The Battle to Save Banyule Homestead

Heritage listed Banyule Homestead must be protected from a proposed subdivision and townhouse development

By Kevin Biaggini

Banyule City Council held their fortnightly meeting Monday, June 6th. One of the items up for discussion was the submission of Banyule Council to Heritage Victoria relating to the application to subdivide the grounds of Banyule Homestead and build three ( 3 ) two-storey villas. Sounds obscene, doesn’t it?

There were 60 members of the public in attendance and they all looked pretty fired up. One of the reasons for the numbers was Max Congdon, a resident in the street where the Homestead is located. This man was tireless, no computer, not belonging to any political or active group, door-knocked, rang dropped leaflets at 300 places, spoke with the council officers, councilors, Heritage Victoria, the Planning Minister’s Office.

He was the one who did the most work on the ground. His heart was in the trim. At start of General Business the first item to be mentioned was the Banyule Homestead. This in General Business! Then another person broached the subject of the Homestead, upbraided the council for virtual dereliction of duty to the citizens of Banyule. He told them that they should get their act together on this matter, reminded them that too many fine old mansions had been allowed to expire in the hands of developers and it was time to call a halt.

This guy actually spoke twice during General Busines on this one issue, and the time limit for General Business had to be extended for another 15 minutes. Also, the issue of the Homestead was brought forward, probably to get it over and done with and out of the council’s hair. I spoke, then Dennis O’Connell (Secretary of Friends of Banyule) gave his submission plus two other people.

The best on the night was the President of Heidelberg Historical Society. This man was very eloquent and forceful in his argument. He brought along and showed some impressive photographs that showed how the Homestead was, is and will be if the proposal succeeds. He also informed the Council that the three villas would be sold with the view of Banyule Flats as a major attraction-so how could they be unobtrusive in the grounds of the Homestead?

I have mentioned Max Congdon and his excellent work, the President of the Historical Society, Dennis O’Connell and his submission to Heritage Victoria, all others who rang, wrote, composed and door-knocked, leafleted, etc. It’s a group effort, a community effort that gets the hard yards done. The public gallery was so full that extra chairs had to be dragged out and the people were vocal, every speaker got good applause. After all was submitted , Councilor Tom Melican, the good man, proposed an amendment to the submission of the council to Heritage Victoria, one that placated the people present. All Councilors then spoke for the amendment, with heartfelt feelings expressed for the future integrity of the Homestead and the peace of mind of the public on this sensitive topic. The amendment was passed unanimously, and we all left very happy. High praise to the Council for having the wits to see that this issue is one that will be closely watched by people of Banyule, the groups who hold Banyule dear and the ordinary residents who know a wrong thing when they see it and are willing to protest about it. It’s good to get a win. This issue will be fought over again with Heritage Victoria or VCAT or both. Banyule Homestead needs to have its grounds kept as they are. The building as well as the grounds make up the Homestead proper. Banyule Flats deserves to have Banyule Homestead in its original state. Anything else would be desecration.

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About Friends of Banyule Inc

President & Public Officer of Friends of Banyule Inc, a community not- for-profit organisation to enhance and protect the environmental assets of Banyule City. Currently fighting the proposed NE Link freeway through one of inner Melbourne's most ecologically sensitive areas and historical areas.
This entry was posted in Banyule Flats, Heritage, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Battle to Save Banyule Homestead

  1. Anika O'Connell says:

    It’s an unbelievably inappropirate plan, to subdivide the grounds of Banyule Homestead to build a series of three two-storey villas. The planned development has no relevance or sensitivity to the significant history and character of the Bayule Homestead. Can we PLEASE consider fututre generations and what history we’ll be leaving for them to enjoy? Allowing this development would be shortsighted and set an irresponsible precedent. Stopping it would set the RIGHT precedent. -AO

  2. Mary G says:

    Our heritage is clearly under threat. Urban sprawl is like a slow tidal wave that is threatening to swallow up public land, heritage values, biodiversity and every little bit of green wedges due to our “land shortages”. Land is a finite quantity, already fixed. The real “shortage” is lack of innovation, ideas, technology and investment in knowledge from our politicians. We need a viable economy, not one based on population growth and property development. Where will the tsunami of growth end? Nimbys are often vilified and the word is used in a derogatory sense, but it’s more than our backyards under threat. Australia is being treated as a carte blanche for developers and opportunists to override our history, public opinion, our iconic colonial and indigenous heritage, and erode our living standards. This development on what should be a protected property would be outrageous, and a desecration of part of our beginnings, and Banyule’s identity. A few “winners” should not over-ride the wishes and benefits of the great majority.

  3. Lukekul says:

    I am deeply concerned that the people of Banyule (the city, not the homestead) are simply adopting a selfish and unrealistic attitude towards this property. How many people took the time to read through this subdivision proposal in its entirety? How many of you got to page 14-15, where this proposal mentions that “a sum of $300,000 will be set aside to undertake … conservation and repair works”?

