Black and white photograph featuring a house in the background set against a sky with white clouds, while an open stretch of grass with trees surrounds the house in the foreground.
Sunnybrae Restaurant and grounds. Photograph by Ponch Hawkes, c. 1990s (YMS 16267, Box 38)

The Library’s collections are vast and varied, and in the Preservation department we encounter archives, records and items that comprise a diverse array of Victoria’s history. Such an example is the archive of a much loved regional restaurant, Sunnybrae (The Records of Sunnybrae Restaurant, YMS 16267) which was located two hours southwest of Melbourne in Birregurra.

The restaurant first opened for business in 1990, in the annexe to a restored nineteenth-century brick cottage named Sunnybrae, a labour of love for chef George Biron and visual artist and teacher Diane Garrett. The property around Sunnybrae was transformed over time to self-sufficiently supply the restaurant with fresh produce, including extensive vegetable lots, an orchard with stone fruit, pistachios and elderberries, groves of olive and truffle trees, bee hives, bread from an outdoor wood-fired oven, and later, even a field of ancient, low-yielding varieties of wheat. George had a passion for food provenance and seasonal, sustainable produce long before it became popularised in Australia. As well as operating as a restaurant set within a homely, welcoming interior, George ran a celebrated small cooking school for students who shared his interests in ‘slow’ food.

Two black and white portrait photographs side by side, the left depicting a man looking down at the contents of a saucepan cooking on a stove, the other of a woman looking at the camera as she holds onto a tray with a glass jug.
George Biron and Diane Garrett in the Sunnybrae kitchen. Photograph by Simon Griffiths, c. 1990s (YMS 16267, Box 38)
Colour photograph of a brick house in the background and a swathe of bright yellow sunflowers in the foreground.
Sunnybrae garden with sunflowers, photographer and date unknown (YMS 16267, Box 40)

The archive covers the full history of the Sunnybrae property, from 1867 to George and Diane’s activities from the 1970’s onwards. In Diane’s notes about the history of the site, she writes of her arrival in Birregurra with her then husband Rod Gray in 1976, wherein they purchased and embarked upon the restoration of a derelict brick cottage (built c. 1867-1868) on a hill with 28 acres of land. After separating from Rod in the early 1980s, Diane met George, and together they spent ten years returning the house close to its original condition while also incorporating the addition of a modern commercial kitchen and dining area. Despite some initial skepticism about their endeavors, Diane and George’s restaurant ‘in the middle of a paddock’ became a highly regarded and successful food destination that attracted patrons from far and wide.

Colour photograph of an old red brick house structure, damaged by fire; the roof is visibly gutted.
Original Sunnybrae building during its first restoration, in which the roof caught fire and the original intact slate roof was sadly lost, 1977 (YMS 16267, Box 39)
Colour photograph of two fragments of historical floral wallpaper, one fragments placed on a sheet of white card, the other in a plastic sleeve.
Original wallpaper fragments found beneath the pressed metal dado at the entrance from the kitchen into the house at Sunnybrae – these pieces comprised one of two historic layers of wallpaper, with an even older layer existing below it. Placed on archival card support and smaller, loose pieces housed in polypropylene sleeves (YMS 16267, Box 7, Folder 9)

As well as a range of traditional collection items, including papers, newspaper clippings and photographic material, the archive also includes the tangible traces of a working restaurant. Many of the display and signage elements of the restaurant were designed by Diane, including receipt holders, menu covers and aprons, incorporating her drawings and collages.

Colour photograph depicting a collage with a doll on the left and a receipt on the right, both centred and held in place on two pieces of card with photo corners.
Diane Garrett’s collaged receipt holder, including original receipt, held in place with archival paper corners, 2013 (YMS YMS 16267, Box 5, Folder 6)
Colour photograph depicting four hand drawn images of cats, acting as signage used in a restaurant.
Various Sunnybrae signage designs by Diane Garrett, undated (YMS 16267, Box 13, Folder 8)
Colour photograph featuring a set of folded canvas aprons with black and white graphic designs, packed into a box with tissue paper.
Sunnybrae aprons with designs by Diane Garrett (two that would have been worn by staff in the restaurant and one unused), interleaved with acid-free tissue paper, undated (YMS 16267, Box 35)

Custom boxes were produced in order to house a series of empty coffee bags (reflecting the varieties of coffee served at the restaurant over time) and some of the items associated with the day-to-day processes at Sunnybrae, including a set of informational notes bound on a ring, a kind of flip-card reference for wait staff describing wine available at the restaurant.

Colour photograph of close up of a pile of empty coffee bags, and a hand holding a plastic zip lock bag containing loose coffee beans.
Empty coffee bags, with remnant coffee beans separated, c. 2000s (YMS 16267, Box 36)
Two colour photographs side by side, the left shows a set of flip cards with text bound on a metal ring inside a fold out box, the right depicts the flip cards on their own, slightly fanned out.
Wine information notes bound on a metal ring, housed in a custom phase box, undated (YMS 16267, Box 34)

The collection also reflects the development of the gardens at Sunnybrae, tracking plants and vegetables grown and tested on site. It provides an insight into George’s research on the extensive variety of produce that he utilised for his recipes, much of which was sourced from the Sunnybrae garden.

