Heritage Town of Victoria’s Goldrush Era

Currently Balance Architecture is working on several projects in the greater Bendigo area. The first is a rather grand and statuesque home with Edwardian origins, first constructed in approximately 1903. Like many such properties it has seen a number of expansions and additions, not to mention some dubious renovations as was the fashion of the time when changes were made during the 1950s through to the 1970s. It was all about “modernising” whatever the cost and the removal of older, more ornate features to achieve the popular mid-century modern genre of the times. The second project is the restoration of a Miner’s Cottage. In both instances Principal Architect for Balance Architecture, Andrew Fedorowicz, will restore the properties to a condition befitting their Heritage status as well as according superb liveability and comfort. 

Bendigo features some magnificent Heritage properties, the result of the fabulous wealth achieved during the Victorian Goldrush in the area. Fortuna Villa is one of these extraordinary properties. In 2018 we published an article detailing its history and architecture. It’s well worth re-visiting so we are taking the opportunity to republish it here in full. It’s quite the read, so sit back, pour yourself a coffee or a cup of tea and enjoy. 

Fortuna Villa – Riches beyond imagination

Gold – that beautiful precious metal – is what Bendigo is built upon. This week we look at one of Bendigo’s most famous Mansions – Fortuna Villa, a building of over 40 rooms. Its original owner was George Lansell, a very successful mining investor. George invested in deep mining of Quartz reefs. He went deeper than anyone had before him and his reward was fabulous wealth. His home was full of exotica from all over the planet – his garden too was filled with rare and exotic plants from mystical and secret places, most of which are now long gone.

Bendigo has produced over 9 billion dollars worth of Gold since the 1850s – that’s $9,000,000,000, the second highest producing Goldfield in Australia to Kalgoorlie. No wonder historic, elaborate bank buildings line the streets of old Bendigo. Originally discovered by the wives of two farm workers on a pastoral lease, a Mrs Kennedy and a Mrs Farrell, alluvial gold mining soon made way to deep shaft mining after 10 years. After 100 years the Bendigo Goldfield represented the largest concentration of deep mine shafts for Gold anywhere in the world.

George Lansell was born in 1823 in Kent, England. As a young man, George and his two brothers emigrated to Echunga in South Australia to ‘pan for Gold’. The Lansells were soap and candle makers by trade. By late in 1853 George Lansell and his brothers Wooten and William had moved to Bendigo and set up their business as butchers, soap and candle manufacturers. By 1855 Stockbrokers were visiting George and encouraging him to invest n deep shaft mining. By 1860 he had invested, lost and reinvested a number of times. He was learning what was required to be successful at this type of mining. By 1865 – a bad year for mining in Bendigo – Lansell took advantage of the tough times and bought up many shares in the Advance Mining Company and Cinderella Mine. He insisted that the miners go deeper than ever before and from then on he and his companies reaped massive rewards. By the 1870s he had accumulated a large fortune from the Garden Gully Mine and he then purchased the 180 mine. Although he was initially always on the edge of financial ruin, his methods paid off and he became a Millionaire, a philanthropist and returned to London. He was petitioned by the Bendigo Mining industry to return and in the late 1880s he did return. George continued to build onto the house Fortuna he purchased in 1871. He collected furniture, sculptures and art from around the globe. Outside he designed a spacious estate featuring walks, lakes and imported plants and flora. He died in 1906 with his second wife surviving him until 1933. His mansion was in fact directly opposite his prosperous Fortuna Mine.

His second wife Edith and their six children lived there, she remained there until her death. He commenced his lavish building program immediately after he purchased the property in 1871.

Generally described as ‘over the top’, it was opulent and went far beyond being utilitarian. Drapes covered faux windows, mantle pieces appeared from nowhere. The impression was one of immense wealth – and power.

George Lansell enjoyed the beauty of classical Europe and the Orient and the ‘villa’ very much reflected his personal style and tastes.

