Heritage listed homes can be a dream come true.


For many people an inner city home is a long cherished dream. A magnificent Victorian Terrace, perhaps a single storey workers cottage, maybe a home on an estate like Travancore in Flemington, constructed in the 1920s – or perhaps a unique mansion on St Vincent’s Place Albert Park, facing the St Vincent’s Place Gardens.


One thing all of these possibilities have in common is generally a Heritage Overlay listing. This can be something that simply protects the building from demolition, ensures the maintenance of the recorded facade and a nomination of the property as being part of the integral character of the area covered by the overlay.


However in some cases it can be quite strict with recommended colour schemes, protection orders on walls, windows, roofing and just about all facets of the building, especially if the building or property is built pre 1900.


The key to enjoying your new property may rest with these regulations and how to develop a comfortable living space in a 19th century building for a 21st century family. Essentially the wise move is to engage a qualified architect skilled in working with Heritage properties and older buildings, yet capable of creating genuine spacious living areas where possible and facilitating the luxury and comfort one might expect in a modern living space.


Andrew Fedorowicz F.R.A.I.A. is the principal Architect of Balance Architecture. He is highly experienced in developing and restoring Heritage properties. Heritage properties present entirely different issues to more modern buildings. High ceilings, solid plaster walls, slate roofing are the more obvious issues. Couple this with bluestone footings, rising damp, ancient wiring and slipshod ‘improvements’ over the life of the building, it’s really all about establishing a base point to start from. Add to this the very special requirements of a Heritage overlay, in terms of colours, materials and building integrity – an expert is required.


It’s a matter of ensuring the basics yet achieving the sense of space, warmth and liveability that is the hallmark of a well designed, architecturally sound building, a building that first and foremost is your home.


With many such properties it’s about achieving a full living area that makes the best use of both internal and external space. And most importantly, it’s about delivering a result that is energy neutral where possible and sustainable.

For a free consultation, please call 0418 341 445 and make an appointment. Alternatively please leave your details here or call 03 8696 9700 during business hours and leave a message.

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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.


Moonee Valley Racing Club releases $2 Billion Redevelopment Plan


Balance Architecture and its principal Architect Andrew Fedorowicz note with interest the release of the proposed redevelopment of the Moonee Valley Racing Club track over the next 15 years at an estimated cost of $2 Billion. The only building not slated for demolition on the current site is the Moonee Valley Legends Gaming Room and Bistro situated on the corner of Wilson St and Thomas St. This building was designed by none other than… Andrew Fedorowicz!


It gives a panoramic and sweeping view of the track. With the new finish line, the view from the dining room and its verandah will be right down the finishing straight.

Please view our previous blog on Moonee Valley Racetrack

From our perspective there are still a number of heritage issues that will need to be addressed.


The Horse Stalls and ‘Birdcage’ with its century old Peppercorn trees, Manikato’s grave, and a number of other heritage items will need to be addressed, their future spelt out and if part of a heritage overlay, the protection to be offered and how these elements will remain in synchronisation with the Race Club and its track.

Here we reprint the press announcement:

$2 Billion Moonee Valley development plans unveiled

AMBITIOUS plans to transform Moonee Valley into a world-leading racing facility flanked by residential and business precincts have been revealed.

Dubbed “The Vision for the Valley”, the $2 billion redevelopment project could start as early as next year, and it ​could take 15 years to complete.

Racing at the venue would be suspended during construction but Moonee Valley Racing Club hopes the iconic Cox Plate meeting, recently won by wonder mare Winx for a third successive time, would be unaffected.


“There are two options we are currently exploring,” MVRC chief executive Michael Browell said.

“Ideally, we don’t lose a Cox Plate meeting at Moonee Valley and that will be dependent on the construction of the new grandstand and new track.

“Alternatively, if Moonee Valley is unavailable for the Cox Plate meeting, we would look to work with Racing Victoria and the other clubs to transfer it to either Flemington or Caulfield.”

Current plans are for the bold ​grandstand ​redevelopment to start after the 2020 Cox Plate, the centenary of the world’s equal-highest rated turf race.

