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Introducing "We bought a hotel"

Introducing "We bought a hotel"
Day 1 at Saltash Farm. Neil Varcoe, his wife Edwina Bartholomew and their children Molly and Tom. Photograph by Kirsten Cunningham.
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Neil Varcoe was a tech executive in Sydney until he bought an old hotel in Carcoar, NSW, population 271. Here’s the first instalment of his monthly column for Galah.


It was New Year’s Eve, 2016 and we were having a rager. My wife Edwina was sitting on the hotel bed doing a crossword puzzle while I ate pizza and streamed Straight Outta Compton.

“What’s the widest canyon in the world?” Edwina said.

“The Capertee Valley,” I replied. 

It fit. Edwina was surprised. I tried not to take offence.

“Where’s that? How did you know that?” she said.

“It’s near Lithgow — I went there as a kid,” I said, returning to the movie.

Edwina thumbed at her phone: “Farm for sale Capertee Valley.” 

An 1890s sandstone farmhouse on 100 acres filled the screen. She messaged the agent, and 26 days later, we owned it. 

Warramba would become a gathering place for family and friends. It also became a creative outlet from our city roles in media and tech. It soothed an ache for home. I thought it was the end. It was just the beginning.


Fast forward to 2022, one week after Elon Musk acquired Twitter, and I was locked out of my company laptop. 

I checked my personal email. I had a message titled “Your Role at Twitter.” It read:

“Twitter is conducting a workforce reduction to help improve the health of the company. These decisions are never easy and it is with regret that we write to inform you that your role at Twitter has been identified as potentially impacted or at risk of redundancy.”

Translation: ‘You’re fired. We need time to Google how to do it. Australia is far away.”

I had a holiday scheduled, so I took it. We rented a Federation home on a sheep and cattle station at Mandurama near Blayney in the Central West of NSW.

I grew up in Lithgow, finished my schooling in Bathurst, and both Edwina and I had friends and family dotted around the region. In our seven years of splitting our time between the city and the bush, we were fascinated by the revitalisation happening in the Central West — sleepy villages and towns blooming with new life brought about by the pandemic and The Great Regional Migration ™️ — a trend rippling and roaring across the nation. 

Using Mandurama as a base, we visited The Rockley Pub, purchased by chef and restaurateur Matt Moran. We popped into Milthorpe Providore for a “Breaky Sandwich.” 

Then, on the final day,  Edwina set the GPS for Carcoar to visit Tomolly — a homewares store that had been brightening our Instagram feeds for years. I felt we had enough smelly candles, but I was clever enough not to argue. 

As Edwina spoke to Tomolly's shopkeeper Belinda Satterthwaite, our children Tom (1) and Molly (3) ate banana bread from The Village Grocer. I lifted my face to the sun, hoping it would melt away the tiredness. There was a sign on the pub across the road: “For Sale.” I clocked it and went back to my coffee. Edwina noticed the sign, too. On New Year's Day, Edwina came downstairs for breakfast and, before saying good morning, uttered five words that would change our lives: “I had a crazy idea.”


The real estate agent did not immediately answer our email, so Edwina messaged her on Instagram. It was summer, and she was at the beach like many regional families. The Royal Hotel Carcoar had sold, was the brief reply. We tried to counter, but the deal was done.

It was too late for the pub (that pub), but we had fallen in love with Carcoar and soon we were back — this time inspecting Stoke House. It dates to 1846 and was the first pub in town.

We stepped in the front door, and a familiar feeling washed over me — like I’d felt visiting Warramba for the first time. Edwina must have felt the same. We turned to each other with a knowing look. We’d found home again.

We made an offer, which was accepted. We sold our house in Sydney and moved the family into a rental in the Inner West. I flirted with returning to a tech role, but we knew this project was more significant than Warramba and would require someone on it full-time. I moved to Carcoar to restore and relaunch Stoke House as Saltash Farm — a boutique hotel that feels like home.

The community has embraced our mad little tribe, and I fall deeper in love with Carcoar each day. The church bells invite me to get serious about the day at nine o'clock. The Belubula River whispers to me at night. 

We had no plans to run a hotel, but here we are, or rather, here I am. The hardest part is being away from my wife and kids. But the absence sharpens my appreciation for them and our time together. 

As a tech exec, I all but lived in the front room of our house, tethered to my laptop. I was present but not present. I feel more connected now to my family, even though we are 250 kilometres apart. Follow the journey in your inbox each month — you can follow me on Instagram, too.   



Saltash Farm in December 1930.