The house came close to being demolished after the death of his second wife Edith Lansell. Edith had continued to add to the house and its contents up until her death. One of the interlinked mining companies sold off the contents of the house with much of the collection saved. Many of the items have been displayed in the Post Office Gallery in Bendigo and the Bendigo Art Gallery.

By 1942 it had been acquired by the Federal Government Department of Defence and used as a Map Making facility during WWII and remained in the hands of the Defence Department until 2008.

It is now in the hands of a private owner who permits regular tours and public access after 65 years of being closed.

According to the Heritage Council of Victoria, Fortuna Villa’s description is as follows:

“The Villa is a rambling three storey asymmetrical rendered brick mansion, in a variety of styles , predominantly French Second Empire and Queen Anne”, reflecting the various periods of construction. Cast Iron Balconies decorate the North, East and West elevations. The original house, purchased in 1971, is encompassed in the centre of the present house and is much altered. Originally it was designed in 1857 and extended to the further designs of Bendigo Architects Vahland and Getzschmann, Emil Mauermann and William Beebe.

By the early Twentieth Century, Lansell had expanded the house to over 40 rooms, one of the largest in Victoria. Lansell transformed the industrial site of settling ponds and tailings dumps into spacious gardens and ornamental lakes, extravagant fountains and follies, with pathways and exotic plantings.

The estate is actually located atop of the rich New Chum reef.

How is it significant?

Fortuna satisfies the following criterion for inclusion in the Victorian Heritage Register:

  • Criterion A Importance to the course, or pattern, of Victoria’s cultural history
  • Criterion B Possession of uncommon, rare or endangered aspects of Victoria’s cultural history
  • Criterion C Potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of Victoria’s cultural history
  • Criterion D Importance in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a class of cultural places and objects
  • Criterion E Importance in exhibiting particular aesthetic characteristics
  • Criterion H Special association with the life or works of a person, or group of persons, of importance in Victoria’s history.

Why is it significant?

Fortuna is significant at the State level for the following reasons:

Fortuna demonstrates key historic phases of Victoria’s history, notably the gold mining era, the development of the City of Bendigo and the history of defence in the state. The Fortuna cultural landscape is associated with the gold mining industry of Bendigo, particularly the extraction of gold from the richest quartz reef in the world in the nineteenth century, which had a significant influence on the settlement of Bendigo. (Criterion A)

Fortuna is an outstanding demonstration of the wealth and prosperity of Bendigo and Victoria during the gold rush period. The quartz-crushing works attached to the mansion represent a direct link between its owners’ wealth and its source. Fortuna is historically significant as the home of two of Australia’s wealthiest gold-mining families, Christopher and Theodore Ballerstedt, the earliest successful reef miners on the Bendigo goldfields. These men are often referred to as Australia’s first mining magnates, and George Lansell, known as the ‘Quartz King’, one of Australia’s most successful and adventurous nineteenth century mine owners. Although there were no mines on the Fortuna site, the estate was developed largely on the waste from Lansell’s 180 mine, north of Fortuna, which was one of the richest mines in Bendigo. The ore treatment site was gradually transformed into a picturesque landscape of lakes and gardens. Fortuna demonstrates the lavish lifestyle of the very wealthy families of Victoria’s gold-rush period. (Criterion A)

Fortuna is an example of the large private properties appropriated by the military during World War II, and has been in Defence control since 1942, when it was acquired as a base for mapping activities. It was the headquarters of the Survey Corps, later the Army Survey Regiment, until 1966 when it became the Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation (DIGO). The work of the regiment was highly important for the war effort, as preparing maps was a matter of urgency. New techniques based on American methods were developed at Fortuna, including innovations in aerial photographic surveys, and cartographic and lithographic techniques. (Criterion A)

