Finding a greater contrast would be difficult.
Drive one direction and it feels like you’ve entered a time warp, whirling back to the early 1800’s.
Head the other way and you’re soon in a futuristic landscape of sweeping concrete and steel.
Welcome to the Windsor district of eastern Australia, an area that offers a snapshot of colonial times, with many grand examples of 19th century British architecture.
At the same time, the area also features Australia’s biggest public transport project, the sleek, multi-billion dollar Sydney Metro NorthWest rail link.
This stark contrast between the old and the new, is a reminder that, although Windsor is a wonderful link to Australia’s colonial past, it is also on the edge of the Sydney beltway – a bustling, modern commuter channel.
But it was the Windsor of the 1800’s that we came to find.
Our ancestors were humble farmers in the area when it was Australia’s third city, a settlement established to provide fresh produce for the fledgling penal colony of Sydney.
Many of their graves can be found in the pioneer cemetery at nearby Wilberforce, which stands in the shadow of Australia’s oldest church, dating to 1809.
Sue’s ancestors, in particular, hold a special and prominent place in the local community, descending from Australia’s first group of free settlers.
Thomas and Jane Rose and their four children – originally from rural Dorset in England – had arrived in the colony in 1793 and started farming in the Windsor area about 1802.
‘Rose Cottage’, their house at Wilberforce, built in 1811, remains the oldest slab timber dwelling on its original site in Australia.
After exploring the pioneer cemetery, we headed for one of Windsor’s best known landmarks, the Macquarie Arms hotel, which claims to be the oldest pub in mainland Australia.
Sitting high above the Hawkesbury River, the pub certainly has an olde worlde feel, complete with resident ghosts – or perhaps that should be ‘spirits’.
First licensed in 1815 and operated continuously ever since, apart from the period between 1840-1874, the Macquarie Arms was built by convicts who are said to have constructed tunnels between the building and the river for secretly transporting illegal rum.
Courtesy Macquarie Arms Hotel and Gary Bell Pub Sketches.
Whether it is really the oldest pub on the Australian mainland seems to depend on who you ask. Apparently, colonial Sydney was brimming with ‘sly grog’ shops and hotels from about 1800 onwards.
One thing is for certain: the old pub is just one of many colonial buildings in Windsor still in use.
These include the local court house, designed by famous colonial architect Sir Francis Greenway and built in 1822; several historic churches; Windsor post office; and any number of grand Victorian mansions.
And, to prove that the area was indeed a land of opportunity, there’s Thompson Square which was named after a convict pioneer who went on to become a magistrate at law.
Next on our list was a visit to Rose Cottage which is truly a priceless piece of Australian heritage, followed by a tour of the adjoining Australiana Pioneer Village which strives to promote the area’s history.
The village combines historic buildings and demonstrations of traditional crafts.
Both these attractions are maintained by hard-working groups of volunteers.
Windsor is on the north-western outskirts of Sydney, about 56 kilometres from the city centre.