Myilly Point

Darwin has long been an important strategic outpost from a military perspective. In the early 20th century, the need to attract senior public servants to the town led to the construction of four significant houses between 1936 and 1939, now known as the Myilly Point Heritage Precinct. Architect Beni Burnett was recruited from Malaysia, where he grew up with Scottish missionary parents, and was appointed the task of producing housing appropriate to the climate. The influence of his early years is shown in the tropical elements of the architecture of the three houses he designed. One was destroyed by Cyclone Tracy in 1974, another was damaged and remained vacant and boarded up to prevent access from itinerants until it was restored in 1988. A year later, it became the headquarters of the National Trust and known as Burnett House.

The only two-story house on the precinct and the only surviving example of B.C.G. Burnett’s Type ‘K’ design, Burnett House survived the bombing of Darwin during World War II with two bullet holes in the front fence. The Australian Women’s Army services were based here during the war and it was also as a rest area for nurses. Nowadays, the National Trust hosts afternoon teas once a month in the beautiful gardens, a lovely setting to while away a couple of hours on a balmy Sunday.

We were invited to wander through the house before leaving, an offer too good to refuse. What would have been the original living areas downstairs are now occupied by National Trust administration spaces, we made our way upstairs where the bathroom greeted us at the top. The upper floor bedrooms are spacious with three-quarter height partitions between rooms, information panels and photographs tell the history of the house.

Presented as living areas, I could quite imagine enjoying a gin & tonic under the whirring ceiling fan with the scent of a tropical garden wafting through the louvres.

The bedroom exuded a peaceful ambience and has a spacious dressing area.

Outside, colourful tropical flowers abound in the immaculate garden.

Adjacent to Burnett House, Audit House was designed by the Commonwealth Government and is an example of a large-scale housing form used in Darwin during 1920-1940.

Built for the Commonwealth Auditor in 1938, this house was also used during the war as part of a rest home for nurses. After the war, the Auditor no longer used the residence and there was a succession of occupants from various Government Departments. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see inside but it looked very inviting, surrounded by a well-established tropical garden.

Werribee Park Mansion

After staying the night at the fabulous Mansion Hotel, we spent some time the next morning exploring Werribee Park Mansion.

1.Werribee Park Mansion

The family history has more drama and intrigue than a Pulitzer Prize winning period romance novel. I’ll give you an abridged version while we wander, starting off at the stunning entrance hall.

4.hall

Scotsman Thomas Chirnside emigrated to Australia in 1838 seeking a new life and, seeing the opportunities in the agricultural industry, invested in stock and land. His brother, Andrew, joined him in 1841 and their pastoral empire flourished. On one side of the hall at the front of the house is the library, a cosy gentleman’s space.

Across the hall, the elegant drawing room where guests would be received and the ladies withdrew after dinner, has a definite feminine touch.

7.drawing room

Four years later, Thomas returned to Scotland for a visit, fell in love with his first cousin Mary and proposed marriage. Her parents didn’t approve and he returned alone. The formal dining room, with its exquisite ceiling rose, is next to the library

10.dining room

and the more informal breakfast room adjoins.

It was then Andrew’s turn for a trip home and Thomas asked him to bring Mary back to Australia any way he could. Andrew accomplished the task and he returned in 1852 with Mary as his wife. There is one bedroom on the ground floor with the modern convenience of an ensuite bathroom.

15.bedroom

Obviously a gentleman’s domain, the billiard room is adorned with hunting trophies and presumably, the family’s pet spaniel.

18.billiard room

25.billiard room

The peaceful conservatory has a distinctly tropical ambience.

26.conservatory27.conservatory

Thomas wanted Mary to live in a stately home and so, he and Andrew built the elaborate sandstone Italianate mansion at their Werribee Park property. The 60-room house took three years to build and was completed in 1877. The presentation in the kitchen leaves little doubt as to the lavish lifestyle enjoyed at Werribee Park.

Andrew and Mary, along with three of their children, lived at the mansion. Thomas, who never married, lived at his property in nearby Point Cook until his later years when he joined them at Werribee. At the top of the main staircase,

33.main staircase

the ornate saloon was an area used as a gallery and ballroom.

A doorway leads out to a magnificent tiled balcony at the base of the tower.

36.balcony

The brothers made many generous contributions to the community, including churches and schools, and hosted events such as polo matches and picnics in the expansive grounds. Looking out over the lawns, I could just picture the dashing men and the ladies in their finery out in the sunshine.

39.gardens40.parterre garden

After years of suffering from depression, Thomas took his own life in 1887. Found dead in the laundry with a shotgun beside him, it is believed his ghost now haunts the mansion. The laundry is housed in a separate bluestone building at the rear of the mansion.

