Mount Ophir Estate
Ruth Hennessy, a former music teacher & property developer from Sydney, found Mount Ophir in the mid 80s and felt that God was showing her that it was to be the location for a Christian community and the headquarters for many Australian Christian ministries that would impact the rest of Australia and the world.
Despite the fact that the property was not for sale at the time, Ruth was able to negotiate the purchase from the owner who was using the property for sheep grazing. From here began a passion to restore the property to its former glory.
It was originally to be a joint project with her husband with whom she shared a pastoral and teaching ministry in Sydney. Many people will also recall the Praise and Work Camps which they ran during holiday periods at the estate. But soon after the deposit was paid on Mt Ophir, financial hardship and personal disaster struck.
Like so many who were unfortunate enough to have offshore loans when the 1980s recession struck, Ruth and her husband lost everything when the value of the Australian dollar dived. On top of this, amidst the difficulty of those years Ruth and her husband separated, which left Ruth to make the decision to carry on with the vision of restoring the property, alone. This would not be easy as it was mortgaged beyond its value and in need of a huge amount of repairs and maintenance.
Not to be daunted, Ruth summoned her faith and began restoration work on the property. Friends from Sydney came down to commence the huge job of clearing the property of old vines and Ruth’s dad, mum and supportive local Christians often assisted to clean up the Bathurst Burrs, thistles and Pattersons Curse and to begin the internal fencing of the property. They also assisted with the first of the renovation work. Living in the main house in those days was a bit like living in a tent. They were very difficult years, physically, emotionally and economically.
On top of that has been the ongoing hardship of drought and a downturn in the tourist trade, but Ruth is an amazing woman. She says today that even amidst all these trials, God has been good to her and has faithfully supplied all of her needs.
It’s the pioneer spirit, sustained by a sound Christian faith, that has kept her going. You can see the classic Australian pioneer woman in Ruth, rigorously practical and hardworking, yet not allowing the hardships of life to harden her. Instead, she’s a woman who has allowed her hardships to strengthen her reliance upon God and forge a determined (and maybe even a stubborn) faith.
You’ll find Mount Ophir Estate in the quiet rural district of Rutherglen in northern Victoria, Australia. It has 360-degree views of the surrounding area, including the Murray River Basin and the Snowy Mountains to the east. The Estate was established in 1893 and 100 years ago was regarded as the largest state-of-the-art wine producing complex in the world. It was owned and established by the Burgoyne family who were prominent London businessmen. Their vision was to make the property into the wine centre of Australia. The property originally boasted 740 acres of vines and probably about 20 houses to accommodate the management and staff. The wine bore the royal seal of England and was transported via rail to port and then via steam ships to ‘the mother country’ to satisfy the palate of British aristocracy.
The winery was closed in 1955 and today the original vines are all gone. The 740-acre estate has been reduced to 140 acres, the rest having been sold for sheep and cattle grazing. For three decades the property was neglected and many of the original buildings fell into disrepair. What remained was the main winery complex, a very solid building made with bricks manufactured on the property, consisting of 6 large halls on 2 levels – more than an acre under 1 roof, and a feature, a French provincial tower on the South West corner. The rest of the buildings on the property were dilapidated and badly in need of restoration and repair.
Ruth has made slow but steady progress since buying the property. Today, it is now a functioning organic farm and tourist accommodation facility, listed as a National Trust property and classified under Heritage Victoria. The French provincial tower has been transformed into a 5-star B&B suite with a spiral staircase to the private library on the second floor and honeymoon suite at the top. The main homestead has been fully renovated and accommodates up to 10 people.
Additional buildings include the Pickers House where grape pickers used to stay, the restored Gatehouse, which is also available for self-contained accommodation, 2 other unique suites, and 3 other buildings which are in various stages of restoration. The total accommodation capability is currently 50 people. Gardens have been planted, including rose and lavender bushes, vegetables, fruit trees and a small vineyard. Crops such as wheat, oats, barley and lucern are grown organically. Livestock includes sheep, beef cattle, emus, deer and the usual farm chooks and geese!
With determined faith Ruth has endured great hardship and difficulty to see the property transformed into the functional farm and tourist accommodation centre that it is today. Perhaps what is even more surprising is that her only permanent helper through all this time has been Brenda Noble, now in her 80s, with whom she has done much of the back-breaking work. Occasionally, friends and associates have pitched in to help, as well as ‘Wwoofers’ (willing workers on organic farms), and paid local farming labour contractors and tradesmen. The produce from the property has enabled them to achieve about 60% self-sufficiency, with most of the property income coming from the running of the Bed and Breakfast facilities.
When you hear the story of Ruth’s journey you cannot help but think of Joseph in the Bible. Joseph received a great promise from God through a vision and then spent many of the following years languishing in an Egyptian prison before he saw God’s promises fulfilled. Ruth has not been languishing, but she has had more than her fair share of hardship.
The Future for Mount Ophir
The foundational work in her vision is nearing completion and she is now eager to make contact with other people who share a vision for a vibrant ministry centre and a call to community.
Rutherglen is in the demographic centre of south eastern Australia, between the major population centres of Sydney (6hrs), Melbourne (3hrs), and Canberra (4hrs), making it the ideal place for ministry between those centres, readily accessible for retreats and conferences, or just rejuvenating ‘time-out’ from the hectic pace of city life.
Over the years many people who have come to stay or work on the property have come to the Lord through Ruth and Brenda’s personal ministry. Ruth believes that this is just a foretaste of what God wants to do in the future.
An interesting Biblical connection occurs with the name of Mount Ophir. Ophir, (pronounced ‘o-feer’) is mentioned 12 times in the Bible and it is usually in reference to gold. Three thousand talents of gold from the biblical Ophir were used in Solomon’s temple. And yes, there is even a gold mine on the property.
Planning approval is being sought for a small village on the estate and many possibilities exist for farm production, partial self-sufficiency and small businesses related to tourism. Ruth is currently exploring various options that would allow people to own their own slice of the property and have shared ownership in the estate. The vision has always envisaged many other ministries also having their headquarters there. Various plans are currently being considered. Please uphold Ruth in prayer as she seeks God’s direction for the future.
Thursday, November 9, 2006 printer friendly version | 13548 reads
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