Vintage travel journal: Robertson, Mittagong and Bowral
The thought of a road trip again after such a long travel hiatus due to Covid-19 was certainly alluring, but adding in a ‘vintage’ theme is the cherry on top!
This is my vintage-themed travel journal that I have designed with fellow vintage-lovers in mind – sharing the best places to op shop, browse vintage and dine in eclectic, retro style on your travels, hopefully inspiring you to take your very own vintage sojourn.
The picturesque Southern Highlands region of New South Wales, long known for its antique stores and gentrified living, seemed like the ideal destination to debut for the first of my vintage travel journals.
Leaving our home on the Northern Beaches of Sydney one Friday morning at 7am, we are seated by 9:15am, sipping on coffee in a character-filled, ivy-covered heritage sandstone building (a former homestead and stables) at Boston 107 café in Mittagong. We are close to home yet feel revitalised already, watching the clearing morning mists slowly lift the thin veil they shroud upon hills and valleys.
The small village of Robertson, about a 20-minute drive from Bowral, still has a sleepy, country-town feel. Lining the town’s main street, Hoddle Street, are colourful and traditional style low-rise shop fronts, cottages, churches and cafes.
Where to stay
We are staying in an AirBNB property known as Angel Place, housed within a former church that was built in 1895. Two separate suites on site are beautifully decorated by owner Josette, who has a background in hospitality and commercial design.
I fall in love with the Renaissance-style cherub mural above our bed; an antique maroon velvet settee; textured lampshades with crystal tassels; and the way the light floods in from the arched church windows in the morning, bathing the vintage bedhead in warm, honey-coloured sunlight
Across the road is a bakery and an antiques shop building, with more cafes and eateries within easy walking distance. In the afternoon, we sip on sparkling wine as we sit on rustic, outdoor wrought iron furniture watching the sky turn shades of lilac and dusty pink.
Where to shop vintage
Just metres from our accommodation is Café 31 and Nadine’s Coffee Beans. It’s a merging of a small coffee shop by Nadine, her roaster and her old wares shop. You can’t miss the lime-green building where she has a small range of collectables for purchase. The muffins are pretty enticing too.
At the Robertson Cheese Shop building, The Cool Room Emporium is a two-storey space dedicated to homewares, fashion and bric-a-brac. Not everything here is vintage – modern pieces are displayed alongside genuine vintage items. There’s lots to see here and everything is curated thoughtfully, allowing you to browse for treasures for hours.
For a different experience entirely, Josette has tipped us off to Grandpa’s Shed at Fitzroy Falls – about a 15-minute drive from town. This old-wares outlet is packed to the rafters, literally, with old items including comics, china, furniture, vintage magazines, kitchenalia and old tools. It’s the kind of place where I pull my handbag in tightly so I don’t bump anything as I fossick through the haphazard narrow alleyways.
Where to op shop
The local Robertson Burrow Community Op Shop on Hoddle street on the main strip is a true community op shop with the friendliest of staff. Prices are old-school: cheap and cheerful. There’s no stylised displays or colour theming here, so be prepared for true rummaging. I spend an hour here and come away with my hands full….. including a vintage silk Weiss jacket, a 1960s fur hat, a 1990s Donna Karen leather belt, vintage silk scarves and a 1960s teal Kreglinger 18-piece coffee and cake plate set, made in Japan. The dressing room has groovy retro wallpaper and a laminated sign on the door that I swing from ‘Empty’ to ‘Occupied’ as I enter.
Where to eat
Be sure to stop in at award-winning Robertson Pie Shop on the main road just a little out of town. They’ve been trading sweet and savoury pies since 1961 in a building with true retro bones. We take an apple pie with us and relish it later for desert.
Moonacres Kitchen on Hoddle Street is buzzing for your morning coffee and breakfast. On our first visit, a local family has ridden in on their horses, which are tied up to a nearby tree. The sugar-coated morning buns are so moreish, we return again the next day and this time, try an egg and potato hash roll on brioche. Moonacres has its own organic farm and are suppliers to some of Sydney’s top restaurants.
Robertson is known widely for its potatoes. At The Whey Café at The Robertson Cheese Factory, we sample the region’s famous spuds. We dine seated on rustic vintage chairs and are surrounded by interior decorations sourced from op shops. Potatoes are warmed in a vintage-style Kind Edward potato oven. We sip on iced chocolates that are made using a scoop of chocolate gelato that is made on site from local organic milk.
We have plans for an afternoon picnic so we stop at Pecora Dairy on the main road, a boutique and artisan cheese producer set on a 200-acre Robertson dairy farm. After a tasting, we settle on three cheeses and head to the beautifully presented local greengrocer, Robertson Fruit Shop where we pick up some sweet strawberries, spotting a giant pumpkin on display behind colourful bunches of flowers. Outside, a small crowd is gathered around the open Jeep of a local man, enamoured with his brood of silky-coated puppies.
For dinner one evening we try Pizzas in the Mist which is directly across the road from our accommodation. The restaurant is pumping, clearly popular with both diners and those stopping in for takeaway.
