It’s the school holidays. What a perfect time for a visit to Mt Macedon located 64km North West of Melbourne. On a clear day when looking west from anywhere with sufficient elevation in greater Melbourne, Mt Macedon sits like a sentinel. It’s indigenous name is Geboor or Geburrh in the traditional language of the Wurundjeri people.
During the expansion of the British Empire in the late nineteenth century it was often the case than an area was selected for a ‘Hill Station’ or summer residence for the then Governors and their key staff. In Victoria, it was Mt Macedon that was selected. Named by explorer Major Thomas Mitchell in 1836 upon his ascension of the summit, he was actually renaming it. In 1824 the expedition of Hamilton Hume and William Hovell sighted the mountain and named it Mt Wentworth. Mitchell was passionate about ‘Ancient Macedonia’ and named the mountain after Phillip of Macedonia, based on his viewing of Port Phillip Bay from the mountain’s summit.
Mt Macedon stands at 1101 metres or 3,317ft in the imperial scale. Being at a higher elevation, it offered a cooler climate and was often covered in snow at its highest altitudes in winter.
This was very appealing to those who had emigrated from the cooler climates of the Northern Hemisphere.
The State Parliament in the late 1880s allocated 12,000 pounds to purchase the land near the summit to build the official summer residence of the Governor of Victoria. It was ‘fully renovated’ in 1892. A substantial building it became known as the ‘Government Cottage’.
By 1934, it was described as ‘an estate of slightly more than 54 acres in ‘Upper Macedon’. It was a two storied wooden building of 31 rooms as well as four bathrooms, six storerooms, a further six rooms for servant quarters, an entrance lodge of four rooms with stabling and garage.’
In that same year (1934) it was sold for the princely sum of 5600 pounds via public auction to raise funds in the post-depression economy.
It was eventually converted to a Guest House and unfortunately suffered a devastating fire in July 1954 and was totally destroyed. Priceless antique furniture, paintings and a grand piano were lost.
As well much of its intriguing history was lost to time, but fear not, the hill station attracted many of society’s well heeled social circle to build similar properties in the late nineteenth century.
Braemar House, a Heritage listed substantial two storey mansion, built upon brick and stone foundations, featuring high pitched roofing, intricate gables and asymmetric features was constructed in 1889-90 to a design by Italian born architect Louis Blondini. It was to be the site of Clydes Girls Grammar School, a private Girls Boarding School that operated from 1918 til 1976. It was the inspiration for the Boarding School featured in Joan Lindsay’s novel, Picnic at Hanging Rock (circa 1967).
It is located at 1499 Mt Macedon Rd, Woodend.
From the Victorian Heritage Database:
Braemar House – Statement of Significance
What is significant?
Braemar House is a substantial two storey timber mansion on brick and stone foundations with high pitched roofs, intricate gables and asymmetric features, which was constructed in 1889-90 to a design by Italian-born architect Louis Boldini. Boldini spent some years in New Zealand, where he designed a number of notable buildings in Dunedin between 1880 and 1888. He migrated to Melbourne in 1888 and designed Karori, Mount Macedon a timber house for New Zealand broker, CW Chapman. The intricate timber infills to the gables of Braemar House show the influence of New Zealand domestic architecture on his work. A heavily decorated octagonal tower is on the south-west corner of the building.The house retains some intact internal decorative features, the grand entrance hall and staircase and the former (restored)dining room. The garden, originally designed by William Taylor of Taylor and Sangster, retains rows of mature oaks along the west and north fronts. Remnant early garden including rock walling survives on the south west side and landscaped slopes to the north west. A cottage constructed in 1890 is situated at a distance, to the rear of the main house.
Braemar House, Woodend was built as a guest house for affluent Melbourne residents by a consortium of Melbourne businessmen. The location of Braemar House in the Mount Macedon area which was noted for its bracing mountain air made it attractive to those who believed that city life was not conducive to good health and that regular vacations in a healthy environment would restore well being. Access to rail transport and proximity to recreational activities such as walking and climbing in picturesque locations such as nearby Hanging Rock made Woodend a suitable place for such a venture. The property had an electric generator and a telephone. The facilities included tennis courts and frequent dances and concerts were held to entertain the guests. The firm of Taylor and Sangster of Macedon and Toorak was employed to plan the gardens.
The group of businessmen included several directors of BHP Ltd, including William Knox, William McGregor, William Jamieson and Col Templeton as well as Dr Duncan Turner, a Melbourne physician who advocated the health benefits of the cooler altitudes of Mount Macedon. Their first plan was for a health spa or sanatorium but this later was changed to a guest house. Braemar House operated as a guest house from c1890 until at least 1908 and possibly until 1918. The timing of the venture on the eve of the economic depression of the 1890s meant that the Braemar Estate Company went into liquidation and ownership had passed to William Knox by about 1896-96. Improvements designed by Melbourne architect Sydney H Wilson were carried out c1898 and these included the addition of a billiard room and new kitchens. Knox died in 1912 when the property passed to his widow, Catherine.
In 1918 the property was bought by Isabel Henderson, principal of Clyde School in St Kilda. In 1919 Miss Henderson moved the school to Woodend. The school was from 1920 run by a company whose shareholders were past pupils and friends of the school. During the 1920s the school bought up land adjacent to Braemar House.