The key points of the master plan are:

MVRC Masterplan and Development Guidelines_Rev M for Issue.indd

CONSTRUCTION of a futuristic grandstand along the site’s northern boundary, with views to city skyline.

THE release of 9ha on the site of the present grandstand to joint venture partners Hostplus and Hamton for residential development.

FUNDS generated from the land sale would fund track reconfiguration and grandstand construction.

BUILDING OF a new track surface, grandstand and infield likely to start after the 2020 Cox Plate.

NEW track to be 1702m in circumference, with the home straight extended from 173m to 317m.

RELOCATION of the stabling area to the infield, part of which would be transformed into sporting and entertainment areas.

MARKETING for the first residential precinct to start next year.

The plan has the support of Victorian Minister for Racing Martin Pakula.

“I congratulate the MVRC on its vision and I’m confident that it will ensure an exciting future for racing at the Valley,” he said.

Racing Victoria chief executive Giles Thompson said: “This is an exciting development for the Moonee Valley Racing Club and the wider Victorian racing industry and the Racing Victoria board is very supportive of the club’s plans.

“We look forward to working with the club to help ensure their vision for the project is realised.”

MVRC Masterplan and Development Guidelines_Rev M for Issue.indd

The plan has the support of Victorian Minister for Racing Martin Pakula. Picture: Hamish BlairMVRC chairman Don Casboult.

MVRC chairman Don Casboult said The Valley’s redevelopment was a “history-making moment.”

“It will deliver a huge range of benefits for the entire community over the next century,” he said.

“The scale and ambition of this project is unparalleled. `The Valley of Tomorrow’ will respect our great heritage while creating a wonderful new environment for all to enjoy.”

Under the plans, construction of the first townhouse would start in 2018-19.
About 2000 residential dwellings will be built, comprising townhouses and apartment buildings.

The balance of the mixed-use project will consist of retail and entertainment facilities, commercial office space and community and wellbeing spaces.
The racetrack infield will be used for outdoor events run by the club and also sport and recreation.

Discussions will continue with local council and the state government to determine the final mix of uses.

Source: heraldsun.com.au

Here is the same announcement from the Developers perspective

Moonee Valley Racing Club Launch $2bn Vision for Urban Precinct

The Moonee Valley Racing Club has revealed plans for a massive $2 billion urban lifestyle precinct, adding retail and residential elements and transforming the track into one of the “world’s greatest nighttime racing venues”.

The racing club has appointed superannuation fund Hostplus and property developer Hamton to redevelop the racecourse into an integrated precinct.


Around nine hectares of the 40-hectare site owned by Moonee Valley Racing Club will be available for development by the Hostplus-Hamton venture. The proposed masterplan will be refined over the next 12 months and will likely include opportunities for mixed-use and medium- to high-density residential development with building heights of up to 25-storeys allowed within central parts of the site.

The racetrack will be realigned, widened and the home straight extended from the current 173 metres to 317 metres. Payments by the Hostplus-Hamton venture to the club will facilitate the construction of the club’s new grandstand and racetrack.

The site has already been rezoned to a combination of activity centre zoning and mixed-use zoning.

“The redevelopment will see MVRC cement its position as one of the world’s premier racing clubs and will reinvigorate the Valley as an iconic Melbourne destination of the 21st century,” Hostplus chief executive David Elia said.

“This investment will also complement our diversified portfolio and deliver strong risk-adjusted returns to members over the long-term.”

The site is six kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD and a short walk from Moonee Ponds rail station.

MVRC Masterplan and Development Guidelines_Rev M for Issue.indd

Hamton chairman Paul Hameister said the redevelopment of the entire site will be considered as an integrated precinct that provides “a great place to live, work and visit, with new public parks and facilities, food and beverage, complementary retail, innovative work-spaces and world class residential homes.”

“Part of the masterplan refinement over the coming months will include engagement with key stakeholders, including the community, to learn more about local priorities for Moonee Valley,” Hameister said.

A new network of public spaces will also be created within the racecourse precinct to provide a diversity of open space for the local community to enjoy.

The permit for the first stage is expected to be lodged early in 2018, and construction for the entire masterplanned development is expected occur in stages over the next 20 years.

