As well as being a property with great historical value, Markdale is renowned for its international association with the game of polo and agricultural merits.
1858 – 1939
One of the first known owners of Markdale, Mr William Marks, bought 640 acres of present Markdale land (then known as Slete’s Gully) in 1858. Upon it he built a tiny slab cottage which survives to this day beside the Farm Stay. Some historians note that this slab hut was built to house the Horse and Jockey Inn and later became the general store for the workers on the sheep station.
In 1920 Markdale was bought by Mr James Ashton, parliamentary member for Goulburn 1901-1908 (Minister for Lands), father of the Ashton Polo Team grandfather of the now former owners, Mr and Mrs Geoffrey Ashton (sold in 2017).
Mr and Mrs James Ashton chose a site on the slope opposite the stone house to build their new homestead, a single storey traditional family home enclosed by deep verandahs, using concrete blocks made from a single mould on site and local timber cut and milled on the property. Markdale was the pastoral home of the Ashton family for three generations, entertaining their family and friends there from 1921.
Mr. James Ashton had four sons Jim, Robert, Geoff and Phil and when each of them finished school they would reside at Markdale.
The property at the time was very run-down, with fences falling down and rabbit all over the place. From these beginnings, the four Ashton brothers went to work with a team of about 30 staff getting the property into shape.
Markdale also provided a perfect venue for James Ashton’s four enthusiastic polo-playing sons. They began playing polo against his wishes, but persuaded by his wife ‘that those who play together, stay together’ he let them continue.
A polo field and a hitting pit on the property, plus frequent trips, riding and driving their horses to and from Goulburn for weekend matches, helped hone their skills.
It was from here they based their foray into Australian polo and by 1926 the four brothers constituted the Goulburn polo team.
In 1929, the brothers shipped 25 ponies to England, the United States and India to compete against top international teams, winning numerous tournaments, including England’s Hurlingham Championship and the Indian Empire Shield, and were an invincible team in Australia. They continued to play polo together as a team until 1939 when they won the Countess of Dudley Cup in Australia for the fifth time.
The international polo excursions had a financial as well as a sporting agenda as the economic outlook worsened with the Great Depression.
James Ashton is said to have seen potential for the brothers to sell their polo ponies to good advantage after the tour.
1947 – today
It was in the late 1940s and early 1950s that Markdale underwent a siginificant change. This was when two of Australia’s most revered designers, architect Professor Leslie Wilkinson and landscape designer Edna Walling, were commissioned to create the magical haven that it is today. After Walling designed the garden in 1947, Wilkinson was also commissioned for a major redesign of the house to complement the garden in 1951. It was only this once that the two Australian icons combined their talents – Professor Wilkinson extensions and gardens by Edna Walling.
Over the years Markdale has been featured in many books and publications and is known as one of Australia’s great country gardens.
Today the property continues to be a fully operational sheep station with over 8,500 fine merino sheep over 6,300 acres.
Markdale also continues to operate farm stay accommodation for up to 24 people in the refurbished original stone cottages, built in the 1850s, and shearer’s quarters.