November 17, 2014
It even sounds beautiful - and it is.
Belltrees is a magnificent pastoral station in the Hunter Valley.
It has been owned and managed by the White family for seven generations.
It is special to me because Louisa Collins was born at Belltrees.
Her father, Henry Hall, was a convict who worked there, as a shepherd. He lived in one of the tiny convict cottages that still stand on the property.
Louisa took her first steps at Belltrees. It is where she learnt to crawl, to walk, to scrub, clean and sew, so she could eventually take a position as a domestic.
She would go from there to the town of Merriwa, where she met and married the local butcher, and began her life of poverty and despair.
Last month, as part of a project for The Australian Women's Weekly, I was lucky enough to be invited to stay on Belltrees.
I was honoured to meet the station matriach, Dr Judy White, now in her 80s, who raised seven children on the station and still lives there, in the magnificent, 53-room homestead.
We had drinks by a roaring fire, and feasted on local beef at a table set for 15.
Later that night, I retired to one of the little, stone cottages, where Louisa may well have slept as a little girl.
Given my obsession with Louisa - the way she haunts my dreams - my colleagues at the Weekly joked that I should be careful: Louisa might appear at the end of my bed as some kind of ghostly apparition.
I slept with one eye open, but she did not appear but that's okay. I have long felt her presence in my life, especially as I have come to know her descendants.
Several of the cottages on Belltrees have been converted into snug and pretty accommodation - and you, too, can now stay there. You really should. It's wonderful.
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