Penola was squatted on pre 1840 by the Austin family. The first settler was Scottish born Alexander Cameron, who obtained an occupation licence in 1844. In 1861 Mary MacKillop went there to teach, and with Father Julian Woods, opened Australia's first free Catholic school. They also started The Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. At the time, only the rich could afford schooling, but they accepted pupils whether their parents had money or not. She was a wonderful teacher and became very popular in the community.
Around 1890 John Riddoch formed the Coonawarra Fruit Colony. Eight hundred hectares from Yarram Park were subdivided into holdings of between four and 12 hectares and sold at very reasonable terms to farmers wanting to create orchards and vineyards. The growing success was a rectangle of red soil, known as the Coonawarra Cigar. The soil lies on top of limestone and grape growers knew it was perfect for producing perfect grapes for near-perfect wines, particularly red. Coonawarra is one of Australia's most prolific grape growing and wine producing areas.
Riddoch insisted that the purchasers plant one-third cabernet sauvignon to two-thirds shiraz. Today the area's twenty-one vineyards have healthy plantings of both.
Dennis and Bonnie Vice moved to Penola from California twenty years ago and planted Highbank Vineyards. They moved into organic farming and their six hectares, located high on red soil banks, produce enough wine to allow them to export to eighteen countries. Their wines are matured in fine French oak barrels.
There are two delightful choices of accommodation at Highbank. The Cottage is a small limestone home, nestled in its own vineyard 100 metres from the cellar door. Large iron gates ensure privacy.
The Cottage is light and inviting, has exposed beams, arched French doors, leadlight windows and a stone fireplace. A cosy loft-bedroom overlooks the vineyard and driveway. A two-person spa overlooks a garden and visitors enjoy candle-lit luxury there.
Private catering can be arranged, and there is a kitchen if you prefer to create your own meals. A good range of local and international wines is available.
Room With A View is also built from limestone found on the property. It is above the cellar door and decorated with soft, subtle furnishings. It has vineyard views, a two-person spa and equipped kitchen. Both accommodations are comfortable for two to four adults and country breakfast provisions are provided.
The Limestone Coast has plenty of tourist attractions, adventures and water sports.