The building of the Robertson Public House and Kitchen on the main road is the oldest wooden building in Australia. It’s a popular dining spot, or just to enjoy a drink at its outdoor tables. Nearby is the Robertson Hotel, a grand Art Deco hotel built in 1924 on Fountaindale Road. They have a restaurant and also a Gatsby-style bar where you can enjoy a pre-dinner drink. The night we try to visit it is closed, unfortunately, for a private event.
What else to see
The National Trust-listed Robertson Heritage Railway station is an interesting stop for any vintage lover. The ‘Cockatoo Run’ train does chug in here on occasion but during Covid, train trips have been cancelled. The station was completed in 1932, along with the Unanderra-Moss Vale Railway Line, and is maintained today by a group of community volunteers.
On Robertson’s main road is the quaint sandstone Robertson Anglican church built in 1876.
During our visit, we are treated to a spectacle of heritage cars parked on the main road, out for a drive by their doting owners and collectors.
If you are into your ‘big, kitsch things’, Robertson has a ‘Big Potato’ on its main road – not holding quite the same appeal as perhaps some of Australia’s other ‘big things’. It’s a rather odd-shaped and large black structure but hey, Robbo IS deservedly proud of its spuds!
The Robertson Village Market Day is held on the second Sunday of each month at the School of Arts on Hoddle Street. Local and nearby producers and makers gather in the old hall beneath a stage lit up by fairy lights, selling everything from honey, shortbread, crocheted items, cakes, soaps, fruits and vegetables.
We drive the soothing country roads surrounding Robertson and to nearby Burrawang village, relaxed in the serenity of quiet, winding roads framed by pea-green fields passing cattle, dairy farms and horse studs.
Driving from Sydney, Mittagong is the first stop on the map you’ll encounter. The town centre oozes charm with original heritage buildings, a central clock tower and streets lined with cottages and bungalows.
Where to shop vintage
Visiting Gillian Hearne, the owner of vintage boutique Twisting Vintage on Bowral Road in Mittagong, is one of the highlights of my trip. If you love 1960s and 1970s designer vintage, you simply must make the time to visit. The shop is beautifully presented with neatly organised racks of genuine vintage and fabulous labels including Emilio Pucci, Lilli Ann of San Francisco, Alfred Werber, Burbery, Alfred Shaheen – and so many more! Bright red walls add a splash of vibrancy but really, the clothes make a statement all of their own. Meera, who works with Gillian, is behind the counter when I first visit, while her gorgeous dog is quite fascinated with the enormous range of glittering costume jewellery in the front counter – you can’t blame her!
Gillian, a professional dressmaker, has been trading in vintage clothing for decades. She has a solid network of vintage suppliers the US, including a lady in Washington who knows just the types of pieces that Gillian likes to sell in-store. I visit twice during my trip – and can’t leave empty-handed! I ruminate over a number of potential additions to my wardrobe before settling on a vintage 1960s psychedelic overcoat designed by Alfred Werber that seemed to be calling my name.
On Main Street, the Mittagong Antiques Centre is huge – with a well-curated collection belonging to more than 45 stall holders. There’s almost everything here – from vintage jewellery, military ephemera, homewares, kitchenalia, ceramics and old Coca-Cola bottle collections. A handful of stalls feature bags and fashion, but more are selling vintage homewares and bric-a-brac.
To my joy, there’s a pink-painted Albertine’s Antiques store. It’s not open on Fridays so I visit on my return to Sydney on Sunday. There’s a wide range of curios, homewares and bric-a-brac. It’s definitely worth a look as there’s plenty to see.
Where to op shop
Just a couple of doors down from Twisting Vintage is Vinnies Mittagong with a large collection of vintage suitcases on display in the window. This Vinnies is best for pre-loved fashion, with clothing neatly displayed and the shop well-arranged. There’s a good range of shoes and bags too and a moderate amount of bric-a-brac. I didn’t find many genuine vintage pieces but there’s an upbeat buzz as I browse plenty of pre-loved quality (including designer) clothes. The staff were very friendly too.
Also on Bowral Road you’ll find The Hospice Fashion Shop, a community-driven op shop selling quality second-hand women’s and men’s fashion. Its sister store The Hospice Furniture store can be found on Main Street.
Where to eat
Boston 107 café on Main Street is housed in a former homestead fronted with sandstone and stained-glass window detailing. New owners Tess and Uly are breathing new life into the café that extends out to a back courtyard with fur pine trees and emerald green ivy cascading down the walls. From where I sit eating my breakfast, I can see straight across the road the pink antique store, Albertine’s. I munch on a ham and brie panini and prepare for a vintage sojourn.
What else to see
I wander down Queen Street past the Mittagong Public Library. Since 1944, the library has taken residence in a gorgeous, heritage sandstone building constructed in 1877 that was formerly Mittagong’s Public School.
On a bench outside the town’s green gates to its 1918 fire station, an elderly man sips on a hot drink.
