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For sale: a town called Bruce

For sale: a town called Bruce

Old Sep 1st 2002, 4:37 am
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Default For sale: a town called Bruce

For sale: a town called Bruce
By Mark Chipperfield (Daily Telegraph)

A town called Bruce has come on the market in the Australian outback. For about £110,000, the lucky buyer will secure a fine Victorian railway station converted into a guest-house along with several miles of track, a derelict pub, a small cottage and panoramic views of the untamed South Australian countryside.

He or she will also acquire ownership of a place-name that, thanks to the comedy sketches of Monty Python, is inextricably associated with the Australian male.

With a resident population of just four people and three dogs, Bruce (200 miles north of Adelaide) is not exactly the hub of the universe - in fact, the town no longer appears on Australian road maps.

The town's English-born owner, Tony Gwynn-Jones, 75, known locally as the Baron of Bruce, says that, despite its isolation, the town offers plenty of distractions.

"You'd be surprised by the number of people who turn up here in their cars just to have their photo taken under the Bruce sign," he says. "Most of them seem to be married to someone called Bruce.

"We're in the centre of this vast open plain with the Flinders Ranges in the distance, so it's a bit like being on a ship in the middle of the ocean. Visitors have no choice but to unwind."

Robert Stephens, the estate agent handling the sale, says that the property has already stimulated enormous interest, both within Australia and internationally.

"It's not every week that you get to sell a railway station, an outback pub and a B & B all in the same parcel," he says. "Putting a price on the property was one of our biggest problems, but the response has been strong. We've already had interest from Sydney and from the United Kingdom."

Mr Stephens says that while the new owner would inherit considerable local goodwill, he or she could not expect to be called Baron or Baroness Bruce. "Tony has a unique sense of style," he said. "He's a very colourful character."

Mr Gwynn-Jones, originally from Malvern, Worcestershire, and his Australian wife, Maggie, first came to Bruce in 1984 and fell in love with the town.

"We thought it was such a shame it had fallen into disrepair," he says. "I made a pretty mad offer and before I knew what had happened I owned a railway station."

The couple have transformed the disused station into a stylish guest-house that has attracted visitors from all over the world, and restored some of its Victorian sandstone buildings.

In its 1870s heyday, Bruce served as a significant train link between Adelaide and Alice Springs. It boasted a memorial hall, Methodist Church, a school, a pub, railway station and a resident population of 100 farmers and rail workers.

How it acquired its distinctive name is not entirely clear. One theory is that it was named after an officer in the Grenadier Guards called Colonel Bruce.

Severe drought in the 1890s and a banking collapse spelt the end for many frontier towns in South Australia. The settlers simply walked off the land, abandoning their fine stone cottages to the elements.

"In those days, they believed that rain followed the plough," says Mr Gwynn-Jones. "It did rain for five years, then it stopped. It has hardly rained since."

Today, Bruce is best described as a living ghost town. Many of the buildings have disappeared, while the pub and memorial hall are boarded up. The last train trundled through in 1962.

The Baron of Bruce, as he walks down the deserted main street safe in the knowledge that he is more likely to encounter a kangaroo than a motor car, believes that the town is a little slice of heaven.

"There's no unemployment here, no violence, no social problems of any kind, really. Everyone gets along," he said. "With only four people I suppose you could say we're a close-knit community."

Mr Gwynn-Jones built a successful business career in Australia after arriving on an assisted passage from England. It is age, he says, not lack of enthusiasm, that has finally defeated him.

"I'm 76 next month, so it's time to hand over to someone younger. Am I going to miss the place? You bet."

The couple plan to spend the next phase of their retirement running a B & B in the Clare Valley, one of Australia's leading wine-growing districts.
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