James Fairfax has given his amazing rural property to the National Trust

Retford Park, James Fairfax’s $20m 19th century Italianate mansion. Source: supplied

Philanthropist James Fairfax, the 83-year-old great grandson of newspaper founder John Fairfax, has donated his historic family home in rural New South Wales to the National Trust.

Fairfax, a former chairman and director of the publishing business that bears his name, bought Retford Park in Bowral, an hour south of Sydney, 52 years ago for £15,000.

Today, it’s worth more than $20 million and is the largest gift the National Trust has received in its 70-year history.

Originally set on four hectares, the 1887 country manor belonged to Sydney retailing family the Horderns for nearly a century.

The gardens at Retford Park. Source: supplied

Over five decades, Fairfax built up the landholding to 120 hectares, 90ha of which are now under residential development, with a significant amount of the money raised from the subdivision being donated to the National Trust Heritage Foundation as income for the ongoing upkeep of Retford Park.

The 183-lot development should generate around $75 million, with 70% already sold and the final 38 sites hitting the market next month.

Last year, James Fairfax was on the BRW Rich 200 with an estimated net worth of A$302 million from property, investments and his art collection, from which he’s made many gifts to the Art Gallery of NSW over the decades.

Handing over the property to the National Trust yesterday, Fairfax said “It has long been my wish that Retford Park be preserved so that future generations can see how the property was lived in and used. I know that I am transferring the property into safe hands.”

National Trust president Clive Lucas said Retford Park will become part of a heritage trail in the region and the most significant site.

“Ultimately, heritage enthusiasts will be able to visit Retford Park at Bowral, Harper’s Mansion at Berrima, Golden Vale at Sutton Forrest, Riversdale at Goulburn and Cooma Cottage at Yass as part of a package tour of Southern Highlands Heritage,” he said.

Retford Park. Source: supplied