The European ownership of Retford Park Bowral dates from 1821 when Governor Macquarie granted Edward Riley two parcels of land. The property remained in the Riley family until the 1880’s when it was acquired by Samuel Hordern of the respected Hordern family. He named the property Retford Park in recognition of his family links to the town of Retford in England.
Retford Park House was completed in 1887. Keen cattle and horse breeders, Samuel Hordern and his son, Sir Samuel Hordern, equipped the home with complete horse and cattle facilities. Following the death of Samuel Hordern III in 1960, the American Company, King Ranch, purchased the property.
Philanthropist and media identity, James Fairfax AC, acquired Retford Park House and 20 acres from King Ranch in 1964. He set about redecorating Retford Park House with advice from Leslie Walford and renovating and extending the garden with renowned English landscape architect John Codrington. The pool, pool pavilion and aviaries were designed by eminent Melbourne architect Guilford Bell. Over the years architect Espie Dods added architecturally sympathetic extensions to the home and Melbourne landscape architect David Wilkinson contributed the Knot Garden, the Green Room and the Millennium Canal to Retford Park’s tranquil gardens.
During James Fairfax’s occupancy of Retford Park he has played host to many notable visitors, including members of the British and European royal families, Australian governors general and state governors, prime ministers and high ranking politicians from around the globe, and numerous renowned artists and representatives of arts fraternities worldwide.
The house and garden are valued Australian treasures and they are an important narrative in the development of the Wingecarribee Shire.