Saturday, 4 April 2015

Doongalla

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 Doongalla

The past glories of the Dandenong Ranges.

A look at our early pioneers who became our first elite and their lives on the Western face and foothills of the Dandenongs.

Walking around the Basin these days, especially up around the Town Centre/Triangle Park area, you could entertain the thought that it was shielded by some kind of protective bubble. It has the sleepy quality of a small country town and is unique to most outer suburbs of Melbourne that it has an English village atmosphere rather than the adjoining suburb to busy centres like Bayswater and Boronia and I doubt people not familiar to the area must get a shock when they first arrive in the Basin via these roadways.
This became more prevalent after a recent trip to the Doongalla Picnic area, the site of the once grand Doongalla Estate.
Traveling up to where the once palatial 32 room mansion once stood it’s hard to believe such a building existed what appears now in the middle of a forest, nothing left but a set of front steps.
But delving back into the history books – in this case Rick Coxhill’scomprehensive History of the Basin – among other works, I soon discovered The Basin was littered with grand houses owned by quite well known and well-to-do families of means.
These included the Millers. Chandlers and Griffiths , who where big in Racing, Horticulture, Politics and Tea respectfully.
The Basin and the Western side of the mountain would have been a great escape from the crowd and the stink that was pre 20th Century Melbourne.
Doongalla itself was originally  called Invermay and was built on top of an earlier chalet built in 1891 but damaged by flood. . The owner and builder of Invermay Sir Mathew Davies was an MP and like most MP’s of his time a land developer. Who used their inside knowledge and influence to create large fortunes for themselves and change the face of Melbourne via projects like the now dismantled Outer Circle Railway line. Davies’ wealth would be short lived as he had to hand the bank over to creditors – in his case the Bank of New South Wales- after the collapse of Land Boom in the Mid 1890s which he was more than likely an active participant and reason for it occurring.
The only remaining section of Doongalla- the front stairs.

After being tendered by caretakers for a period, the property was purchased by a wealthy Toorak women by the name of  Miss Helen Simson who was related to the prominent Melbourne Business and racing identity L.K.S McKinnon on his wife‘s side. Miss Simson was to use the property for her country residence and then went crazy spending on upgrading facilities like electricity and irrigation and establishing vast gardens. The new Land Lady must have been a women of means and haste as she paid laborers far above the going rate of the day to achieve her goals. Miss Simson didn’t live very long to enjoy the fruits of her labour and died only four years after purchasing the property. She left the entire estate to her fifteen year old niece to be administered by her father the aforementioned McKinnon. From their it just continued to change owners and caretakers until it was destroyed by a bushfire in 1932.
Though Miss Simson is credited as renaming Invermay Doongalla I found conflicting stories regarding its meaning. At the site of the old building and in Parks Victoria literature Doongalla is said to mean “Place of piece” whilst historian Coxhill claims it comes from the earlier name of the  Parish that is now Essendon named  Doutta- Galla. This is also the name of Melbourne founder John Batman’s native servant Jika Jika wife’s name. Another source says that the name Doutta Galla (or Dutigalla) was the name of the tribe of aborigines on the original Batman treaty deed, signed on the banks of the Merri Creek, at Northcote. I did find it hard to finding references for Doongalla meaning “Place of Peace” Though these days as a meaning it is very apt.
Doongalla in its heyday was so imposing it could be seen from the current round about that now splits Mountain Highway and the Basin –Olinda road. It is quite surprising with amount of money in the hills around the turn of the century and the influence of racing identities such as the McKinnon Family and another local James Miller originator of  “Miller’s Racing Guide” who also established a stud farm and full size training track that foothills of the Dandenongs didn’t become a race horse industry Mecca much like Lloyd Williams has at Macedon Lodge.
Actually looking at the pictures of the grand homes that once were dotted all over this side of the Dandenongs like Millers Homestead and the Griffith Family’s Ferndale and the original Como House, to look at the mountain now and see all the land          re-established by native forest and then at the Basin shops you would be hard pressed to imagine such a time existed and it conjures up places like boom towns that once existed in rural Victoria. Perhaps even like one of those English countryside villages that have a ruined castle that hints at a greater time in the past. Hardly any trace of the grand houses exist today, those on the mountain taken by fire and those on the lower lands swallowed by development.
What I’m saying is the Basin these days shows no hint of the grandness and privilege that was once spread through the area.
We are very lucky to have such wonderful parks and reserves on our doorstop and not bundled up behind someone’s property boundary, Funny, when you think about al the properties that were established in the area, they all failed in some way. Maybe it was the way it’s meant to be. I say that I wonder what it would be like if things turned out different but I’m very happy the way things did turn out.

 Originally published in the Boronia and Basin Community News April 2014
Remains of retaining wall of original driveway entrance
The old property well.