Woodford Academy, Oldest Building in the Blue Mountains

From its origins as a roadside inn, the Woodford Academy on the Great Western Highway has seen a variety of uses over the years. It started out as a weatherboard and stone inn called the ‘Sign of the Woodman’ in 1834, providing accommodation for 10 people and stables for passing travellers.

During the early decades of the 19th century, the Great Western Road to Bathurst was a journey of up to four days. Twenty Mile Hollow (now known as Woodford) was a popular stop at the end of the second day of travel, between Springwood and Blackheath on the road west.  The pub was rebuilt and expanded further during the gold rush years of the 1850s onwards, when it was known as the King’s Arms. In 1868, it was bought by Alfred Fairfax as a gentleman’s residence, and he renamed it Woodford House.


Old taproom with shelves marked out and a centrepiece of grapes, peaches and corn above the door

The alternations, extensions and repurposing of the property helped to ensure its survival. Various uses included as a guest house, licensed hotel, boarding house, private hospital and a boarding school, when it became known as the Woodford Academy. From the late 1930s onwards it was a private home until Gertie McManamey, daughter of scholar and principal of the Woodford Academy, bequeathed the property to the National Trust in 1979.


Old schoolroom at Woodford Academy

Aboriginal heritage in the area is acknowledged; the nearby reserve has an engraved groove in a sandstone platform, considered likely to be a signpost or signal to assist travelling Aborigines.


View from bedroom in loft looking towards Great Western Highway

From foot traffic to horse and carts, wagons to motor vehicles, the passing parade of people heading west has been viewed from this site. The loft area above the residence is accessed through tight wooden stairs. The rooms offer views of the highway, gardens and courtyard. The property has a central courtyard area, reminiscent of Rouse Hill House, with access to washrooms, kitchen, laundry and stable areas.


Kitchen, including stone sink

Throughout the property there are series of photos celebrating previous eras, highlighting the many lives the property has had. Memorabilia in the rooms provide insights into what life was like in earlier times, before the arrival of electricity, sewerage and running water.

On the day of my visit the academy was doubling as an exhibition space, continuing to provide a place for people to come and gather and experience something unique.

[Photo: front of Woodford Academy from Great Western Highway, Woodford]



It’s a kind of magic*

There are many landmarks for the traveller along the Great Western Highway. Whilst the highway’s course has altered over time due to bypasses and road changes, there are many sections which have remained unchanged despite the perpetual roadworks over the decades.

One memory of a mountain trip was on a school excursion. We stopped at Bull’s Camp Reserve at Woodford.  As we wandered about, one of the teachers explained the location’s significance as a convict stockade whilst the initial road was being carved through the mountains. A large, slightly stained flat rock was pointed out and it was identified as a flogging stone for errant convicts. I’m not sure of the truth of this tale but it lodged firmly in my mind.

As you travel towards the apex of the mountains, the familiar shape of the Carrington Hotel chimney crests the horizon. It fascinated me as a child, looming in the distance before slipping aside as the highway turned towards Medlow Bath and Blackheath. It was built in 1910 and originally provided power to the township of Katoomba as well as the hotel.

A little further along the highway is the sprawling splendour of the Hydro Majestic. It stretches for over a kilometre along the escarpment, commanding views over the Megalong Valley. Recently it was extensively refurbished, and it is once again an extremely popular tourist destination.

The old Toll Bar House is on the left hand side on the final stretch before Mt Victoria, and is another milestone along the highway. Nestled in the bend before the township, it was a collection point for tolls during the early life of the highway and continued through to 1868 when the railway station opened at Mt Victoria. It has the grace of an earlier era, a static witness to over 150 years of history.

There are many kinds of magic along the Great Western Highway. What are your favourites?

*From ‘A Kind of Magic’ by Queen

[Photo is of the Carrington Hotel, Katoomba on an autumn day]