The history of Spicers Hidden Vale

Spicers Hidden Vale played a key role in the early Spicers story. It has evolved into a diverse and popular property with a colourful history. Hidden Vale was actually the first property up and running as an active boutique B & B, even before the ‘from-scratch’ build of Spicers Peak Lodge was completed.

In 1999, Hidden Vale – 12000 acres of farming land with a B & B – came onto the market. Spicers founder, Jude Turner and her husband Graham (also known as “Skroo”) had purchased a nearby property, Spicers Peak Lodge, earlier in the year, and were keen on acquiring more farming land, though not so eager for the B & B. However, the Hidden Vale owners were not interested in a partial sale of their property, so the Turners ended up with the whole lot!

Upon purchase, Hidden Vale was an established operation with the main Homestead, a few surrounding cottages, and a manager’s residence already in place. Jude recalls that her and Skroo didn’t overthink things, and thought it would be easy enough to get someone else in to run the property for them. Jude and her sister Ros designed and co-ordinated a major refurbishment, and then enlisted Peppers to manage the operation. Peppers Hidden Vale opened to the public in 2002. At the time, Peppers appealed to Jude as they were the only group in Australia running small retreats as opposed to larger hotel groups. Once they had the Hidden Vale property up and running, Jude and Ros focused on designing and managing the build of Spicers Peak Lodge which opened to the public two years later in 2004, also originally under Peppers’ management.

Homestead lounge area before and after

Hidden Vale gained momentum and a few years after opening, Spicers added the Hereford and Wagyu Cottages, bringing six more rooms to the guest offerings. Further down the track, more cottages, the Laidley Room, and the lap pool were also added. Hidden Vale has continued to gradually grow and evolve over time adding more cabins, rooms and amenities. In 2018 five new luxury log cabins were built, and in January 2019 Hidden Vale offered a total of 34 rooms.

Between 2007 and 2010, the Spicers group were expanding into other properties in Queensland and New South Wales and had initiated a move away from Peppers management. In 2010 the Spicers Retreats brand was officially launched and Hidden Vale also re-launched as Spicers Hidden Vale. It marked a fresh, new chapter in the property’s story.

In 2014 Andrea and Ash Martin joined Hidden Vale, bringing valuable experience having both worked at Spicers Peak Lodge for a number of years. The couple saw exciting potential in the property and it has blossomed under their stewardship as General Manager and Head Chef, respectively. At the time they joined the Hidden Vale team, the main restaurant was known as Cottons, and was housed in the historical Homestead. Ash had developed strong philosophies around food in the preceding years and led the decision to rename the restaurant Homage. The renewed vision was literally to pay homage to the land, the people and the produce of the region, by integrating sustainability, recycling, composting, zero food waste and origin into the operation. Spicers added the Market Garden to suit Ash’s food philosophies and Homage really started to thrive. Today you will find 89 raised garden beds, bee hives, and a preserving room all actively working toward the goal of zero waste production and self-sustainability.

Homage as Cottons before, now Homage

In April of 2018, the ceiling of the 100-year-old homestead caught fire, and sadly the restaurant completely burnt down. It marked almost 100 years ago to the day that another fire had burnt down the original farmhouse on this same site. The original farmhouse had been built by A. J. Cotton who owned the land at the time, and in 1921 the Cotton family built a new one level homestead to replace the original farmhouse – this was the historical structure that burnt down in 2018.

The 2018 fire was devastating and impacted many people, but luckily no one was hurt and the comeback from that day has been extraordinary. The team pulled together and less than three months after the blaze, Hidden Vale was reopened and Homage was reimagined. Now located in the historic 100-year-old barn (some renovations were made to accommodate the restaurant), previously a casual gathering and games area, the dining experience is rustic, and outdoorsy, but still sumptuous, focused on traditional methods of cookery: fire, smoke, the preserving room and coal pits. Much of the cooking is done in front of the diners in a very pure form; fire has been very much brought to the fore! There are no short cuts at Homage, and that’s just the way Ash Martin likes it.

