Circa 1841, Henry Stuart Russell followed the Leslies onto our beloved Darling Downs and took up land in the northern areas of the black soil plains.

James Taylor followed and sometime in the 1880s, millionaire James Tyson bought a long narrow strip from Norwin to Aubigny and called it Mt Russell after the original owner. Taylor built the first homestead on the mount’s southern side with extensive views across the plains. The property was only a small part of his enormous holdings in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales; when he died in 1898 he was a millionaire several times over. Tyson never married and on his death his properties were sold. Mt Russell, with its southern boundary marked by a heavy iron gate, entered a new phase of life when Sir Allan Fletcher and his family purchased it in 1940.

Upon the tragic death of his son, Bim, a Vietnam veteran, one of the Oakey army helicopters scattered his ashes on the land over Mt Russell. For the last eight years, the Butler family from Meandarra have been entrusted with Mt Russell. They built a new home higher up, facing north east, with fantastic views. The soft grey timber home with long windows and wooden decks takes advantage of the 300 degree outlook. The garden beautifully matches the house with roses, perennials, salvias, fruit trees and low sprawling shrubs. Everything nestles so comfortably into the early morning sun. Finally Mt Russell has a family again and the love of the land continues.

Cooleigh, home of Rick and Sharon Lucas, sits high on the hills of the Irongate area on the northern side of Pittsworth. The views are spectacular with Mt Tyson and historic Mt Russell to the north and the Brookstead-Bongeen plain stretching to the horizon in the west. Irongate takes its name from the massive gate attached to the front of Irongate Hall. James Tyson had this gate made as the entrance to his Mt Russell property in 1873, and his instructions always were, “take the cattle to the irongate”. Also on the Lucas’s farm is one of his 50,000 gallon cast iron tanks. There were three of these brought from England to provide water for his sheep up and down Pipeline Road. Over 130 years later, the tank is still in use, the Pipeline Road still bares the same name, and the gate holds pride of place in Irongate. Cooleigh is a large garden with many citrus trees, stonefruits, bananas, quava, figs, pawpaw and nut trees. Lovely shade areas are provided by a canopy of glorious trees including schotia, tipuana, albizzia lebbek poinciana and jacarandas. Bougainvillea tumble over fences while a pizza oven stands under a large liquid amber. There is a menagerie of contented animals including cattle, sheep, goats, alpacas, Shetland ponies, hens, ducks, geese and guinea fowl, all happily living at Cooleigh. Both country gardens will be open under the Australian Open Garden Scheme on November 16 and 17.

Words by Penny McKinlay | Images by Belinda McKinlay