Source: theurbandeveloper.com

From our perspective this may well be an interesting development. Moonee Valley is to some extent the track that grew ‘like topsy’. The Grandstands are somewhat dated as are the catering facilities and admin offices. The one thing that probably is quite unique apart from the aforementioned Horse Stalls and Birdcage area is the old Totaliser building located at the back of the Grandstands. Totaliser buildings were extraordinary in that the boards displayed required quite intricate mechanisation and rather high extensions for the displays. The ‘Totes’ were probably one of the first public displays of timely mathematical computations, where the Tote bets received altered the odds displayed in real time. Quite revolutionary for the times.

So what do our readers and followers think of this very large proposed development? Will it enhance the Moonee Valley precinct or debilitate it? You be the judge. Til next week

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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.

Geelong Gaol – 19th century Old Geelong Gaol up for sale

It would seem that old Gaols make a great development prospect. Built in 1864, the Geelong Gaol is heritage listed. It has been offered for sale as of last weekend.

Geelong agents Colliers International have listed the property. There is a two stage Expression of Interest campaign being run by the group on behalf of the City of Greater Geelong


Colliers, Geelong agent Andrew Lewis said at least six local parties, including three of five property developers that were keen to buy the site prior to the campaign, had already flagged their intention to bid for the property.


The iconic 19th century gaol was once home to Mark ‘Chopper’ Read, after he was transferred there when another inmate in Pentridge Prison cut Chopper’s ears off in 1984. Squizzy Taylor has also served time inside the prison.

Mr Lewis had previously told the Advertiser he knew of at least four local parties — all developers or hospitality operators, that would be keen to buy it.

He said the council is involved in the two-stage sale process in vetting proposals against a set of heritage guidelines to seek an outcome beneficial to the community.

Buyers with proposals the council considered satisfactory would be short-listed before price would come into the equation, he said.

“As long as we get to a point where we’ve got a couple of proposals that we’re happy with and their intentions are clear and they understand they’ll look after the building going forward by way of a schedule of maintenance, then it will come down to the bidding,” Mr Lewis said.


A heritage guideline report would provide a framework for buyers, but parties could negotiate with the council to seek an outcome, he said.

“Obviously, complete demolition is never going to be an option. And substantial variation of the cell block isn’t really an option either,” Mr Lewis said.

“But the block has additional buildings added over the years and we can look at those being removed, demolished or altered.

“There’s a lot of land there and a lot of land that isn’t being used by the cell block that could be used.”


The site measures 9423sq m, with a potential development area of 3993sq m with a Residential Growth zoning.

It’s a similar sale process used by St Mary’s Parish when it sold the heritage-listed St Mary’s Hall and former school site in 2009 by vetting tenders on the net community benefit before accepting a bid from Common Equity Housing Ltd, which planned to build up to 150 apartments in two parcels around the heritage-listed school building and hall.
“We don’t want to be touching the heritage buildings, but you’ve got additional land to work on,” Mr Lewis said.


Mr Lewis wouldn’t reveal a price guide for the site.

“The council hasn’t asked us to value the asset. They’ve got valuations of their own,” Mr Lewis said.

“They’ve said their goal is not to maximise the sale value but rather to maximise the outcome for the community going forward.”

But he added that selling the gaol would also eliminate a significant liability on the council’s finances.

The council has previously estimated the maintenance backlog for the gaol was at least $1.56 million.

Source: news.com.au

When considering what has occurred at the former Pentridge Prison site in Coburg it is somewhat disturbing to contemplate what may occur in Geelong. We note that no such fate occurred at the Old Melbourne Gaol, the Melbourne Magistrates Court or the former Melbourne Lock-Up in Russell St. The Old Melbourne Gaol was constructed commencing in 1839 and completed by 1842 – 22 years earlier that the Geelong Gaol.

However the original Geelong Gaol is recorded as being built in 1864, it took a long time to construct with work commencing in 1849 – 7 years after Old Melbourne Gaol was completed.

The Gaol was built by Prisoners who slept on prison barges in Corio Bay during the construction period.


It is an integral part of Victoria’s history and its rather stark architecture speaks of darker times and bleak lives for the unfortunate souls condemned to live out their days there.

