1081 Wallaces Gap Rd, Ballalaba
When the Clarke gang ruled the Braidwood area at the height of the gold rush, the Wallace family’s property at Ballalaba played an integral part in the bushrangers’ eventual capture.
The Scottish free settlers bought and established the 485-hectare property in 1833, just 50 years after the arrival of the First Fleet, and named it Nithsdale after the Nith Valley in their homeland.
They set about building the impressive late Georgian colonial-style homestead using convict bricks fired at the nearby Brick Kiln Creek and it was completed in 1839, the year land was first sold to establish the town of Braidwood.
The Clarke family worked on and later tenanted land on nearby Mount Elrington station and Hugh Wallace, after whom Braidwood’s main street in named, allowed the Clarkes to graze their cattle on Nithsdale. After Wallace accused the Clarkes of stealing a stud stallion, he evicted them from the property and later took them to court, a case he was unable to prove.
The discovery of gold in the 1850s transformed the district and it was at this time that the Clarke boys, who had already established a reputation as horse duffers, progressed to stealing bullion being transported by wagon from the diggings in nearby Majors Creek, Jambaicumbene and Araluen.
In 1866, the Wallace family offered Nithsdale to the police as a base for a gaol and when the Clarkes were finally cornered by police near Braidwood the following year, a wounded trooper was sent back to Nithsdale for reinforcements who set out and finally secured the gang’s surrender.
The old gaol, which was partially buried and had a stream running through it when the current owners arrived, was renovated in 2000, with granite blocks from the old police stables used to reconstruct the chimney.
The gaol and several rooms in the homestead will be open to the public as part of the Braidwood Open Gardens on November 25-26.
Closer to the house, newer and ancient exotics have been planted – Chinese elms, junipers, Lombardi poplars, crab apples Japanese maples, Manchurian pears and weeping willows – while hundreds of native trees and shrubs have been used in paddock plantings. Of particular note is a 140-year-old wisteria that dominates the courtyard and a towering Magnolia grandiflora which reaches about 20 metres high.
The current owners, who have a passion for the property’s past, see themselves as custodians of the historic farm and have spent the past 25 years preserving and restoring its gardens and rambling homestead, which they’ve filled with antiques and rare objects after a lifetime of collecting.