Fortuna has a number of features which are rare in Victoria. It was rare for such a lavish house to be built so close to the industrial works that were source of the wealth that created it, in this case the crushing works for the ore from the Ballerstedt and later the Lansell gold mines. This reflects the need for security to protect the gold produced on the site. The survival of a nineteenth century villa estate, with a grand house surrounded by its original garden, is also unusual in an urban setting, and many of Fortuna’s garden structures, such as the iron fountain, rotunda and iron arbour are now relatively rare. Other rare features at Fortuna include the Pompeii fountain and the Roman bath, whose significance is increased by its origin as a tailings treatment pool built by the Ballerstedts in the 1860s. (Criterion B)

Fortuna has archaeological significance for its potential to contain historical archaeological features, deposits and objects associated with the establishment, development and use of the place. In particular the battery house is likely to contain archaeological features and relics associated with the operation of Lansell’s quartz crushing battery (and possibly remains of an earlier battery belonging to Ballerstedt), and other mining activities. 

The area in the direct vicinity of the house has the potential to contain historical archaeological features, deposits and objects associated with the construction and use of the place, including sub-floor deposits, refuse and garden or landscape features. (Criterion C)

Fortuna is an outstanding and relatively intact example of an extensive nineteenth century villa estate. The house, developed over several decades, is significant as one of the grandest residences built in Victoria in the nineteenth century. The villa is significant for its outstanding collection of stained and etched glass windows, for its ornate plaster and pressed metal ceilings and parquet floors, and for its now rare intact early bathrooms. The conservatory is significant for its outstanding glass workmanship, and is regarded as among the most important examples of its kind in Australia. The Pompeii fountain is unique in Victoria and indeed in Australia. The Roman bath is significant as a rare feature in a nineteenth century villa, and is the only known surviving private swimming pool from this period in Victoria. (Criterion D)

Fortuna is aesthetically significant for its decorative architecture, its remaining interiors and for its landscape setting and garden buildings and structures. The picturesque landscape extensively planted with trees, shrubs, garden beds and lawns is located on high ground that retains an undulating and modified land form of a former mining site with terracing, walls, steps, fences and gates, roads and paths and a lake, being a former settling pond. The contrasting and extensive plantings consisting of conifers, evergreen and deciduous trees, palms, shrubs, herbaceous plants, camellias and roses form a garden of aesthetic significance. Fortuna’s gardens, at their peak, were a marvel of aesthetic design, and many significant plantings remain. (Criterion E)

Fortuna is inextricably linked with George Lansell, the ‘Quartz King’, Australia’s first gold mining millionaire, who is credited with being the driving force behind much of Bendigo’s early prosperity. Lansell made a significant contribution to the mining industry in Bendigo and is credited with the introduction of technologies such as the diamond drill for quartz mining. Fortuna Villa and its grounds were Lansell’s passions and he decorated them extravagantly. (Criterion H)

Fortuna is also significant for the following reasons, but not at the State level:

Fortuna is of historical significance at a local level for its association with the history of Bendigo.

Fortuna is a historic landmark in Bendigo. It symbolises the founding of the town, and is important as a reference point in the community’s sense of identity. Many of the town’s citizens have worked on the site and several active community-based social groups have been formed to actively promote the history and importance of the site. The community, through the City of Greater Bendigo, has shown a profound interest in the future of the site.

Fortuna is significant for its association with one of Australia’s wealthiest gold magnates, Christopher Ballerstedt, who played an important role in the development of Bendigo’s gold mining industry. It is a demonstration of the work of the prominent Bendigo architects, Vahland & Getschmann, E Maurmann and W Beebe.

Source: vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au

All in all a rather significant building and a spectacular history, but there is a final chapter.

In 2017 the Fortuna Villa Estate was released for public sale. The masterplan offers modern housing – houses and townhouses positioned in a horseshoe configuration facing back at the Estate’s Lake and Historic Mansion.

According to the Estate’s website it consists of “79 contemporary architectural residences on one of Bendigo’s most renowned locations.”