41.laundry

Andrew died of heart failure three years later and his two youngest sons inherited the property on the proviso that Mary lived there for the rest of her days. The bedrooms on the first floor are beautifully decorated and each has its own dressing room.

42.chintz bedroom

45.blue bedroom46.blue bedroom

The children’s room is more than a bedroom, with an array of playthings to keep them amused.

47.childrens room

Tragically, Mary died from her injuries after her hair caught fire from a bedside candle in 1908. The back staircase leads to the servants rooms

and there are marvellous exhibitions of curios from life in the late 19th century. I can’t imagine an occasion where the bird hat would be appropriate, the corset looks positively painful and the ashtray is distinctly bad taste.

The brothers sold Werribee Park in 1922 to a wealthy grazier from Warrnambool. A year later, it was sold again to the Roman Catholic Church, was developed as a seminary and operated for fifty years. In 1973, the Victorian Government acquired the property and restored the mansion and grounds to its former glory.

57.main staircase

Highfield House

I know I’ve said it before but Stanley really is one of our favourite places and having guests from interstate is always a great excuse to return. The drive up the hill to Highfield House and the views as we descend back to the beach are quite spectacular. A few years have passed since we took the time to visit Highfield House so we welcomed the opportunity on a recent expedition. The Van Diemen’s Land Company was formed in 1826  by a group of London based businessmen to establish a wool growing venture on the island. Edward Curr, the chief agent of the VDL Company, arrived at Circular Head in the remote northwest with his family in November 1827. They lived in a small cottage until his new homestead, with twenty four rooms, was completed in 1835.

1.Highfield House

The garden is immaculate

and the house impressive even on an inclement day.

4.Highfield House

Through the front door, down the main hallway

5.hall

we entered the gallery where guests would be welcomed. Portraits and stories of those who lived and worked in the house and around the estate adorn the walls.

6.gallery

Storyboards in each room relate a different part of life at Highfield House, the history of the VDL Company and the settlement of Circular Head. First impressions of the settlers to the wild, rugged northwest are shared in the adjacent drawing room,

7.drawing room

while the failure of the planned fine wool enterprise and hefty financial losses are described in the study.

Across the hall, the china closet displays remnants of crockery that were found during restoration of the house

and parts of the original ceiling and walls have been exposed.

Henry Hellyer travelled to Van Diemen’s Land in 1826 as architect and surveyor for the VDL company. His explorations and mapping of the remote northwest opened up the area to settlement. In 1831, he began designing Highfield House but, sadly, he committed suicide in September 1832 and never saw his plans come to fruition. His adventures are told in the room set up as a nursery.

Beneath the staircase, two cellars provide ample storage for the plethora of goods imported on the Company ships. Detailed inventories indicate the residents of the house wanted for nothing.

Places are set at the dining room table and snippets of conversation are written on the cloth. The clinking of glasses and cutlery accompany the gossip of the day.

22.dining room

25.dining room

Upstairs,

the master bedroom is set out beautifully, though it is shrouded in sadness with the sound of a woman sobbing. Presumably, Elizabeth Curr is mourning the death of her two year old daughter, Julia, in a tragic accident.

28.master bedroom

Conversely, there is a calm ambience with stunning garments laid out

and a surprisingly comfortable ensuite.

32.ensuite

Down the hall, the children’s bedroom seems a bit on the small side for fifteen children, nine sons and six daughters. Apparently, all were sent back to England for schooling around the age of four.

33.children's bedroom

The guest room has a spectacular view of the Nut, the ancient volcanic plug around which the town of Stanley has grown. Suitcases half packed (or unpacked) give the impression of visitors in residence.

Returning to the ground floor, through the Butler’s Pantry (which is now the Reception Office) there is another hall

36.hall

that leads past the larder and pantry ( with more exposed original ceiling)

to the kitchen.

40.kitchen

A collection of not-so-modern appliances make us aware of how arduous the simplest of tasks were at that time.

The kitchen leads to a rear courtyard

46.rear courtyard

and we set off to explore the various outbuildings on the estate. A small stone building houses a chapel on the ground floor

and schoolhouse above.

51.chapel:schoolhouse

There are stables

52.stables

and a large barn that was divided up for separate uses.

56.barns

Through the straw barn

57.straw barn

there is a separate section that houses some old implements including a rather striking woolpress.

At the other end, on a mezzanine level, the original threshing barn is now a popular venue for weddings and functions.

65.threshing barn

Following Curr’s dismissal in 1842, Highfield House has had several owners until 1982 when the State Government acquired the estate. If you are planning on a visit to Stanley, be sure to take the time to explore Highfield House.

66.Highfield House & The Nut