The Mittagong and District War Memorial Clock Tower sits on a fork in the road between Main Street and Bowral Road. It was constructed in 1920 to commemorate soldiers who had fallen in World War 1.
Where to shop vintage
There may be plenty of chic boutiques along the main strip and side streets of Bowral, but vintage-lovers will want to head straight to Dirty Jane’s. This enormous vintage store, a collective of different vintage and antique sellers, can be found on Banyette street. On weekends, grab a freshly-baked donut straight from The Chubby Wombat, serving jam and Nutella donuts from its mustard-yellow coloured Kombi van positioned in the rear car park.
Where to op shop
There’s quite a few op shops to check out in Bowral – so allow time if you want to see all of them! Some close early on Saturdays, so it’s best to plan ahead. The Father Chris Riley Op Shop on Bundaroo Street is a classic, community op shop. In an old cottage, there’s a room for books, a room for bric-a-brac, a room for jewellery and then another three rooms filled with women’s clothing and shoes – the prices are very reasonable and the staff are lovely. It’s best for preloved, as I didn’t spot much vintage.
The Vinnies on Bong Bong Street was medium-sized and had mostly clothing and a small range of bric-a-brac. I picked up some vintage scarves and one of my favourite vintage collectables, clip-on earrings!
The Australian Red Cross further down Bong Bong Street in the heart of the Bowral shopping strip had a completely different vibe. It’s styled as a modern shop boutique – with prices to match. It was packed when I stopped in at lunchtime on a Friday. Lots of good designer finds here but expect to pay closer to big-city prices. Clothing was mostly preloved with very few genuine vintage pieces.
On the opposite side of the road, the Anglicare Op Shop was also well-stylised. It has a fun and welcoming vibe. There’s a huge range of clothing here and the vintage is tagged separately. Prices are moderate to high. On Banyette street (the same road as Dirty Jane’s) is the Save the Children Op Shop with a wide range of clothing, bags and jewellery. I pick up a 1980s black and gold sequin top and am pleasantly surprised at the counter to learn that clothing from that rack is half price that day! So, I go back for another vintage jacket I’d seen in the same section – bargain!!
The Salvos store is closed due to renovations when I visit.
Where to eat
On the main thoroughfare, The Press Shop café has an impressive fascade wrapping around the corner of Bong Bong and Banyette Streets. We dine outside in the sunshine on French-style bistro chairs, sipping on fresh juices while waiting for our lunch. It’s just the place for people watching or simply re-fuelling on caffeine while you plan your next vintage venture.
Just around the corner near the entrance to Dirty Jane’s is Harry’s on Green Lane. The eclectic restaurant interior is a heady mix of chinoiserie and botancials – I can barely contain myself in my seat, wanting to explore every nook filled with vintage curios. The restaurant’s botanical theme in honour of Sir Harry Veitch, a renowned English horticulturalist and founder of the UK’s Chelsea Flower Show who commissioned ‘plant hunters’ to travel to exotic and far-flung lands and return with unique plants for his wealthy London-based customers.
Harrys oozes vintage style – from the gilt-framed mirrors, antique furniture; tapestry wall hangings; multiple botanical prints and vintage paintings; lush green plants; a towering wall of books stacked to the ceiling; chandeliers; cane chairs; oriental floors rugs and – perhaps my favourite – a pink flamingo lamp! Book ahead for either a two- or three-course lunch and ask for the window seat near the pink flamingo – you will have your own little pocket of the restaurant in which to soak up the yesteryear vibes.
What else to see
Growing up in my household, the legendary cricketer Sir Donald Bradman AC (1908-2001) was treated like something of a god. My mum grew up in Bradman’s time and was at the Sydney Cricket Ground on 15 November, 1947 to see Bradman score his 100th first-class century. She wrote to him once and still has his returned letter thanking her for the correspondence.
Naturally, I couldn’t leave without stopping off at the Bradman Museum. There’s an entrance fee to visit the full museum but you can also just wander the gift shop, the white-picket fenced oval and the outdoor courtyard where you can view the very life-like bronze statue of ‘The Don’, unveiled in 2002. Visitors can also complete a ‘Bradman Walk’ through the town where you’ll see his childhood home at 52 Shepherd Street where he lived between 1911 to 1924 before moving to another home at 20 Glebe street where he lived until he moved to Sydney in 1928
On Bowral’s main road, Bong Bong Street, don’t miss the Empire Theatre – Australia’s oldest commercial cinema in operation since 15 September, 2015. It was here that the community of Bowral hosted a farewell gala event to send off Donald Bradman on his first Ashes tour to the UK in 1930. While operating as a modern cinema, look up from across the street to see the heritage facade.
On the first weekend of the month, the historic Retford Park is open to visitors. Managed by the National Trust, the grand (and salmon pink!) house was built in 1887 by Samuel Hordern and his wife Jane. James Fairfax AC, from the Fairfax publishing empire, purchased the property in 1964, generously gifting the property to the National Trust in 2016 so that all are now able to come and enjoy it.