After growing up on a large property in central NSW, I can relate to the boom and bust nature of rural life. When admiring the grand homes and properties of Victoria’s Western District, it is easy to assume that the pioneers who built them were a little more fortunate and didn’t suffer the same trials and tribulations of drought, disease, rising costs and falling prices.
The reality, of course, is that even great properties can’t escape the changing nature of life on the land. They too need to navigate their way through the many bad years, whist capitalising on the few good ones along the way.
More Great Properties of Country Victoria is the latest offering by Richard Allan, and is illustrated by Kimbal Baker’s beautiful photography. This insightful and informative book chronicles the life and history of 13 rural properties. The book covers in great detail the inception of each property, as well as the story of fortunes gained and lost during the time of The Western District’s Golden Age (the book’s subtitle).
If the book stopped there it would have been a good read, but what I enjoyed most was the stories of the current owners. Restoring and maintaining a grand home and garden is a difficult thing to do in 2017. In most cases, the homes were built to be maintained by staff and even the upkeep of the more modest homestead is a challenge, considering the added commitment of also running the farm. They persevere mostly through a commitment to past generations and a desire to carry on the legacy laid down by previous owners.
Most of the owners see themselves as custodians of the properties, and in order to pass the land on to the next generation, they know how important it is to improve the operations of the farm. Many of the operations and profit-making activities would make the original owners’ heads spin. From satellite navigated tractors, to the trade of stud bull semen, these properties are not monuments stuck in the past; they are successful properties and continue to be relevant in today’s modern world and a vital part of the communities of Victoria’s Western District.
Though not strictly a book on gardens, it is easy to see, through Allan’s extensive lists of significant trees and Baker’s sumptuous images, that the garden is an important part of the lives of the current owners and was also seen by previous generations as an integral part of the development of a grand property.
For history buffs and lovers of grand historic homes, this is a wonderful book to own. Allan’s insightful words are beautifully balanced by the images of Baker. The images capture the elegance of the homes’ interiors, as well as the grandeur of the house and grounds. I also loved the sublime setting of many of the properties, nestled as they were at the base of the Grampians or tucked in beside a lake.
Come along to the book launch and talk by Richard Allan on Tuesday November 21 at 6pm (with optional tour of Burnley Gardens at 5pm)
Venue – Main hall – University of Melbourne Burnley Campus, 500 Yarra Boulevard, Richmond, Victoria