The extraordinary fact is that such a cruel institution with such basic facilities was still operational only 26 years ago in 1991. It was never served with plumbing to the cells and all prisoners still used a bucket – in 1991! No heating, no air conditioning. Hell in Summer or Winter.

A brutal place, but a significant heritage precinct. It will be interesting to see what the Developers come up with and what ultimately the Greater City of Geelong is prepared to accept. Will it be that the well heeled denizens of Geelong will get to sleep in luxury apartments where others just withered away and died over the years? Time will tell.

Historic Photos from Geelong Gaol

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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.

Willsmere Estate – A grand building with a chequered past

“Willsmere – a fully gated residential complex. It’s tranquil, serene and friendly living at its best.”

A transformation indeed, from Melbourne’s most well known Lunatic Asylum – the Kew Lunatic Asylum, the estate now offers “luxury living with swimming pool, tennis courts, bowling, gym, BBQ areas/rotundas and function room”.

Its history is somewhat less salubrious. The magnificent Italianate style buildings were commissioned by the then Victorian Government in 1854. It became operational in 1871, situated on a prime site 100 feet above the level of the Yarra River on 400 acres. It was built to replace the overcrowded and inadequate Yarra Bend Asylum and the Carlton lunatic Asylum.

It reflected a change of attitude in Victorian times whereby such establishments were considered a place where the mentally challenged could best deal with their affliction with the comfort of a healthy location, light, airy, with good drainage in “fertile and agreeable country”.

“The site chosen is of primary importance. On it must depend the comfort, happiness and health of the inmates” said the then New South Wales Inspector of Asylums, Frederick Norton Manning in a report commissioned by the new Victorian Government of the Colony.

Designed by Architects GW Vivian and Frederick Kawerau of the Victorian Public Works Department, it was expected to be ‘elegant, beautiful yet substantial’, yet viewed as a ‘magnificent asylum for the insane’. It was believed entirely necessary to house and contain the ever expanding numbers of ‘idiots’, ‘lunatics’ and ‘inebriates’ troubling those in the new colony of Victoria.

With the use of ‘Haha’ walls and sumptuous, well planned and extensive landscaped grounds, it was intended that inmates and the public would sense the enlightened thinking of the colony’s forward thinking officialdom, recognising the benevolence and civilisation of its capital, Melbourne, and its generous kind people.


However this was somewhat juxtaposed on many fronts by the rather simple and somewhat sad perceptions of the times. Kew Cottages, originally attached to the Asylum, were opened in 1887. They were actually known as ‘The Idiot Ward’ then and later became a separate institution known as ‘Kew Idiot Asylum’ – it only admitted children. Children suffering developmental delay (mental retardation), Down’s syndrome and other mental health afflictions.

It wasn’t that hard to find yourself admitted in the first fifty years. According to the wisdom of the day you could gain entry if you were diagnosed as suffering from:

  • Delusional Insanity
  • Dementia (this covered Schizophrenia, Catatonia and severe depression)
  • Epilepsy
  • General Paralysis / paresis of the insane (whoa! what’s that?)
  • Idiocy (ditto)
  • Inebriation (No drinks for me!)
  • Melancholia
  • Puerperal Mania (Now known as postnatal depression)

This would occur on the request of a ‘friend, relative and acquaintance and confirmation by two medical practitioners in writing’ (Easy peasy).

A person wandering at large (being considered of unsound mind – a lunatic) upon the order of two justices could be removed to an asylum. Prisoners considered lunatics could be sent to an asylum upon the order of the Chief Secretary and then you could be a voluntary boarder from 1915 onwards.

The Asylum operated for over 120 years. Changing its name a number of times, from 1903 onwards ‘Asylums’ became known as ‘Hospitals for the Insane’.

Originally reduced to 340 acres with the sectioning off of Kew Cottages, the establishment was intended to be self sufficient. But over time with treatment methods changing and large land parcels being sectioned off for Kew Cottages, the straightening and widening of Princess St in 1939-40 (which also saw the gatehouses demolished) and the earlier Boulevard Construction in the 1930s seeing the Asylums river frontage being assumed by the Roads Department the original holding was greatly diminished.