During Clyde’s occupancy, the detached cottage of four rooms at the rear, known as the Bachelors Quarters,was converted into classrooms. A hall and two further classrooms were built in 1935 (the architect was probably Phillip Hudson) , new music rooms in 1954 (architects AF & RA Egglestone) and a new boarding wing in 1957. A flat for the headmistress and art and dressmaking rooms were built c1960. In 1967 architects Mockridge, Stahle and Mitchell designed the new Science Block.
In 1976 Clyde School moved to become part of Geelong Grammar School and the place was bought for a non-denominational coeducational day school for the children of the district. This is known as Braemar College and is still in operation.
How is it significant?
Braemar House, Woodend is architecturally and historically important to the State of Victoria.
Why is it significant?
Braemar House, Woodend is architecturally significant as a rare example of the work of Italian-born architect Louis Boldini (1828-1908). Braemar House is architecturally significant as a rare example in Victoria of a substantial two-storey timber resort building, embellished with sophisticated classical elements and highly ornate fretwork in timber. It displays diverse architectural influences, including renaissance, classical, chalet style from northern Italy, and timberwork with New Zealand influences.
In contrast the summer retreat of Frederick McCubbin is not in good repair. The original building was constructed in Melbourne and moved to Macedon. It was purchased in 1901 as a home for McCubbin and his family. He named it after the forest near Paris where the Barbizan painters had worked. His family were resident for 5 years. McCubbin continued to spend weekends and holidays there over his lifetime.
Statement of Significance – Fontainebleau
McCubbin was one of Australia’s most admired artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He was one of the founders of the Heidelberg school and was a major figure in the development of the Australian school of landscape and subject painting that emerged at the close of the nineteenth century. The garden and bush around Fontainebleau became one of McCubbin’s main painting grounds, and was to provide him with the inspiration for some of his most memorable and best-loved works, including the iconic painting The Pioneer (1904), which was painted in the bush near the house. Two years after McCubbin’s death the family moved back to Fontainebleau. His widow Annie planned to run it as a guest house, and in c1920 added two new accommodation wings. Although the venture was not successful it continued to be run as a guest house after Annie’s death c1930 until the 1960s. It is now a private residence.
Fontainebleau is a rambling asymmetrical two-storey timber and fibro building with a corrugated iron clad roof. The oldest part of the building is a weatherboard Gothic style house with a steeply-pitched gable roof and dormer windows, originally with three main rooms, the front one with a bay window, and a kitchen on the ground floor and three bedrooms upstairs. At the front, facing Hanging Rock, is a recessed verandah. As part of the c1920 conversion to a guest house, two two-storey fibro-clad gabled wings were added, one along the east side of the house and one along the rear. The side wing has a large lounge room with an open fireplace on the ground floor and bedrooms and a bathroom above. The rear wing has a kitchen, a laundry and the former dining room on the ground floor and bedrooms and bathrooms on the first floor. The house is set on a large steeply sloping block of land amidst gardens and bushland on the north side of Mt Macedon. Below the house is a level terrace, once used for games. This site is part of the traditional land of the Wurundjeri people.
How is it significant?
Fontainebleau is of historical and architectural significance to the state of Victoria.
Why is it significant?
Fontainebleau is of historical significance as the former home of Frederick McCubbin, a founder of the Heidelberg School, the first major local movement in the history of Australian art, and one of Australia’s best-loved artists. He was an important figure in the development of art in Australia, and his depictions of the Australian bush are among Australia’s most well-known and popular paintings. McCubbin was deeply attached to the bush close to Fontainebleau, which was a continuing inspiration for him. The works painted in the area during the last seventeen years of his life are considered to be amongst his most important.
Fontainebleau is historically significant for its association with the development of the tourist industry in Victoria in the early twentieth century, which occurred then mainly due to the development of an effective and relatively cheap transport network and increasing levels of affluence and of leisure time. The 1920s was the heyday of the guest house, the main form of accommodation in the popular seaside and mountains resorts at the time.
Fontainebleau is of architectural significance as a rare and essentially intact example of a typical guest house of the 1920s. Guest houses at this time were often built from inexpensive materials such as timber, cement sheet and corrugated iron and were typically extended in a haphazard way around a former private residence.
The house has largely fallen into disrepair. Presently there are no funds to properly maintain it or restore it. This is a real shame considering the place Frederick McCubbin has in Australian Art History.
Derriweit Heights is the last place we will visit this time. Located on Douglas Rd Mt Macedon, it was constructed in or around 1874. Its original garden of 65 acres was designed by Baron Von Mueller, the well known botanist and designer of many of Victoria’s famous Botanical Gardens (including the Melbourne Botanical Gardens). the house was built by Mr Charles Ryan, with an intent to capture the views over Port Phillip Bay and create a world class garden. Destroyed by bushfires in 1983’s Ash Wednesday Fire, it was rebuilt in a French Colonial style, retaining the surviving original coachwing. It was purchased in 2016 by Dr Paul and Mrs Anne Mulkearns with a view to restoring the original gardens to their earlier splendour. The Mulkearns have adopted a 5 year plan to do so.
Mt Macedon is well worth the drive. Many of the gardens are open to the public as are a number of the more historic properties. The statement of significance on Braemar House was written in 2002. It demonstrates the need to better fund the Heritage Council and its activities. But right now there is much to see and enjoy. And when you visit heritage properties it gives you a much finer perspective on just what we are preserving.
Enjoy your visit to the ‘Hill Stations’ of Macedon. Take the airs. It’s part of your heritage as Victorians.