Mooramong Homestead – Hollywood comes to the Western District

Let’s take a detour from controversy this week and substitute glamour. Hollywood starlet, handsome colonial grazier and 4000 working acres. But lets forget the sheep for a moment and focus on crystal and crockery. This is the home of the son of LKS MacKinnon, the famous Lawyer, racehorse owner and breeder immortalised with the naming of the MacKinnon Stakes during Melbourne’s Cup Week Racing Carnival.

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The property was originally a ‘Squatters Run’ of over 15,000 hectares claimed in 1838 by Scotsman Alexander Andersen and his two partners. Having sold off two thirds of the run, Andersen named the property Mooramong. The sale and profits from grazing provided him with sufficient capital to commission Geelong Architects Davidson and Henderson to design a new homestead and have its construction completed by 1873. Andersen eventually sold the property in 1889.

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During the 1920s, the property was purchased by lawyer and racing identity Mr LKS MacKinnon who in turn gifted it to his son DJS (Scobie) MacKinnon as a 21st birthday present. Scobie excelled as a grazier and breeder of sheep. In 1937 whilst visiting Britain for the Coronation, young Scobie met Canadian born silent screen actress Claire Adams. Besotted the young couple married after a whirlwind 3 week courtship then honeymooned for an entire year whilst touring through Europe, the UK and the USA. Both were independently wealthy. Scobie utilised his gifted property well, achieving record wool clips, whilst Claire had inherited substantial wealth from her first husband. Not only that, she had acted in over 46 Hollywood movies including five Zane Grey films. She worked with the very best producers, directors and actors of the time.

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It was Hollywood in real life as the strapping young Cambridge Undergraduate turned grazier and breeder wooed the glamorous starlet – then settled at Mooramong!

Art Deco was all the rage at the time and a staid 19th Century homestead became a very fashionable and trendsetting abode – Modern style, Art Deco elements, with Georgian accents. Melbourne Architect Marcus Martin had been engaged by Claire Adams, The transformation was deemed a modernisation and at the time perceived as very daring.

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The weatherboard exteriors were rendered and the 19th Century Gothic features removed even when Architect Martin strongly objected.

A heated pool (the first in Victoria) and an Edna Walling garden design was prepared but never fully implemented. A pavilion and pergola completed the thoroughly modern improvements to Mooramong commissioned by Claire Adams.

Much of the 18-month-long renovation work was done on the interior. Of course, a home theatre was an essential part of the brief for this couple. Other entertainment areas included the music room, bar and games room, the latter two being all the rage in fashionable homes of the time. These areas all displayed the influence of modernism, as did the pool furniture and light fittings throughout the home.

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The style of the bar with its green leather dado with chrome strips, recessed fireplace and curved bench took its lead from the interiors of ocean liners such as P&O’s new Orcades. Another fashionable 1930s innovation adopted at Mooramong was the use of built-in furniture, particularly in the kitchen but also in the bathrooms. The use of Formica, too, was cutting-edge, as it was not generally available in Australia until after World War II. Wrought-iron features, such as the front screen door, also appealed to Martin.

Claire, it seems, may not have been Martin’s easiest client to work for, not because of temperament but due to her reported difficulty in understanding drawings. So it was often a case of “build and demolish until it is right”, according to Stephen Dorling, Martin’s assistant at the time. The lounge mantelpiece, for example, was rebuilt six times. She also, apparently, returned a grand piano to London because it wasn’t exactly the colour she’d ordered.

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The Mackinnons were very popular, though, and great charity workers. They entertained the cream of high society and local community folk alike, throwing open their home for parties, film nights, musical evenings and card nights, and welcoming all to swim in their pool. Claire’s natural charm and beauty won hearts and her love of animals was legendary.

She even came in for criticism when in 1944 a great bushfire threatened Mooramong and Claire’s first thought was to save the dogs by letting them off their chains — before worrying about the expensive farm equipment. Still, almost single-handedly, she managed to save most of the property, only losing some outbuildings and the manager’s residence, which was rebuilt in 1947.

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More work was done on the house over the years, though wartime shortages made it difficult during that period. Scobie died of cancer in 1974. His devastated wife had myriad photos, home movies and press clippings to remind her of their wonderful life together, until her own death in 1978. The couple had no children, and the house and bulk of their estate were bequeathed to the National Trust.

Source: completehome.com.au

Today the property, its outbuildings and features remain pretty much as the MacKinnons left it, a working farm typical of the Western District of Victoria, still operating today. Photographs, curios, furniture and art remaining gives the overall feeling of a glamorous home (and couple) of the 1930s, through to the 1970s that remains etched in time. To this day the property remains a popular location for feature films and television dramas.

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Well worth a visit, you can find more detail on location and opening hours on the National Trust website.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

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