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Around the world in 80 minutes

by Diana Streak

If you love the little things in life, Cockington Green in Canberra is the place to be. Diana Streak takes a tour of tiny buildings from all corners of the globe.


Who doesn’t love miniature things? The joy of a doll’s house with intricately detailed wallpaper and tiny elaborate furniture, or the thrill of a toy train set with its dinky engines, tracks and signal systems is something many of us don’t leave behind in childhood.

Which is why places like Cockington Green Gardens on the outskirts of Canberra have such a wide demographic among their visitors.

Second-generation owner Mark Sarah says it’s not only children who love to wander through the quaint English garden village, but all generations delight in the miniature dwellings and 40 buildings in the international section.

Then there are the trains. A 12” gauge steam train provides rides around a 200-metre track and model G-Gauge trains activated by push-button wind their way among the gardens.

The original models in the English village were built by Mark’s father Doug, who was a carpenter and builder, in 1979 after the family was inspired during a visit to Baddacombe Model Village in the UK.

A miniature of the original Tudor House – which is now Cockington Green HQ

“When we came back my parents looked for a suitable property and this site was really quite far out of Canberra then. So, there was our family home, a large Tudor house, in the middle of an empty paddock. It became quite a landmark,” Mark says. “Even light aircraft used it as a beacon.”

In 1997 the first building in the International Section was constructed and embassies in Canberra now jostle for position to showcase an iconic building from their country.

“Colombia was the first and then the South American cartel really kicked it off,” says Mark

Colombia’s Medellin Markets was the first international building

The most recent countries to be represented are Israel with Masada and Oman with Jabrin Fort.

Despite the interest, like all beautiful things the process can’t be rushed. There is a laborious task of studying plans and then building them in the Sarahs’ workshop with some buildings taking up 3000 hours, depending on the scale and complexity. “Borobudur and Petra took 1000 hours to build,” he says.

English village models such as the Peterborough housing estate were built at a 1/12 scale

The scale of the original English village buildings is all 1/12 while the international buildings range from 1/18, for South Africa’s Cape Dutch style Groote Constantia and Argentina’s Caminito Street, La Boca, up to 1/35 for Ukraine’s Saint Andrew’s Church and 1/100 for Indonesia’s Borobudur Hindu temple.

Argentina’s Caminito Street, La Boca, was built to a 1/18 scale

Ukraine’s Saint Andrij (Andrew) Church model was built to a 1/35 scale

The next country in line is Bangladesh which has chosen its National Parliament House which is fashioned on an ancient fort with a moat.

“We stipulate that we build the models ourselves, from fibre glass and resin, so there is consistency of quality. Because they are all outdoors they must endure the elements, especially the Canberra winter, over many years.”

And like any buildings, there is ongoing maintenance and sometimes improvements to existing models.

Like children, it’s tough to ask the question “Which is your favourite?” But Mark is quick with an answer, “usually the last one”.

The family will celebrate 40 years of Cockington Green next year (2019) and what was once a lonely Tudor house in the bush is now part of a thriving tourist destination – Gold Creek Village.

Can you spot the giraffe? South Africa’s Groot Constantia wine estate was one of the first international model buildings

There has been some reverse engineering as well. “South Africa was one of our first international buildings, the Cape Dutch style Groote Constantia manor. A man from South Australia borrowed our plans to build a life size house for his family!”

All aboard!

As for real dolls houses, check out the Rose Room for indoor delights and make sure you take a ride on the little steam train to really get in touch with your inner child! TTW

Diana Streak travelled at her own expense. More at cockingtongreen.com.auPhotos: Diana Streak.

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