This bustling satellite city 26 km (16 miles) west of Sydney is one of Australia's most historic precincts. Its origins as a European settlement are purely agrarian. The sandy, rocky soil around Sydney Cove was too poor to feed the fledgling colony, so Governor Phillip looked to the banks of the Parramatta River for the rich alluvial soil they needed. In 1789, just a year after the first convicts-cum-settlers arrived, Phillip established Rosehill, an area set aside for
agriculture. The community developed as its agricultural successes grew, and several important buildings survive as outstanding examples of the period. The two-hour self-guided Harris Park Heritage Walk, which departs from the RiverCat Ferry Terminal, connects the key historic sites and buildings. The ferry departs at frequent intervals from Sydney's Circular Quay, and is a relaxing, scenic alternative to the drive or train ride from the city. A free shuttle bus travels in a loop around Parramatta. A good place to start discovering Parramatta is the Heritage Centre at 346A Church Street.
Elizabeth Farm. The oldest European building in Australia, Elizabeth Farm was built by John and Elizabeth Macarthur in 1793. With its simple but elegant lines and long, shady verandas, the house became a template for Australian farmhouses that survives to the present day. It was here, too, that the merino sheep industry began, since the Macarthurs were the first to introduce the tough Spanish breed to Australia. Although John Macarthur has traditionally been credited as the father of Australia's wool industry, it was Elizabeth who largely ran the farm while her husband pursued his official and more-lucrative unofficial duties as an officer in the colony's Rum Corps. Inside are personal objects of the Macarthur family, as well as a re-creation of their furnishings. Free tours are at 11, noon, 1, and 2 each day. 70 Alice St., Rosehill, 2142. 02/9635–9488. www.hht.net.au/museums. A$8. Weekends 10:30–3.
Experiment Farm. The site of the first private land grant in Australia, Experiment Farm was settled in 1789 by James Ruse, a former convict who was given 1½ acres by Governor Phillip on condition that he become self-sufficient—a vital experiment if the colony was to survive. Luckily for Phillip, his gamble paid off. The bungalow, with its wide verandas, was built by colonial surgeon John Harris in the 1830s; it contains a fine collection of Australian colonial furniture, and the cellar now houses an exhibition on the life and work of James Ruse. The surrounding ornamental garden is most beautiful in early summer, when the floral perfumes are strongest. 9 Ruse St., Harris Park, 2150. 02/9635–5655. www.nationaltrust.org. A$7; A$13 combined ticket with Old Government House. Wed.–Sun. 10:30–3:30, last guided tour at 3.
Old Government House. On the bank of the Parramatta River, Old Government House (which was the country resident of Sydney's 10 early governors) is Australia's oldest surviving public building, and a notable work from the Georgian period. Built by governors John Hunter and Lachlan Macquarie, the building has been faithfully restored in keeping with its origins, and contains the nation's most significant collection of early Australian furniture. In the 260-acre parkland surrounding the house are Governor Brisbane's bathhouse and observatory and the Government House Dairy. Inside Parramatta Park, 2150. 02/9635–8149. www.nsw.nationaltrust.org.au. A$9; A$13 combined ticket with Experiment Farm. Tues.–Sun. 10–4, last guided tour at 3:30.
Sydney, New South Wales, 2150, Australia