58 acres were sectioned off in 1958 to establish Talbot Colony, now known as Royal Talbot, a rehabilitation facility for seriously injured patients of the Austin Hospital. The Guide Dog Association of Victoria was granted further Asylum land in 1962 and the creation of the Eastern Freeway cut a swathe through the remaining land in the 1970s.

The buildings housed barrack style accommodation and used the Colney Hatch Asylum in England as its template. It was still perceived to resemble a stockade or a gaol with Sunbury Mental Asylum considered a more humane advance in accommodation of the mentally ill. Oversize clay bricks were made on site from quarried local clay, then rendered with cement. A central Administration Block is three stories high topped with mansard roof and cupola. There are two two-storey wings to each side, one for each sex. Each had a four storied mansard roofed tower containing water tanks. The wards were surrounded by courtyards and verandahs. The dormitories had 4.3m ceilings, purpose built timber flooring and brightly coloured walls. Entry was via a grand carriageway, tree lined with an elliptical front driveway at the main entrance.

Architecturally the Mansard roofs and prominent towers make the building one of Melbourne’s most prominent, rivalling Government House five miles distant to the South.

The tree plantings were supervised by Baron Von Mueller, the original curator of the Botanical Gardens, and were meant to mimic an English country park. In 1913 Hugh Linaker again took responsibility (he was also charged with developing the Sunbury Asylum grounds as well as the grounds of other Lunatic Asylums in the state).

The Central Equity Corporation developed what became known as Kew Gardens project, a residential estate in 1995. The Walker Corporation have redeveloped Kew Cottages, however historic buildings have been set aside and maintained.


And although it may well now be gentrified with wonderful amenities, just stroll across the bridge at the Kew Boathouse to Fairfield’s Thomas Embling Hospital located on Yarra Bend Rd. There practically opposite the site of the old original Yarra Bend Asylum is situated today’s most secure psychiatric facility for the criminally insane. Rest easy up there at Willsmere – history remains bound to the area one way or another, even if it now only 8.4 hectares. Sleep well fair denizens of Kew. The past is never far away.

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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.

South Melbourne – From Humble Beginnings to Celebrating 150 Years as Melbourne’s Oldest Market.

Emerald hill or ‘Old South Melbourne’ has an amazingly mixed pedigree. Originally the site of Melbourne’s first major orphanages and expansive network of workers cottages – some quite innovative as we shall see, it was also home to some grand residences and public buildings. But there is a no doubt that the original estate housed many workers for the industries located along the Yarra River – and some of these were the famous prefabricated Iron Cottages shipped from England for quick and effective assembly – one remains in the area. It is located at 399 Coventry St, South Melbourne (Two more have also been added from other locations).

Over 100 of these portable buildings were eventually constructed in the State of Victoria. These were simple constructions and almost anyone could complete the assembly. Consider that people at the time were living in so-called ‘Canvastown’, in tents and were paying five shillings per tent per week.

The Iron House was deemed permanent so it was far more desirable than living in a tent. The portable cottages were commissioned by Governor Latrobe to provide accomodation urgently needed to house the Gold Rush arrivals who were flooding into Canvastown and other transient overflow tent cities around Old Melbourne.

The Coventry St Iron Houses are located at 399 Coventry St and are maintained by the National Trust. They are tiny. One sits upon its original allotment, the other two were removed from North Melbourne and Fitzroy to this site, to save them from demolition. The rear house at Coventry St is in fact a Bellhouse, one of only two remaining from the Bellhouse Iron Foundry. The other is situated on the Queen’s Balmoral Estate in England, originally ordered by Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert as a ‘royal studio’ (perhaps it was his ‘man shed’).

Another portable cottage – this time timber (and now a private residence) is located across the road in Coventry Place at number 17. These timber cottages were known as ‘Singapore’ cottages and this one is now listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.


Find out more about Melbourne’s Iron Houses on the National Trust website

So where did one shop in these bygone days? Where did you seek food – fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, and general merchandise? In 1856 local householders petitioned the then Emerald Hill Council for a market. It took a further 11 years for the market – established on crown land in what was then the Borough of Emerald Hill – to be finally opened to the public in 1867. Situated on 10 acres it was bounded by the St Kilda Railway line, Coventry, Cecil and York Streets.

