Queensland historian’s incredible effort to preserve Highfields history

 A dedicated local history buff has spent more than 20 years – and a considerable amount of money – to restore a near 150-year-old farmhouse that once stood at Highfields, near Toowoomba.

The house, which originally belonged to the pioneering Browne family, was once set on farmland that now hosts the Carinity Brownesholme Seniors community at Highfields.

The land at Highfields on which Carinity Brownesholme sits was a dairy farm bequeathed to the Baptist Union of Queensland by the late Isobel “Molly” Browne. 

The home was built by Molly’s grandparents soon after their arrival in Queensland from Ireland in the early-1870s.  

Before she passed away in 1985, Molly was regularly approached to sell the land, but she was steadfast that the property be used for a retirement village and nursing home. 

The first part of Molly’s dream became a reality in 1995 when the purpose built Brownesholme lifestyle retirement village opened.  

In the meantime, the old home in which she lived for more than 80 years was in a shocking state of near disrepair. 

“The house was falling down, and it was in the middle of the property and no one knew what to do with it,” Barry recalls. 

“It was in a very, very bad state of repairs and things were falling down everywhere.” 

A member of Toowoomba’s Baptist community and a historian who also owns the original Brazier’s brickworks building, Barry desperately wanted to retain another piece of local history. 

He and his wife Joan purchased Molly Browne’s house around 25 years ago  and commenced their lengthy and painstaking restoration project. 

“I’m interested in history. Most people don’t care about history, so I thought, ‘Why don’t I do something instead of waiting for somebody else  to do it’,” Barry says.

Carinity Brownesholme manager Peter Aspin and Barry Barwick outside the historic former home of the Browne family of Highfields.

The Barwicks relocated the 145-year-old dwelling from Highfields to nearby Cabarlah, where Barry has restored the five-bedroom house to its near original state. 

“We cut the house in two, got two semi-trailers and transported it across. We had to reinforce it all so it could be moved without falling down completely,” Barry says. 

“Once it was moved all that remained was a chimney standing alone in the middle of a paddock, and that was a great concern. I worked out how to move this 30-foot chimney.”  

Barry’s attention to detail for his restoration project is astounding. Such is his dedication for authenticity, he set the house on a block of land “facing the same way and with the same slope” as on the original Highfields  property. 

The retiree also sourced more than 10 unique paint colours to match the original colour schemes throughout Molly Browne’s home. 

“I tend to have a tenacity about what I do. I’m a bit fanatical and I like to have things just the way they should be,” Barry explains. 

“It’s such a long-term job to restore one of these old houses if you want to get it back to its original state.” 

Carinity Brownesholme Retirement Manager, Peter Aspin thanked Barry for his incredible efforts to preserve historical buildings in the district. 

“Thanks to the Barwick’s wonderful restoration of the Browne family’s former homestead, this grand old house looks the same today as it did well  over a century ago,” Peter says. 

“Such is Barry’s dedication, tenacity and attention to detail that he even relocated old structures such as water tanks and sheds, as well as fencing and artefacts, from the former Browne property to the new site. 

“For volunteering countless hours and investing many, many dollars of their own money to keep a slice of local history alive, Barry and Joan deserve to be applauded.” 

A new Carinity aged care community, adjacent to the existing Brownesholme retirement village, will open in mid-2021.