Collits’ Inn has had a long, and storied history since its establishment as “The Golden Fleece” in 1823. Its story begins in the early years of the struggling Port Jackson settlement, featuring the unlikely heroes of a former convict, Pierce Collits and his wife, Mary.
A Settlement Under Pressure
While the Blue Mountains are now one of the most beloved getaways for Sydney-Siders, in the early years of the Port Jackson settlement, they were seen as a vast, alien and insurmountable landscape that loomed over the outskirts of the colony.
Several attempts were made at crossing the Blue Mountains, though none were successful. In 1804, Governor Phillip King remarked:
“As far as the extension of agriculture beyond the first range of mountains, that is an idea that must be given up. The rocks to the west of that range were the most barren and forbidding aspect which men, animals, birds and vegetation have ever been strangers to.”
Years later, plagued by shortages in arable land due to drought, the settlement was at risk of collapse. Desperate, Governor Macquarie commissioned an expedition to chart a course through the mountains in 1814.
And in 27 days, Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson and William Wentworth, against the odds, managed to chart a course across the mountains (a feat which was honoured with eponymous naming of the townships in the Blue Mountains). By January 1815, William Cox had built the first road running from Emu Plains (Darug) to Bathurst (Wiradjuri), and the seemingly impossible expansion into the Blue Mountains was beginning to unfold.
For more information on the crossing of the Blue Mountains, read this article here.
By Gregory Blaxland (1778-1853); edited by Frank Walker (1861-1948) – The Journal of Gregory Blaxland, 1813, edited by Frank Walker.
Arthur Streeton – Land of the Golden Fleece, 1926
The Enterprising Collits Family
Nowadays, travelling between Emu Plains and Bathhurst takes as little as two hours.
Though in colonial times, the journey took two full days to complete.
By all accounts, the trail was long, steep and unforgiving. Early wayfarers describe squeezing through a narrow path that overlooked a steep drop on one side while sidestepping tumbling rocks from the other.
But when there is hardship, there is also opportunity, and this is where the enterprising Collits family enter our story. A recently freed convict from Dublin, Pierce Collits, had tried his hand at numerous occupations to adapt to the harsh life of an ex-convict in a foreign country.
He had been a Pound Keeper, Livestock Inspector, and, unthinkable by modern standards, a Constable of New South Wales’ fledgling Police Force.
Though at heart, Pierce and his wife Mary were entrepreneurs, and when it became apparent that there was a need for a place for rest and recuperation along the harsh journey from Emu Plains to Bathurst, the Collits’ scouted out an ideal location and in 1821 wrote a letter to the governor requesting 200 acres in the Hartley Vale area to build an inn.
Governor Macquarie accepted Pierce’s request, and shortly after, what was to be named The Golden Fleece was born.
Prepping tree trunks for new support poles, 99’ : R.Clarke
Pulling down the old skillion roof, ready to start rebuilding, 98’ : C.Stewart
The “Golden Fleece” was Born
By 1822, the construction of the inn was underway, and in keeping with the realities of life in old colonial times, the process of building the inn was fraught with hardship.
Pierce made the perilous journey from Hartley Vale to Sydney many times; a wagon in tow stacked with building materials as high as gravity would allow. He toiled endlessly on the construction of this inn, mostly alone due to chronic shortages in labour – as he put it:
“I am at a great loss for a Carpenter. A man who understands the plan & scale of a building and is capable of giving the proper dimensions of the timber requisite for my building”
While records of the construction of the inn are scarce, a structural analysis of the inn later revealed that, while sturdy, whoever constructed the inn didn’t appear to be “capable of giving the proper dimensions of the timber” and true to form, it’s likely that Pierce rolled up his sleeves and built it himself. Despite these and other difficulties, by 1823, construction was complete, and the Fleece was open for business.
Though times were tough for the Collits’, the Golden Fleece had gained a reputation for its warm and comfortable interiors, picturesque location, and sumptuous meals (a tradition we like to think carries on to this day).
For twenty years, until Mary and Pierce’s deaths in 1841 and 1848, the Fleece had become an essential stopover for the earlier travellers along the road to Bathurst, and later, other destinations, as the colony continued to expand into the Greater Blue Mountains Area.
Years of Decline
The Golden Fleece changed hands several times before it was purchased in 1947 by Steve Pilarcik , a Croatian migrant and World War II veteran who, instead of carrying on the Fleece’s now century-long legacy as an inn, instead saw the perfect location to give wings to his dream of setting up a eucalyptus distillery.
And for almost 50 years, until his death in 1991, Steve did just that. By the time Sydney couple Christine and Russell Stewart were ready to purchase the inn, it was in serious decline.
Western facade 1998, photo credit: C.Aitken
Restoring the Fleece
The new owners had, perhaps unwittingly, committed to the sizeable undertaking of restoring the Fleece to its former glory.
It was listed under every historical register in Australia, each with its own stringent requirements of how its restoration had to be carried out.
After years of researching the inn’s history, the Stewarts received a grant to help them restore the inn to its former glory, and in April 2001, the process of restoration began.
The barn was on the verge of collapse, the stables weren’t far behind the barn, and the inn itself had long been in a state of disrepair. But with a team of architects and a year or so of hard work and elbow grease, the Stewarts rendered a faithful restoration of the Golden Fleece which can be seen by all today.
Collits’ Inn Today
Since its restoration, the Fleece has been transformed into a wedding venue which has been named, in honour of its founders, Collits’ Inn. Its reputation for great food, warmth and comfort lives on, but the inn now has been repurposed as a truly unique, historical wedding destination.
It is a family-run business, with each member committed to preserving what has made the inn a special part of Australian history, while still offering a thoroughly modern and unique wedding experience for people from all walks of life.
Tying the knot at Collits is the perfect marriage (pun definitely intended) between historical and modern times. With rustic charm to spare and a beautiful, spacious mountain location, your wedding at Collits’ Inn will be an experience that you and your loved ones will never forget.
1980’s – The Front Corridor Veranda
Between 1965 – 1975
1998 Barn interior photo credit: Christo Aitken (architect)
1980’s – The Stables
Photography Credit : Shenay Louise Photography, Fiona and Bobby Photography, Margan Photography & Dan Cartwright Photography