Initially it was leased under contract to private operators, but in 1904 the South Melbourne Council – as it had become – reclaimed control and the payment of Market Dues by stallholders.

It is Melbourne’s oldest continuing market celebrating 150 years of operation this year. The first sheds were erected in 1866, it featured a five and a half ton weigh-bridge purchased in 1872 and was lit up with electric lighting by 1924.

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The market was virtually destroyed by fire in 1981 when the A and B sheds on Coventry St were lost at a cost of $150K. Two bombs were exploded in the same year damaging several stalls (there was something a-going on!). Gelignite bombs were set off at a take-away food stall and dress shop. 80 sticks of Gelignite were planted along the Cecil St facade although only 2 bombs of twenty sticks each exploded. Apparently no-one was responsible. Unbelievably no-one was hurt and damage was restricted to around $30K.

In recent times the market has seen some remarkable architectural initiatives. Original elements of the Victorian style facade remain in the Coventry St entrance and the full verandahs on the surrounding Coventry, Cecil and York Streets. Until around 2013 the market was covered by a rather dreary but necessary carpark roof constructed in 1972. Concrete, it was leaky and a heat trap for the market beneath.

In 2012 a new multifaceted rooftop was added to the carpark, providing shelter to shoppers, capturing rainwater, generating electricity from solar and regulating temperatures inside the market. Designed and implemented by Paul Morgan Architects it is a melding of Architectures, both past and present, sustainability and functionality.

It is seen as a sophisticated addition to the urban landscape. Does it work? You be the judge.

Find out more about the historic South Melbourne Market here

Next week we will continue our exploration of Emerald Hill. There are still treasures to come, and more from a very rich history.

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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.

Point Cook Homestead and Werribee Mansion

To the west of Melbourne provided excellent prospects for grazing and pastoralists in the early days. This week we look at two significant properties, Point Cook Homestead and Stables and Werribee Mansions. Both Point Cook Homestead and Werribee Mansions were built by the Chirnside brothers – Thomas and Andrew – perhaps one of Melbourne’s and Victoria’s most successful families.

Pt Cook Homestead was a single storey Bluestone dwelling built in 1857. Consisting of seven rooms, with an attached servants quarters wing of four rooms, there was also an attached weatherboard wing. The front verandah faces the coast, the homestead being a stones throw from the beach. A further detached building served as ‘meat house’, dairy room and rabbiters hut. This building was the earliest structure on the site and it was believed to have been constructed in 1849.

The Chirnsides were sporting types and imported quality thoroughbred race horses from the very beginning of their enterprise. Horses from their stables here at Point Cook won the 1874 Melbourne Cup (Haricot), the 1880 Caulfield Cup (Tom Kirk) and the 1879 Caulfield Cup (Newmister), the 1878 Geelong Cup (Newmister) and many other feature races.

Water had to be stored, as there were no local creeks or lakes, and the land in summer was hot and arid. Above ground and underground tanks with an extensive storage mechanism provided drinking water for domestic animals and humankind alike.

The Chirnsides built a jetty for wool shipment prior to the construction of the Geelong Railway link being built in 1856. In fact they donated the required land for the Werribee Station, to ensure their requirements were met.

Thomas signed over most of the run to brother Andrew in 1882 retaining only the Homestead and a few feature paddocks. His son George was benefactor on Thomas’s death in 1890. George and Annie Chirnside used the homestead as a winter retreat and hunting lodge preferring to live in the city to rural life. A new timber wing was added to the homestead between 1895 and 1911 to accomodate their guests.

The property was purchased by Sydney Dalrymple in 1920, his major contribution was a new jetty which is still standing.

The Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works purchased the property eventually in 1978 after the property had changed hands several times and fallen into general disrepair.

Conservation and restoration started around this time. The remnants of the old garden were preserved and specimen trees from the nineteenth century protected. The old fig tree (edible) behind the stables is a good example. It is a rare survivor from those times and quite possible is a unique variety no longer grown.

The Point Cook homestead is of historical significance as one of the earliest examples of pastoral activity in Victoria.

