Why I’m mad as hell about Banyule Homestead

Update October 2019: One of the things that I wished most for Banyule Homestead was that it would end up in the hands of a family who love it and who see themselves as custodians of a very special building. And I think I may have had my wish granted! Welcome, new owners.

Update April 2019: Banyule Homestead was on the market again.

Update August 2018: VCAT upheld Banyule Council’s refusal of a permit for use of Banyule Homestead as a function centre. The case ran over ten days, and Banyule Council and numerous neighbours ran a well-organized and well-researched case.  You can read VCAT’s decision here.

Update August 2016: Applications by the owners have been made to Heritage Victoria to make changes to Banyule Homestead in order to fit it out as a functions venue.  Go to http://banyulehomestead.wordpress.com for more information about this latest chapter.

Update May 2015: I have decided to archive the site that was ‘Banyule Homestead Matters’. It can now be found at http://banyulehomestead.wordpress.com

And now, back to the original post that was in this blog entry from September 15, 2011, nearly five years ago:

September 15, 2011

The risibly named Heritage Victoria this week approved the subdivision of land surrounding Banyule Homestead for the construction of three townhouses.  I am appalled.

Banyule Homestead has long been one of the landmark buildings in Heidelberg. The gothic-style mansion was constructed in 1846 by one of the overlanders from Sydney, Joseph Hawdon and it is, in fact, one of the oldest surviving houses in Victoria.  Construction of an early, single-story building commenced in 1842 and so, yes, our Judge Willis would have been able to see the first buildings of Banyule as he stood in his driveway on the hill above what is now Warringal Park.

Heidelberg, with its fertile flood plains and views attracted men who became squatters, and indeed, it was the quality and reputation of his wealthy neighbours  that attracted Willis to living in the area, even though it was some ten miles from the court.  You can almost plot the houses out on a map- on all the high peaks around Heidelberg, the houses attached to large properties would have been visible to each other.  Willis’ rented house on Rose Anna Farm looked across east to  Joseph Hawdon’s Banyule in what is now Buckingham Drive;   south towards D.C. McArthur’s house Charterisville along what is now Burke Rd Nth,  and west to  the Boulden Brothers property at the top of the hill leading up to Upper Heidelberg Road.His friend William Verner lived in the valley between Willis’ house and Banyule, while Viewbank Farm stood on a raised area on the Yarra Flats, clearly visible from Banyule.  These houses, as they stood in the early 1840s, were not the mansions that they were later to become with further additions and alterations, but they did form an important network of the pre-gold rush ‘gentryin Port Phillip.

You need imagination to visualize the sightlines between these houses today (where they still exist) because they have been largely obscured by trees. But you don’t need imagination to see Banyule as it was from the river, because as an aspect it is still largely unchanged today.  Until Heritage Victoria’s decision, that is.

Banyule stands on a cliff, overlooking the Yarra flats below.

It can be seen from across the billabongs…

…and  it was visible from my front garden, just to the right of  my father’s head in this 1960s photo of party games on the front lawn (how quaint!)  In fact, this is how I know that Judge Willis could see Banyule because his house stood on the hill immediately behind my childhood home.

It is the house that gives my local council its name: I went to Banyule High School and I go to the Banyule Festival. The Victorian Heritage Database shows that it is listed as being of National Significance by the National Trust; it is on the Victorian Heritage Register and it has local council heritage listing.  These are long-standing listings, already in place when Banyule (shamefully) returned to private hands after being in public ownership as an art gallery.  How can all these listings count for nothing?  Is anything safe? Obviously not.

As it is, the gardens that surrounded Banyule have been degraded and surrounded on three sides by houses. A slice here, a slice there. Enough has been lost already, and it can never be regained.  We can put a stop to further loss now.  One of the oldest mansions in Victoria should not be further nibbled away by development.  A house might be privately held, but its aspect belongs to all of us.  Most large houses in suburban Melbourne have been hemmed in by other houses and hunker on truncated, remnant blocks, with all scale and sense of position lost. But with Banyule,  we don’t have to rely on our visual imagination to see it as it was.  We can stand on the wetlands on the Yarra Flats and look up- and there is it.

P.S. Update April 2012. If you share my concern about Banyule Homestead, please go to Banyule Homestead Matters . It is located at http://banyulehomesteadmatters.wordpress.com . At the moment, it is just celebrating Banyule Homestead, but the moment that anything changes, you’ll read about it there.

P.P.S Update 29 December 2014. I have decided not to renew the premium status of the Banyule Homestead Matters website.  The site is still available, but the URL now includes ‘wordpress’  (i.e. it used to be banyulehomesteadmatters.com  and now it is banyulehomesteadmatters.wordpress.com) You will probably see a screen telling you to contact the administrator to renew the registration.  There’s no need to do that- I know that the registration has lapsed.  If you click on the small X, the warning will disappear and you’ll be able to access the site as before.  You may need to use the menu on the right hand site to negotiate the site as the Home page no longer shows all the posts in chronological order.

P.P.P.S. Update again. I’ve archived the Banyule Homestead Matters website and moved it all across to a new site. The website address is now http://banyulehomestead.wordpress.com

It might be worth keeping an eye on the Friends of Banyule website, and the Heidelberg Historical Society has information about Banyule as well.

P.P.S. Good places to see Banyule Homestead. The homestead  is located at 60-74 Buckingham Drive, but it’s not easily seen from the street.  Click for a Google Map showing good vantage spots here.

11 responses to “Why I’m mad as hell about Banyule Homestead

  1. As you say, the Victorian Heritage Database shows that it IS listed as being of National Significance by the National Trust. But being on the Victorian Heritage Register was worth sod all, once Banyule was flogged off to private hands. Developers don’t give a stuff about community values – they care about profit making.

    I saw Banyule when it was a public art gallery. If the art gallery wasn’t a huge success, there were plenty of other potential uses for the estate.

  2. I think I too saw it when it was a gallery, although there was a modern extension. We certainly saw it as we sailed over the top of it in a balloon. Have you seen the very impressive Labassa mansion in Caulfield? Even though at least one house surrounding it has been demolished, it looks rather silly surrounded by more modern housing. At least most National Trust old mansions have decent land around them. I’ll have a further look at this. I remember the views over the river flats below.

  3. I was appalled that this development was approved, totally undermines the house, it’s surrounds, history, culture, the heritage of the site – everything comes down to $ with not a speck of benefit to the original building whatsoever.

  4. I went once or twice while it was a gallery too, but I remember more clearly going there when it was in private hands prior to the Govt taking it over. I played tennis with the young girl who lived there, and we went up the grand staircase to her bedroom which was at the front of the house, with the bay-window. It felt strange to stare out from the window back towards my own house, when I’d so often looked across at Banyule from any of the many high spots around Heidelberg. What really distresses me is that Banyule was obviously felt to be deserving of protection in the past, but all that can be put aside because the owners claim that they need the money to maintain the house.

  5. This is like “see Banyule Homestead and weep”. I had the same feeling when writing about Edzell House, Toorak. There was a farewell concert there, just before this stunning Heritage-listed property was put on the market.


  6. Edzell is protected and cannot be destroyed, but I cannot find any mention of it being sold off. Even though the farewell concert was, I believe, in June 2010.

  7. Pingback: ‘The River’ at Bundoora Homestead | The Resident Judge of Port Phillip

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  10. Wouldn’t it be lovely if the ‘young couple’ who bought it ‘developed it’ in the style of luxury French chateaux-hotels with glorious restaurants and lovely park-like gardens to wander around in…

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