Author Christine Stewart

Christine Stewart

In 1998, my husband and I took on the project of restoring the derelict but iconic Collits’ Inn, built in 1823 by an ex-convict to welcome travellers crossing the Blue Mountains in the early days of the colony. In some ways, I felt that I was just a catalyst for the project and that for my whole life, I had been in training for it. 

I had an Arts degree, so I was used to research and writing for the Conservation Management Plan. I had training in colour and design, so I enjoyed working on the interiors. I had done courses in gardening, so I enjoyed re-establishing the garden. 

And, I enjoyed working with the architects and builders. We sold it in 2007, but thirteen years later, the urge to write the history of the Inn and its restoration grew so strong that I gave up my painting studio in order to do so. It’s been a fascinating project, drawing together so many of my own interests and so many aspects of Australian society.


Frequently Asked Questions

The main inspiration came from a publisher friend of ours who worked for Random House.  He said to me in 1999 “You should write a book about the restoration of the Inn and bring the emotion into it”. 

As I was doing the research in order to write the Conservation Management Plan (CMP)  whilst we were restoring the Inn I kept being surprised at how many unique aspects there were to this simple old place.  There was so much romance and mystery about it that I felt he was right, it did need to be documented. As I was a painter and working away for exhibitions I did not really have the time to write a book but his words kept nagging away at the back of my mind. 

When I had an exhibition in October 2019 I was then 82.  I felt at my age I did not want to go through the physical labour of another exhibition and so, in February 2020, I closed my studio and started writing the book.  COVID then struck and gave me the space in my life to devote to the project. As I had already done all the research for the CMP it was much less time-consuming than if I had had to start from scratch. I had also kept six diaries during the restoration period so was able to refer to these to jog my memory as to what had happened during the restoration.

There can never be another book about the discoveries we made when we were restoring the Inn as nobody else knew about a number of them that came to light during the restoration. The book is a personal account of restoring and running the Inn, combined with its unique place in Australian history.

I will include the restoration as well as the writing in this answer as the restoration was what the writing was all about.  Because I am now in my 80s, I have lived long enough to have learnt about many things that helped me take on both the project of restoring a derelict Inn and writing the book about the restoration. I had done a University Arts Degree which included the subjects of English, Psychology and Australian History..  The first two were useful in writing the research, dealing with the challenges and having harmonious relationships with everyone involved.  The third gave me an interest in our history and a wish to contribute to that. 

I had also done a four-year course in Colour and Design which was very useful in choosing the room colours, furnishing the rooms, designing the logo and brochures, and choosing items to frame for the walls. Of course, I used consultants for all these things but it is still useful to have input yourself as it is you who give the instructions and make the final decision.  I have a holiday house with a garden in the Blue Mountains and love gardening, so when it came to working with the landscaper that experience was useful too.

The restoration was an enormous project and could have been very stressful if I had allowed it to be because of the many challenges. It is also challenging to take on writing a book when I had never done that before but that was also a learning experience and highly motivating and enjoyable because of all that I was discovering. And last, but the most important of all, we had reached a stage in life where our children were grown up and educated and we now had spare funds to be able to take on the restoration (at a considerable loss!) and publish the book.  I used a Canadian publisher called Tellwell who were very helpful in guiding me through the process.

What has been interesting and rewarding are the number of Collits family members who are very proud of their resourceful ancestor. Many have themselves written books about the family history.  They were very willing to help me with information and were very interested in what we were doing to restore their ancestor’s Inn.

The greatest surprise was to find that two ancient European customs had been used by the convict builders at the Inn – one of hiding a child’s shoe under floorboards and the other of walling a cat up beside a chimney – to keep evil spirits away. It was extraordinary that traditions at least 500 years old were still being used in sleepy Hartley Vale. I have devoted a chapter to this in the book.

What I enjoyed the most was how much I was learning – about the process of restoring a heritage building, about the early maps, journal entries, articles, surveyors reports, and convict records that I was discovering in the State Archives and the State Library of NSW and about the many artists and writers who had documented this old place. It was very satisfying and motivating to feel we were contributing to this history.

This book covers many topics including the process to be followed in restoring a heritage building, the story of Pierce and Mary Collits and their many children, the story of how he came to Australia as a convict but became a prosperous innkeeper and landholder, how and why he built the Inn, which artists had documented the Inn, what other Inns the Collits’ family owned, the details of the murder on Victoria Pass, the large collection of early linoleums used at the Inn and the story of the Collits’ Inn Operetta.

There is also much local history such as the many surveyors using the Inn as their measure, the history of the interesting roads being built at that time, the Mt York cemetery, the early stockades in the area, the story of the shale mines at Hartley Vale, and the discovery of their son William’s house which very few people are aware of. I would hope that this book would contribute to their knowledge of those subjects.

Collits' Inn: Uncovering the Past Surprises found in restoring this 1823 Australian icon by Christine Stewart Illustrated by Christine Stewart