And the Chirnsides. When Werribee Park was built Point Cook became a hunting lodge and focal point for all the sporting activities of this very wealthy Pastoral family. With massive land holdings on the Western Plains it was deemed destiny for the family to build its Shangri La – Werribee Park Mansion.

The Chirnsides, touched by brilliant success and terrible tragedy, were very canny Scots.

Through clever business, hard work, imagination and some very fast racehorses, the Chirnsides played the market on commodities – sheep and cattle – by driving large herds and flocks overland to Adelaide and gaining much higher prices per head than would have been possible in Sydney – or Melbourne which was but a fledgling colony in 1839.

At their peak, the Chirnsides holdings were listed at 200,000 hectares, spread across Victoria, NSW and Queensland. The Werribee holding itself was 34,000 hectares with over 63,000 head of sheep spread over property ranging from Laverton to the You Yangs across to the boundary of Port Phillip Bay. The Chirnsides called it ‘the Eden of All the Colonies’ and were devoutly Christian – but didn’t mind a punt or a drink.

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Werribee Park Mansion was built between 1874 and 1877 in the Italianate style which echoes 16th century Italian Renaissance Architecture. It was first developed in Britain in 1802 by John Nash and this grand ostentatious style soon made its way to the colonies. It was further developed and popularised by Sir Charles Berry, Architect in the 1830s.

The Mansion with its magnificent, fine interiors still holds some of the original furniture. It is a replication of a grand English country house and many of its associated buildings and features are still standing and remain unchanged. The central building is predominantly bluestone with a sandstone facade on three sides. It is the largest, most intact example of the use of Barabool Hills Sandstone applied to a privately owned building in Victoria. The original 19th century laundry is still totally intact and authentic, and is a rare example of such a facility. The sunken glasshouse and the 17th century style grotto are unique in Victorian Architecture.

The Mansion is a massive 60 rooms consisting of two wings which adjoin at the rear of a central block. The facade of sandstone is simple yet awe inspiring. A stone railed balcony surrounds the central block on three sides and is topped with a central tower that sits high above the second storey. Below an arcade, beautifully panelled and painted, allows soft light through a series of arches to the large windows of the internal structure.

The feature windows were all of stained glass and featured motifs and pastoral scenes from the Mother Land – England. Deer – fauns, stags and does all featured prominently – with 12 smaller windows picturing game that can be hunted in each month of the year.

The interior is beautifully crafted with ornate cornices, display niches and superb wrought iron detailing on the grand staircase. Elaborately decorated arches from the large feature windows, massive fireplaces with delicately carved opulent features, and Corinthian Pilasters or piers featured in the main hall, a massive formal Dining Room and a British style drawing room – all make for an extraordinary treasure of bygone times.

Parterre Gardens (now restored), the original fountain and the large ornamental lake with its unique central grotto add further to the pure joy of this building.

The design of the building was prepared, developed and executed by Architects Colquhoun and Fox.

To describe the 60 odd rooms in the building would be onerous. The best option is to arrange a visit. The mansion is open from 10am to 4pm Weekdays and from 10am to 5pm Weekends and Public Holidays.

The grounds are open from 9am till 5.30pm. Entry to the Werribee Park Gardens and the adjacent Victoria State Rose Garden is free. Admission charges are moderate. Check here: werribeepark.com for details. You can also visit the Point Cook Homestead – details here.

Walk in real history, step back in time. Thomas Chirnside ultimately took his own life – he suffered from deep depression. Andrew died of a heart attack three years later in 1890. Mary his wife died in 1908 when her hair caught fire from a candle.

The Catholic Church purchased the property in 1922 from Andrew’s youngest son George. It became known as the Corpus Christi College, a seminary for priests. The church added two new wings, the first in 1925 and the second in 1937. Some effort was made to blend the new with the old. In 1973, the Church sold the property to the Victorian State Government.

Since then the mansion has been extensively renovated by the State Government to return it to its original splendour. The property is now a museum operated by the National Trust.

So now when you drive through ‘Deer Park’, perhaps glancing East to ‘St Albans’ these names shall no longer be a mystery. You are moving through living history. Embrace it. It is a spectacular past. And a story that should not be forgotten. The Chirnsides – truly pioneers.

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