The Argus XXVIII

All in the family: The Arnotts

We visit the Arnotts at Glenalvon.

Words Victoria Carey.
Photography Nicola Sevitt.
Thanks to the Arnott family.

We drive through the gate and the truck gently idles forward through a sea of long grass. A group of curious cattle reluctantly raise their heads to inspect the intruders. Sleek and shiny, these Black Angus steers are in prime condition.

“The season hasn’t been too bad this year,” James Arnott modestly admits. We are at Glenalvon, his family’s property at Murrurundi in the Upper Hunter Valley.

With the magnificent Liverpool Range as a backdrop, it’s hard to imagine a more breathtaking mix of river flats and high country.

James’ mother Primrose, who died in August 2021, could never imagine living anywhere else. In the family since the 1880s when her husband’s maternal grandfather Henry Taylor bought the grazing property from the Whites – “It actually once belonged to my family who sold it to the Taylors… It’s complicated!” she told a journalist for a magazine story in 2007.

“Prima” White, as she was known to her family and friends, called Glenalvon home after her 1956 marriage to David Arnott in the tiny chapel at Belltrees, her childhood home near Scone. She was to bring up her four children – Kirstie, Ginny, James and Darce – and later welcome 10 grandchildren to the large stone house over the next 65 years.

Memories of those childhood days are strong.

“I think for me it is the characters that worked at Glenalvon that bring back the fondest memories,” recalls Darce, the youngest of the four siblings.”Whether it was Binnie in the garden or Cyril, Jack and Peter in the yards and on the farm, I loved their stories at morning tea and lunch – we always had a laugh. I still have Cyril whistling his tune in my mind.” 

For James, it’s the long days spent in the saddle mustering cattle in the high country during holidays from boarding school in Sydney. “I’d arrive at about 2 o’clock in the morning at the train station and Dad would have the horses saddled and ready by 7am,” he says with a smile. “We had a lot of fun as kids – it wasn’t all hard work. For boys, it was a terrific place to grow up. We had incredible freedom.”

An old Land Rover also provided entertainment over the years as well as mechanic skills that are still proving useful to this day. (“James is just under a car at the moment” texts his wife Kate after our interview. “I can do most things with an engine because I pulled that car apart,” he tells me.)

Today, the couple divide their time between Blackville, where James manages a large cropping and grazing property, and the main house at Glenalvon. As we sit at the kitchen table – “Everyone turns up here. It’s where plans are made and great discussions are had,” says Kate with a laugh – the phone rings with news of a hockey match. (It turns out that they are quite a sporty family: Alice, their second daughter, will make her debut for the Hockeyroos in May against India in Adelaide.)

The history of this family home is a little shrouded in mystery. Built after the original home was destroyed in a fire, “no one is exactly sure what happened” says James, it’s thought to have been built in 1910. “My grandparents Ken and Elsiemaie Arnott moved onto the property in the 1930s and it was probably about 15,000 acres in those days,” explains James. “They renovated the house quite substantially, demolished the kitchen block and added bits to make it more liveable.”

But there’s no uncertainty when it comes to the history of the property’s heritage-listed John Horbury Hunt buildings. 

Commissioned in 1874 by owner Henry Charles White, a relative of Primâ’s, Horbury Hunt designed the impressive stables, a carriage house and the labourer’s cottage — a six-room stone residence where Darce and Krissie now live while at Glenalvon.

The choice of architect was a radical one at the time but today Horbury Hunt is considered by many to be the father of modern architecture in Australia. (According to The Radical Architect 1838-1904 by Peter Reynolds, Lesley Muir and Joy Hughes, Horbury Hunt must have also designed a new main residence at Glenalvon as he called for building tenders for it in November 1876, but it seems that this house was never completed.)

For Kate, the connections to this old house are far reaching.

“I have been coming to Glenalvon since I was a child as Primrose was my godmother before she was my mother-in-law. She was always in the garden working her magic,” she explains.

“Later on, I have very fond memories of summer picnics, loading up the back of utes with chairs and food and drinks and cooking barbecues on open fires down on the river while the children were swimming.”

And finally, what does she love about Murrurundi?

“I enjoy the pace and the fact that you can be whoever you want to be in Murrurundi. It doesn’t matter if you are left of centre, right of centre, you can just be whoever you want to be, and nobody cares. I think that is really refreshing in this world today. It’s a nice and safe place.”

Arnott family’s address book

Railway Hotel Murrurundi

Many locals have nominated this pub as their favourite since I”ve started writing The Argus – I’d love to be a fly on the wall in July when it’s “Come in your ugliest Christmas sweater” night. “They have a great steak sandwich,” says Darce.

Corner Haydon and Adelaide streets, Murrurundi, NSW. Telephone (02) 6546 6220.

George & Bean

A firm favourite with everyone in the family. “Top coffee,” says Darce which is seconded by Kate: “There are always lots of people coming and going. A great place to sit and catch up with people,” she says.

Open Monday-Friday, 7am-12:30pm. Corner of Mayne and Adelaide streets, Murrurundi NSW. Telephone: 0466872254.

Magpie Distillery

Nikki and Geoff Drummond’s craft distillery, and home of the award-winning Murrurundi Dry Gin, is nearly at the Arnotts’ front door. “If we have friends staying, we often just walk across,” says Kate. The cellar door is open Saturday and Sunday, 10am-4pm. Bookings recommended for groups.

84a Glenalvon Road, Murrurundi, NSW. 0438 628758.

Hanna Pastoral Co. Butcher Shop

“Great quality meat with real sausages and good old fashioned, quality service – and it’s all packaged in brown paper bags to take home,” says Kate.

You can also place an order for home delivery on (02) 6747 7711.
New England Highway, Willow Tree, NSW.

Darcy and the Fox

Home to painter David Darcy, a regular finalist in the Archibald Prize, this is one of Kate’s favourite shops in town. “I love sticking my head in to see the latest quirky and wonderful thing they have found,” she says.

37 Mayne Street, Murrurundi, NSW. Telephone 0405 817 174.

Life of Pie

This main street cafe is one of Darce’s picks for lunch.

13 Mayne Street, Murrurundi NSW. Telephone (02) 5512 9605. @murrurundilifeofpie.

Michael Reid Murrurundi

“I go here for a coffee and lunch by Steph,” says Darce. “My favourites on the menu? It’s got to be the toasties with Steph’s homemade relish, or any of her soups in the winter.”

Corner Boyd and Mayne streets, Murrurundi, NSW. (02) 6546 6767.

The Plains Pantry

From cold-pressed juices to fresh loaves from Gunnedah’s Reverence Sourdough, this is an essential stop. “Over the range, I like to go to the Plains Pantry,” says Darce.

New England Highway, Willow Tree, NSW. (02) 6747 1348.


Victoria Carey

An afternoon at Glenalvon was a very enjoyable experience for our editorial director. "It was lovely to finally see the stables designed by John Horbury Hunt," she says. "I've heard so much about them over the years."

Nicola Sevitt

"As soon as I stepped inside Mandy's home, I loved her collection of artworks, books, and objects displayed. It was a treasure trove, full of history and stories waiting to be told," says this photographer.

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