Barn before and after

The Hidden Vale property was the stomping ground of Sidney Cotton, the real-life inspiration for Ian Fleming’s Secret Agent 007: Bond – James Bond.

In 1900 Alfred (A. J.) Cotton purchased ‘Jost Vale’ from an Ipswich butcher named Philip Jost. He renamed the property ‘Hidden Vale’ and took up residence in the hidden valley below the site of the old homestead. Alfred and his wife Annie had a number of children, Sidney being one of their sons, born in 1896. Sidney completed most of his schooling at The Southport School on the Gold Coast, except for his final two years which he completed at Cheltenham College, during which time the Cotton family had briefly returned to England. The family returned to Australia in 1912 and Sidney worked as a Jackaroo. In 1915, he returned to England during the First World War and joined the Royal Naval Air Service. Sidney swiftly qualified as a combat pilot and participated in numerous missions. The experience he gained with high level and low temperature flying led Sidney to develop the ‘Sidcot’ suit – a revolutionary new flying suit which enabled pilots to keep warm in the cockpit. This style of suit was widely used by the RAF until the 1950s.

After being promoted to flight Sub-Lieutenant in 1917, Sidney came into conflict with senior officers and soon resigned. He married a young London actress with whom he had a son and spent a couple of years in Tasmania before returning to England and continuing his passion for flying. A risk-taker, in 1920 he attempted to fly from England to South Africa, but was unsuccessful. He was also lucky to survive a crash at a London aerial derby he partook in. Sidney then moved to Newfoundland, a British colony in North America, where he spent three years flying varied assignments.

1925 saw Sidney divorce his first wife before marrying a young Canadian woman in 1926. During this period he was involved with a number of aviation-focused business activities, including an airborne seal spotting service and search and rescue operations in Newfoundland and Greenland.

Just before the Second World War, Sidney was recruited by M16, the Secret Intelligence Service of the United Kingdom, to capture aerial photos of the German military preparation – he was officially a spy! He posed to the Germans as a wealthy private aviator and film producer and collected valuable information about the German military build-up via a series of reconnaissance flights. He rigged up cameras concealed with panels on his plane that he could open by pressing a button underneath the pilot’s seat. The button could also control the cameras. He built trusting relationships with German officials and consistently managed to fly off his planned flight paths (regulated by the government) without arousing suspicion – apparently he was a very persuasive, opportunistic character!

In 1939 the RAF recruited Sidney as a Squadron Leader and honorary Wing Commander. As well as this, he headed up the fledgling RAF 1 Photographic Development Unit (PDU), and led the group to provide important intelligence which informed successful air raids on key enemy sites. With his background knowledge gained flying over Germany and other countries, Cotton significantly enhanced the RAF’s intelligence gathering capabilities. It was also in 1939 that Cotton met Ian Fleming as both were working for British Naval Intelligence. They became good friends and it’s believed that Cotton was the inspiration for some of Fleming’s 007 James Bond character, with his penchant for risk-taking, undercover operation, and his love of gadgetry and young women!

Cotton was a man of action and ingenuity with a maverick streak. He died in England in 1969. His ashes were buried at the family grave in Tallegalla in Ipswich, west of Brisbane, where a heritage plaque that summarises his life story has also been erected.

In 2017, Spicers and The Turner Family Foundation Hidden opened a Wildlife Centre on the Hidden Vale property built in partnership with University of Queensland. Located 500m from the accommodation – just a walk across the paddock! The overarching goal is to develop innovative and globally significant solutions for wildlife management and conservation, using the Hidden Vale Wildlife Centre and surrounding ecosystems as a model. Read more here.

Spicers has developed some parts of the expansive Hidden Vale property into Hidden Vale Adventure Park, appealing to an active clientele, particularly those interested in mountain bike riding. The park has 110km of mountain biking trails that was built by the renowned World Trails team.