You can view the development here

For us it certainly provides a major juxtaposition to the eccentricity and charm of the old estate. But you will experience “spectacular views of gardens, lake, historic villa and uninterrupted views over Bendigo”.

The last question is whether it resonates with the Heritage Listing and its reasons for protecting the original Fortuna Villa. We’ll let you be the judge of that.

Restoring your property to its true Heritage configuration will add value, not to mention immense personal pleasure and, if done correctly, genuine liveability to your home. If your property is Heritage Listed or part of a Heritage Overlay contact Balance Architecture now for a free consultation to discuss possible renovation and restoration. Call 0418 341 443 and speak directly with our Principal Architect, Andrew Fedorowicz.  Alternatively, leave your details here for a prompt response and scheduled appointment. Create the home you’ve always dreamed of with Balance Architecture.  

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

No Development for Sites of Illegal Heritage Demolition for Up To 10 Years.

It would appear that new legislation has been implemented to control the activities of rogue developers such as the Corkman Cowboys. Back in February this year (2021) the Victorian government was to introduce legislation into Parliament that would preclude development on a property for up to a decade if Heritage buildings have been illegally demolished.

A comprehensive analysis of the proposed legislation and the reasoning behind it was published by ABC News February 2nd, 2021. Read about it here:

Victorian Government plans to block property development if owners unlawfully demolish heritage buildings

The Victorian Government will introduce legislation into Parliament today which could stop development on a property for up to a decade if heritage buildings are illegally demolished.

Key points:

  • New legislation has partly been prompted by the controversial Corkman hotel demolition in 2016
  • The laws would stop future development on a site for 10 years if heritage buildings were illegally demolished
  • ·       The Government hopes the changes will remove any financial incentive for unlawful heritage demolition

The legislation will cover buildings that have been unlawfully demolished in full or in part and where the owners have been charged with unlawful demolition.

Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne said the legislation targeted developers who did the wrong thing.

“These new laws remove the financial incentive to illegally demolish buildings by potentially stopping development of the land for up to 10 years,” he said. “This means that they can no longer expect to reap windfall gains from just selling or rebuilding on their land.”

New laws partly prompted by Corkman demolition

Mr Wynne said the legislation was, in part, prompted by the unlawful demolition of the 160-year-old Corkman Irish Pub in Carlton in 2016.

The developers who demolished the Melbourne pub were jailed for a month and ordered to pay more than $400,000 in fines and legal costs.

The Corkman Pub, formerly known as the Carlton Inn Hotel, was built in 1858.

Although it was not on the Victorian Heritage Register, it was covered by heritage rules.

The developers are appealing a contempt of court conviction and sentence.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) yesterday amended an enforcement order over the Corkman site to require a park to be built there by April 30.

‘Stringent protection’ for heritage buildings

Mr Wynne said the Corkman demolition was “unprecedented in planning in the state of Victoria” and strong action to protect heritage buildings was needed.

“We must put in place the most stringent protections possible and we are getting that through this legislation,” he said.

“It does not only deal with the Corkman matter but other attempts by people whose motives may not be essentially about ensuring the heritage protection of their buildings.”

He said there had also been issues around so-called “demolition by neglect”, where people were not willing or able to pay the cost of maintaining their heritage buildings.

The bill will also enable existing permits to be revoked and allow for new permits to be issued for specific purposes, such as building a park or reconstruction or repair of the heritage building.

These new provisions are a significant strengthening of the current enforcement regime and are expected to act as a powerful deterrent to the unlawful demolition of buildings of heritage significance.

The minister said the reform complemented measures the Government introduced in 2017, which made it an indictable offence for a builder or person managing building work to knowingly carry out works without a permit or in the contravention of the Building Act, the regulations or their permit.

It is also high time that the Victorian government policed property owners and developers who practice ‘demolition by neglect’, a rather appalling tactic to gain access to land locked into Heritage Overlays or properties covered only by Council policy at local government level.

