Highlands mansion, for the benefit of the public.
Set on 120 hectares at Bowral, Retford Park has been the country home of the arts patron, 76, since he paid £15,000 in 1964 for it on a then four-hectare holding.
Estate agents say its value is now about $35 million, but it could be substantially higher with any housing subdivision.
The Southern Highlands’ highest-priced property sale was in 2007, when Reg Grundy bought Comfort Hill, a 200-hectare Sutton Forest property, for $15 million.
Retford Park, with an Italianate revival-style mansion, dates back to the 1880s when it was the summer retreat of the retailing Hordern family.
It sits in lush gardens that include the recent planting of three Wollemi pines.
“I think Retford Park is an important part of the heritage of the Wingecarribee Shire area and provision has been made in my will for the house and the immediate surrounding land, including the garden, to be left in trust to be viewed by future generations,” Mr Fairfax said.
“I have also made provision to leave a sum of money to be invested, the income from which should be sufficient to enable the ongoing maintenance of the house and garden,” he said.
“The trustees will be appointed under the will.”
Listed on the register of the national estate since 1980, Retford Park takes its name from the village in Nottinghamshire, the northern England town from where Anthony and Ann Hordern immigrated in 1825.
The grounds have many heritage oaks, an enduring association with the Hordern’s retailing business, whose emblem was an oak tree under which were the words “While I live, I’ll grow”.
It was first sold after Anthony’s great-grandson, Sir Samuel Hordern, died in 1956, leaving an estate of £279,000. It was briefly owned by the cattle stud operator King Ranch (Australia), of which Edwina Hordern’s husband, Peter Baillieu, was managing director.
In his 1991 book, Regards to Broadway, Mr Fairfax recollected he’d had no plans to buy a country house.
“But chatting to Peter Baillieu at a cocktail party in December 1963, I learned that Retford Park and 10 acres [four hectares] of land were to be sold.”
Mr Fairfax, the eldest son of the late Sir Warwick Fairfax and his first wife, Betty Wilson, has regularly bought adjoining land, making Retford Park one of the district’s prized properties.
Mr Fairfax also has homes in Woollahra, Bilgola and Dorset, England.