Colour photograph of a large ledger, opened to a set of pages depicting handwritten notes and various empty packets of seeds for plants and flowers.
Ledger recording details and placement of seed varieties sewn in the gardens at Sunnybrae, 1984-2005 (YMS 16267, Box 62)
Colour photograph of a large ledger, opened to a set of pages depicting handwritten notes and various empty packets of seeds for plants and flowers.
Ledger recording details and placement of seed varieties sewn in the gardens at Sunnybrae, 1984-2005 (YMS 16267, Box 62)
Colour photograph of vibrant red and yellow flowers in bloom.
Flowers in bloom in the gardens at Sunnybrae, photographer and date unknown (YMS 16267, Box 40)
Colour photograph of four plastic plant tags with handwritten text, sitting within a plastic sleeve; one tag is in the midst of being inserted into the sleeve.
Plant tags placed in sleeves, related to George’s extensive research on solanaceae, or nightshades, undated (YMS 16267, Box 14, Folder 8)

Perhaps most interestingly for food enthusiasts, the collection captures the evolution of the menu over the years, documenting what was served throughout Sunnybrae’s history, in addition to many of the subjects covered in George’s cooking classes.

Colour photograph of a book, laying open, depicting black handwritten text.
Sunnybrae Restaurant menu for 15 January, 1995 (YMS 16267, Box 27)
Colour photograph of a book, laying open, depicting black handwritten text.
Sunnybrae Restaurant menu for 4 November, 1995 (YMS 16267, Box 27)

Sunnybrae reopened in 2008 after an 8 year hiatus, during which time it had reverted to a private residence for George and Dianne, allowing them some time and solitude after many years of operating a busy restaurant in their home. The restaurant closed permanently in 2013 after being sold to renowned Australian chef Dan Hunter, who has transformed the space into its current incarnation, the award-winning Brae. George and Diane lived at the Sunnybrae site for over 30 years, championing fresh and local ingredients and pioneering a unique approach to regional dining, which is reflected so richly in the archive available at State Library Victoria.

Three black and white photographs adhered to a sheet of paper, depicting a gathering of men and women cooking in a kitchen.
Individual page with black and white photographs documenting one of George’s cooking classes, photographer and date unknown (YMS 16267, Box 40)
A small book laying open, revealing handwritten text from two different people, across its pages.
Handmade book containing notes of appreciation from patrons to George Biron and Diane Garrett at the closure of Sunnybrae Restaurant, 2000 (YMS 16267, Box 11, Folder 2)
A black and white photograph of a man and woman smiling and looking directly at the camera, as they lean against a large bookshelf.
George Biron and Diane Garrett in the dining room at Sunnybrae. Photograph by the Geelong Advertiser, c. 1990s (YMS 16267, Box 33)
Colour photograph featuring a house in the background with trees and foliage in the foreground; the whole scene is bathed in golden sunlight, the shadow from the photographer is visible at left.
Sunnybrae garden, photographer and date unknown (YMS 16267, Box 40)

NOTE: This collection is currently being processed in Preservation prior to being catalogued and will be available for access after September 2020. 

This post was written by Jessye Wdowin-McGregor, Preservation Technician

More to Explore

A review of Sunnybrae Restaurant, acknowledging George Biron’s pioneering interests in ‘slow’ food

An article featuring George Biron’s ancient grain growing explorations

Announcement of Dan Hunter’s new endeavour on the site of Sunnybrae Restaurant in 2013

This article has 5 comments

  1. Talking of “slow” food – I have a menu from the lunch that George & Di hosted for Carlo Petrini of Slowfood signed by Carlo & others from back in 1999?
    Happy to include it with George’s memorabilia if it is of value.

  2. Great article – brings back happy memories of many family celebrations held at Sunnybrae from 1999.

  3. Geraldine Gartland

    I remember the time, possibly around Christmas that George and Dianne generously hosted a lunch for the older frail residents of the Birregurra district at Sunnybrae. As the then district nurse I was among the volunteers to help seat, serve and clear up. The meal was rich and magnificent, but unable to be fully appreciated by the guests who were so compromised by frailty, and their small and simple appetites. Tho they all certainly loved the ambience, opportunity and Georges generosity and felt so very very special being at Sunnybrae that Christmas. And those of us who worked with those elders mentally thanked George often.

  4. Susan Nicholas

    What a wonderful collection of memorabilia. I am constantly amazed at those early archivists who had the presence of mind to retain records which now reside in our State Library just waiting to be rediscovered.
    George and Diane must have so many wonderful stories to tell – an RN podcast maybe?

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