Too often these properties are allowed to slide into a situation where they become vandalised, suffer at the hands of arsonists or,through complete lack of maintenance, simply topple over or fall down.

If these properties carried a Heritage Listing from the Heritage Council of Victoria the owners could be ordered by Heritage Victoria restore the buildings, or in extreme cases, Heritage Victoria could make orders to independent contractors to remedy and restore damage. All costs are then born by the property owner.

The National Trust Advocacy Team have recognised the dire nature of this current problem and are currently campaigning to formulate policy and issues at local government level. An extensive report was commissioned and delivered in 2013. Please take the time to read it. Here is the link to the report.

If you truly value Heritage now is the time to be vigilant. For those who value our Heritage Architecture whether it’s Georgian, Victorian or Mid-Century Modern, it really is time to speak up. Contact your local Council, Heritage Victoria or the National Trust and ensure all planning regulations are adhered to and due respect is given to Heritage Listings and Overlays. Value Heritage – once it’s gone it’s gone forever.

Heritage is Precious – Protect it.

The Heritage Home – Finding and Restoring Your Forever Home.

The current Covid lockdowns and the change in working patterns see many people working from home, experiencing major changes in lifestyle. People who were formerly nine to five commuters are looking for a better quality of life and the quest to find the right property to live in sees growing numbers searching for and purchasing ‘Heritage’ properties both in Melbourne, regional cities and rural locations. 

Heritage Architecture 

Purchasing a Heritage Listed property or a property covered by a Heritage Overlay introduces a raft of issues buyers may never have experienced previously or even considered. It’s a sensible plan to enlist the services of a qualified and experienced Architect – both prior to purchase and after.


Prior to purchase your Heritage Architect can provide you with an accurate Condition Report that is prepared with a twofold purpose. The more obvious section is the current state of the property and its building/s in terms of Heritage Status; previous alterations, current necessary repairs or restorations, the age and status of the property in terms of it’s listing or the applicable Heritage Overlay. What are the limitations, what can be achieved in terms of liveability?

The second part of the Heritage Report is more practical. Most older buildings and structures require quite basic refurbishments – electrical, plumbing, roofing, plastering and flooring to name but a few areas where restoration can be both difficult and expensive. It is far more practical to have a thorough understanding of what may be required prior to purchase and a sensible appraisal of what costs may be involved to restore and rectify any such issues. 


Post purchase your Heritage Architect can scope out your restoration plan to ensure you arrive at a comfortable, liveableresidence that is further enhanced by the tasteful refurbishment of all Heritage features – verandas, Victorian tiling, Heritage colour schemes, roofing (slate or wrought iron), solid plastering, decorative mouldings (internal and external), timber architraves, period wall paper – the list goes on. 

Planning with a Heritage Architect ensures that all such features and fittings are authentic and yet practical with most residential homes of 80-100 year’s old – or older – there will be some inappropriate renovations and additions, likely not included in the Heritage Listings or items of mandatory retained features. In many cases there are opportunities to create a comfortable, modern living space, yet retain the genuine Heritage ‘feel’ of the property by cleverly rectifying the mistakes of the past. 

A sensible and progressive restoration plan; a purchase based on realistic appraisal, expert assessment and advice formulated through genuine experience and expertise. 

Andrew Fedorowicz is an experienced and competent Heritage Architect – a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Architects. Over the years Andrew has managed a wide range of Heritage Projects, both public and residential, (currently Andrew has designed and supervised the construction of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens Fernery, a gothic revival of the original 19th century design). 

Call Andrew now on 0418 341 443 to schedule a consultation or leave your details here for a prompt reply. Create the home you truly desire and with competent and expert advice restore your property to its former glory. Add real value and, at the same time, ensure your home stands for another 100 years, a true vestige of the past, a beautiful home resplendent in the craftsmanship and artisanship of years gone by – yet a comfortable, livable home for your family and generations to come. 

