This time we visit two exciting properties. In Central Victoria at Murchison we visit Noorilim Estate, an extraordinary property established by William Irving Winter in 1879. The Winter family built many grand homesteads on the Goulbourn River and its Valley, including the 68 room Dhurringile, Curop, Caragarac, Toolamba, Colbinabbin and Stanhope. The other property we visit is the 44 room Barwon Park Mansion built by Thomas Austin who famously introduced the English Rabbit to Australia.
Noorilim was constructed using ‘imported Italian craftsmen’ and ultimately cost 72,000 pounds to complete, a small fortune in those times. Featuring a prominent tower Noorilim is one of a very few substantial nineteenth century residences in rural Victoria. The winding road leading to the formal driveway is flanked by large Eucalypts and the extensive botanical gardens of the estate.
Vineyards now sit adjacent to either side of the entrance and its parklands. Abundant birdlife and peacocks provide insight into how abundant the wildlife is on the estate.
The building itself is an Italianate mansion. Its tower is reminiscent of Werribee Park and the Victorian Parliament. It is considered the finest work of Architect James Gall who also designed Mintaro at Monegeeta and Frognell in Canterbury.
Here is a description from ‘Domain’, circa 1910
Wandering its spectacular botanical gardens and touring its exquisite interiors is a rare pleasure, easily prolonged.
Noorilim is owned by cleaning business tycoon and controversial art auctioneer Rod Menzies. He says it’s the atmosphere that is the defining glory. “It’s like stime stands still,” he says.
True enough, and thanks to Mr Menzies’ and past owners’ loving and thoughtful care, Noorilim shines still, despite its 130 years.
Designed by James Gall for former member of parliament William Winter-Irving in 1879 and set on 65 verdant hectares, the house is a most elegant study in ornate Italianate style and, while its looks are storybook gorgeous, a robust Australian aesthetic can be found here as well.
The colonnaded southern side is the natural face of the structure built on this orientation to make the most of the prevailing south winds to flow through the great arches in this often searingly hot part of central Victoria.
Those arches, or loggia, rise up to the first level, providing a beautiful coherence of form, while performing a vital cooling function.
The main entrance is on the eastern side, where the tower rises central to the facade.
A stunning broad reception area is enough to make you weep over the splendour — the ceilings rise to five metres and the deep cornices look as edible as delicate frosting; even the skirting boards are grand.
Corinthian columns also dominate the space as if their graceful heft holds fast the beauty all around. The great hall they frame boasts luminous Minton tiles laid by Italian artisans brought out specifically for the task.
Beyond here, the split stair conjures images of great soirees and period intrigue and leads to the minstrel gallery where Nellie Melba once sang.
Estate manager John McMaster’s wealth of knowledge, affably conveyed, helps to interpret the singular floorplan, explaining that the right wing of the house was the more utilitarian section.
“The hallway is behind a dividing wall so that on this side of the grand hall, the servants could get along the passage to the kitchen, laundry and to their upstairs quarters,” Mr McMaster says.
On the left, opening off the foyer, three exquisite formal rooms with floor-to-ceiling panes, marble fireplaces and access to the loggia provide a window into what it might have been like to live in the time of ballrooms and formality.
The property has 10 bedrooms in all and upstairs are some of the most beautiful you’re ever likely to see with adjacent dressing rooms that are larger than most modern standard bedrooms.
A great billiards hall, stairways to the tower, views to the Strathbogie Ranges and all that mesmerising Victorian-era space complete a breathtaking first level. Underground is a network of cellars.
The majestic grounds are a pure joy. A lily-covered ornamental lake with boat house, formal Italian and rose gardens and lush, rolling lawns, where peacocks and all manner of birdlife roam with a fabulous insouciance, are all part of the bounteous prize here.
Further afield, 30 hectares of vines produce red-wine varietals.
The Goulburn River runs silkily by, time stands still and life, like Noorilim, is very grand indeed.
- $10 million-plus hopes
- 205 Wahring Murchison East Road
- 2-hour drive from Melbourne
- One of Australia’s most significant private estates
- Beautifully restored by several owners over the years
- Named after the local Aboriginal tribe, the Nkurekban (formerly Ngoordaialum)
- Classified by the National Trust and featured on the Historic Buildings Register
- 500 metre Goulburn River frontage
- 80 acres of income producing vines including Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Viognier are partly leased.
- 10 bedrooms
- 15 fireplaces
- 7 staircases
History of a treasure
- 1850s: Varying reports of Andrew Sinclair and Frederick Manton squatting on the land then known as the Noorilim run.
- The estate was later taken up by Mr. William Drayton Taylor
- 1870: At Taylor’s death it became the property of the Winter-Irving family
- 1879: Noorilim house designed by James Gall and built for William Winter-Irving.
- Later bought by Mr. Samuel Finlay.
- 1927: Mr Norman Falkiner bought the estate from Finlay.
- 1930: £40,000 (approximately) sale price to Mr James Tweedle for the house and 2,357 acres freehold, and 80 acres lease-hold from Mr Falkiner’s estate.
- 1950s: Rumor of planned demolition, but apparently the demolition company gave such an exorbitant quote, its then-owner replaced the roof instead of the whole building.
- 1975: Bryan and Loel Thomson bought the property and spent 24 years on restoration of the home and garden.
- 1999: $3.325 million paid by Mr Rod Menzies
- 2010: $10 million plus sale hopes
Noorilim Estate is a true reflection of the Golden Age of Australia and the riches wrought from the Golden Fleece – fine merino wool.
Barwon Park Mansion
Another property of some note is Barwon Park Mansion. This imposing bluestone mansion was built in the 1860s for Thomas Austin and completed in 1871. It now holds a State Classification with the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) Register.
In all there are 42 rooms. Thomas Austin, a pastoralist, built it to accommodate a visit from the Duke of Edinburgh in the future as he felt his existing homestead, where he hosted the Duke had been manifestly inadequate, causing him great embarrassment.
Once one of Australia’s grandest mansions, it was designed by Architects Davidson and Henderson. It has a most striking staircase and is noted for its early use of Australian Cedar. It features staind glass windows, intricate, delicate ironwork over the entrance and around the verandahs with magnificent interior arches throughout.
The new mansion consisted of 42 rooms but unfortunately for Thomas Austin he had little time to enjoy it. He died six months after its completion. His wife Elizabeth Austin continued to live there for many years and became a noted philanthropist. The Austin Hospital in Heidelberg is named after her.
Unfortunately for Thomas, he is best remembered for introducing the English rabbit, hares, blackbirds, thrushes and partridge to Victoria (and Australia). He was a member of what was known as the ‘Acclimatisation Society of Victoria’ . He started our ‘rabbit plague’ with 24 breeding pairs. Poor fellow! But he built a beautiful home and left a fine legacy. At the time he was praised for his efforts with rabbits!
Barwon Park is open for visitors twice a week. It remains relatively untouched and is well worth a visit. Details can be accessed on the National Trust Site. It provides a stunning vision of the past with great authenticity.