Woodford Academy

Interpretation Strategy

National Trust (NSW)

Blue Mountains, NSW

GML Heritage was recently engaged by the National Trust (NSW) to develop the Interpretation Strategy for The Woodford Academy, the oldest surviving complex of colonial buildings in the Blue Mountains.

The site has a textured and fascinating history, with an extraordinary story to tell.

A Brief History of Woodford Academy

Aboriginal Country for countless generations, a 10-metre-long groove on the site is tangible evidence of early occupation of the area. Oral history, archaeological evidence and other sources bear witness to Aboriginal people’s continued presence in this majestic area of Country, from deep time to the present.

After the Western Road from Penrith to Bathurst opened in 1815, a sly grog shop was built near the site, taking advantage of the fresh spring that Aboriginal people had known and visited for millennia. Then, in 1831, Thomas Pembroke was granted a license to establish an inn herea critical stop on the road west frequented by convicts, soldiers, settlers and later gold prospectors hoping to strike it lucky on the other side of the Great Divide.

In 1868, Alfred Fairfax purchased the inn and it became one of the first grand private dwellings in the Blue Mountains. In 1874, Woodford House hosted the observation of the transit of Venusa highly significant astronomical event. One of the finest telescopes of the time was erected there and Fairfax, as an amateur astronomer, opened the property to other keen observers.

Seeing the value of the stunning scenery and fresh mountain air, in 1907 John McManamey leased the property and established the Woodford Academy for Boys. Based on the liberal Arts, each day started with a morning swim at nearby Mabel Falls. McManamey had faith in his students’ potential to “make their mark”, and many went on to establish illustrious careers and serve in both world wars. The school closed permanently in 1936, and became the McManamey family home until 1986.

In 2000 the National Trust undertook a major restoration of the property and the Friends of Woodford Academy was established. The National Trust together with a team of dedicated volunteers have developed an impressive array of exhibitions, events and open days, celebrating the Woodford Academy’s history, but also its importance to the contemporary community and a range of local artists, including Darug man Chris Tobin, who develops artworks and educational workshops on site.

About the Project

The GML team has worked closely with The Woodford Academy Management Committee and the National Trust and Friends to devise an interpretation Strategy.  The Strategy will enhance the existing initiatives at Woodford Academy, through a range of simple devices designed to captivate audiences. We can’t wait to see the next chapter in this extraordinary property’s story.

The project was supported by the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s Caring for State Heritage Grants 2019–2021.