Heritage – It Matters. Preserve It.  

Russell’s Old Corner Shop. Built in 1850 (approx) – For Sale.

328-330 King Street, Melbourne’s oldest home.

Located at 328 to 330 King Street, Melbourne, on the south east corner of Latrobe Street, the building formerly known as Russell’s The Old Corner Shop is now officially offered for sale. Requiring significant work – the Latrobe Street wall has been braced by the City of Melbourne for a number of years now, the building is a remarkable remnant of the early Gold Rush era of Melbourne.

We have previously profiled the property in an article published in September, 2017. You can revisit it here.

Bracing of Russell’s Old Corner Shop in Latrobe Street

The Russel family have owned the building for over 120 years. Lola Russell’s (the current owner) Grandfather purchased the building in 1899 and converted it to a general store and newsagency. 

The property is to be sold as a commercial site, with the pitch ‘Ready for refurbishment and restoration’ from commercialrealestate.com.au,  featuring an article by Alanah Frost from the Herald Sun on July 13, 2021.

Melbourne’s oldest home for sale for first time in 100+ years

Melbourne’s oldest home has hit the market for the first time in 120 years, offering up a nugget of gold rush era history.

Built in about 1850, when modern Melbourne was just 15 years old, the 328-330 King St property is thought to be the city’s longest-standing building.

Once a merchandise store for those heading to the goldfields, it’s now officially been listed for sale for $2.9m-plus.

Lola Russell and husband George Dixon outside their historic home surrounded by Melbourne’s modern CBD.
The pair operated a cafe downstairs, known as Russell’s Old Corner Shop.

For the last century, during which it became known as Russell’s Old Corner Shop, the corner store was home to Lola Russel and her husband George Dixon.

Ms Russell, now in her late 90s and in an aged-care facility, was born and lived at the property for most of her life before her husband died in 2017.

The pair, who were both actors, lived in the original living quarters above and operated a cafe downstairs.

But due to her age and health, and the declining state of the building, Ms Russell’s family have been left with no option but to sell the heritage-listed property.

Ms Russell lived at the property for most of her life.
It’s now hit the market for the first time in more than 100 years.

In 2019, family spokesman Owen Dixon said he wanted to see the house, which has been in the family for two generations, restored.

But he said the priority was Ms Russell’s health and settling her into appropriate aged care.

“We’d like to see it used as a cafe downstairs and maybe turned into a museum upstairs,” he said.

“George and Lola loved the theatrical and film industries — we’d be willing to accommodate that, but it’s got to work with the major plan.”

At one point, the National Trust had been developing a plan and fundraising to save the building but it’s believed that has since fallen through.

Lola Russell and George Dixon look out at the city from the cafe. Picture: David Caird

Allard Shelton agents Patrick Barnes and Joseph Walton said they hoped someone would step in and look after the iconic building, which was steeped in Melbourne’s history.

“We’re very much engaged and attune to the historical and heritage nature of the building and one of the best ways to refer to it is, that we see it as being a bit of a passion project,” they said.

“It’s such an amazing property. Someone will have an idea for it.”

The building was built about 1850, when modern Melbourne was just 15 years old.

The building is being marketed as “ready for refurbishment and restoration” and suited to retail and office space.

It’s also across the road from Flagstaff Gardens and close to Flagstaff Station.

The property will be sold via an expressions of interest campaign ending August 5.

The real concern is that the property has significant land value, but as it is Heritage Listed and requiring major structural repairs it will not attract suitable buyers. It would be a great relief to see the City of Melbourne or the State Government purchase the property then re-purpose it as an historical building, a window on Melbourne’s distant past. Time will tell. We hope that it is restored and recognised for what it really is – a simple but elegant Heritage treasure of our city’s past. 

Street view of Melbourne’s oldest home, corner King and Latrobe Street.

Balance Architecture – Specialists in Heritage Architecture.

Heritage – It Matters. Preserve It.