Thursday, 7 April 2011

For the love of the Dandenongs Part One Winter 2010


Whilst living in Croydon I spent a lot of time looking across to the mountain, now I live in Boronia rather than live in the shadow of the mountain I spend as much quality time as I can finding the treasures it holds.
Now that Parks Victoria has abolished entry fees for all Parks there can’t be a valid excuse not to see some of the great gardens in the Mount Dandenong area.
This month I visited two more that I had a tendency to drive past on the way to somewhere else and took the opportunity to visit.
The first being the George Tindale Gardens a small but beautifully kept slice of peace and tranquility on the Sassafras to Kallista road, I’m glad Parks Victoria have signs the size of bus stops or else I would have missed it all together, being as it is on a bend in the road.
The compact little garden in crisscrossed with little paths and for the budding horticulturalist there is a great variety of species of plants clearly marked. A section of the garden was closed off because of the danger of falling limbs but most of these were on the peripheral. The moss covered paths were a beautiful touch to what are some beautiful and green lawns this winter.
But up the road a kilometer or so was the real treasure and I’m still kicking myself I didn’t bring my camera.
The beautiful Alfred Nicholas Gardens seem to hide something that in its day were grander than we could ever expect to see again.
With it’s wonderful sloping paths and stacked stonework creating layers in the hills you know a lot of effort and love went into this garden and as the ferns and native plants mingle with the Hydrangeas and Camellias you sense that there was more to this garden when it was created in the 1930s, the lake deep in the heart of the garden is still kept in pristine condition with it’s water feature feeding the small pond with it’s inner islands accessible by bridges that make it perfect for a picnic. The added touch of the old boathouse (complete with row boat) almost adds a touch of magic to a by gone era.
But the biggest find that knocked me sideways was what the gardens used to be a part of.
I had no idea one of the best examples of Art deco architecture in Victoria was closer to my house than Knox shopping centre.
Barnham Beeches Estate the Heritage listed house that Alfred Nicholas built and died in before his beloved gardens were finished is a piece of architectural beauty that is sadly hidden behind a high link fence and as far as I know no real plans for restoration or renovation in the foreseeable future.
The house is clearly visible but inaccessible and even though it is officially not part of the gardens itself they still seem to be intrinsically bonded together.
After walking around marveling (from such an annoyingly short distance) at the smooth round concrete structure with it’s ornate metal work and large windows you roam the gardens and you can picture Miss Marple or Inspector Poirot asking questions to gentlemen in perfectly pleated trousers and jumpers draped over their shoulders while women in knee length summer skirts wearing broad brimmed hats look on in interest.

Burnham Beeches in its heyday
I’d love to see this property brought back to its former glory if not for historical significance just for the true beauty of the original setting.
It’s almost like we have ready made time capsule in our back yard.
I was so inspired that after the visit, that I began doing a bit of research on the property, I discovered it has had a colourful 70 odd years of existence.
The property was built in 1933, an built in the art deco or Steamline Moderne a later type of art deco by Australian architect Harry Norris whose building still stand in the CBD including Mitchell House. Norris was heavily influenced after travels to Europe and The United States on a commission by another prominent Victorian institute CJ Coles.
A contemporary journal article of the day wrote that the house included a “private theaterette with talkie equipment”, an “electric pipe-organ” in the music room, orchid houses, a dairy with “prize Jersey cows”, and the gardens included artificial waterfalls, a lake and floodlighting at night.
Alfred Nicholas didn’t get to enjoy his house long he died in 1937, this was before the gardens were completed but his legacy lives on.
During World War 2 Mrs. Nicholas moved out the house was used a children’s hospital, returning to do renovations in the late 40s Alfred’s widow moved out and lived permanently in their Toorak house and the house was turned into a research facility for the Family business who made the popular Aspro brand pain relief tables.
The gardens were eventually donated to the State Government in 1965 and Barnham Beeches was sold and renovated as a hotel in 1981 where it operated until it closed its doors in 1992. Where it has been bought and sold but not brought back into any useful purpose, though the fascia and gardens are still kept in excellent condition the public are denied access.
I strongly recommend a visit to the gardens and while you can’t access the mansion its stream line, three story wonder is easily viewed from the driveway and while you’re at it enjoy the Gardens that fill the Dandenongs, if they’re administrated by Parks Victoria they are free on entry, this includes other wonderful places of interest like the Rhododendron Gardens in Olinda and the William Ricketts Sanctuary.
reprinted article from 09/10 edition of the BBCN

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