    I can’t help but feel that many people jumped the gun the moment they heard or saw the words ‘subdivision’; please take the time to consider the issue carefully. There is simply no way that any government will put that kind of money towards any single heritage property, and this seems like the best chance to restore Banyule Homestead to its former glory that we have seen in a long time. The state government grossly neglected this property after they closed the art gallery down, essentially locking the doors and doing no maintenance or upkeep whatsoever. Those of you who took the opportunity to look at the homestead when it was up for auction should understand what I mean; the place was quite literally left to rot, and quite frankly I am disgusted that the government could ever adopt such a lax attitude towards our heritage properties.

    You may not like what the private owner is doing with the property, but they are clearly going out of their way and taking great care to restore the homestead itself as best as they can while working together with the heritage council, and this is far better than anything that the council and state government ever did when they had their hands on the property. The biggest problem is, of course, cost, and this is what the subdivision is for. Again, I know that many of you do not like this idea, but how else can such a large sum of money be raised by a single individual?

    On the topic of subdivision, I can’t help but notice the irony that without Banyule subdividing so many times over the years, many of the locals currently complaining about it now would not be living anywhere near it. Our own homes were once the development that you are now finding so grossly obscene. Perhaps, if you are truly passionate about preserving the history of the homestead and its original appearance, you would be willing to donate your property so that the private owner could restore the many acres of farmland that Joseph Hawdon once owned? It is only fair, unless your intentions are to only preserve the parts of the homestead’s history that are most convenient for you.

    Of course, those who have read page 4 of the subdivision proposal (as well as those who have decent knowledge of the historical background of Banyule Homestead) would also know that it would never have been built in the first place if Joseph Hawdon had never purchased a subdivided “portion 6” from Richard Henry Browne. I do find it interesting to note that Banyule Homestead, and Banyule City itself, has a much longer history of subdivision than most people realize.

    In terms of keeping with neighbourhood character, we have also seen townhouses developed on both Candlebark Court and Yellow Box Terrace in recent years – more in these two streets (which, correct me if I’m wrong, were also developed for the townhouses that line them) than what is planned for Banyule Homestead, actually. I believe that these are relevant in considering our neighbourhood character, especially given their close proximity to the homestead.

    For those of you concerned about views (and I have noticed that this seems to be a concern for many), please see page 16 of the subdivision plan, which states that “the potential impact of the three double storey dwellings on the significance of the site must be considered in relation to views and vistas as well as the form, scale and appearance of the dwellings with regard to the main homestead, and the Buckingham Drive streetscape as included in the heritage registered land area.”

    There is far more to this story than a private owner looking to make a quick buck from subdividing their property, and there is actually a lot more at stake than people realize. There are not many private owners who would be able to put up the cash to restore Banyule Homestead without doing something like this, and even fewer who would be willing to do it by the book and working hand-in-hand with the heritage council. As I have said many times now, no government will do this either. A house, even a heritage homestead, is just a building, and as such it cannot heal over time. Those of you with experience in such things, especially in the Historical Society, will understand that our best chance at preservation is in early restoration, not procrastination. Remember that it is very easy to criticize, but very hard to create; can any of you who have spoken out against this idea come up with a viable and legal alternative that has not already been tried and failed?

    Ultimately I know that I cannot force you to change your minds, as I understand that many of you are very passionate about this issue, but I am also concerned that some of you are disagreeing with this for less altruistic reasons. Some of you may feel that I am far too biased in my own opinions, and I imagine that quite a few of you stopped reading my post as soon as you saw the first sentence. There is very little that I can actually do about this, but what I can do is ask you to please take the time to look a little deeper into this issue. At the very least, please read through the subdivision plan carefully; you’ll find that it has been quite carefully put together and actually does address quite a lot of your concerns already. Perhaps you may realize that this is not quite as terrible a thing as you originally thought.

    I strongly suspect that this post may be removed given your stance on this issue, though I hope that this is not the case. I am looking forward to reading your responses.

  4. francis G says:

    It’s with great largess and liberty that your accuse the objectors as being ” that selfish and unrealistic attitude towards this property”, Just because other developments are happening, and the rest of the land has over the years being whittled away, doesn’t mean it must continue to happen. The selfish people are the owners who not only should respect the privilege of having such a property, now want to profit and gain from taking more from the land? Who is being selfish? The losers would be the local community, a part of Melbourne’s history, and Victorians at large. The winners? The owner and the new residents! The gain of a small minority is being weighted against the loss for the majority. Who is being selfish?

  5. Lukekul says:

    I call them selfish because whenever anybody or anything seems to be poised to change the Banyule homestead in the slightest the community is in uproar about it, but when nothing is happening nobody seems to give a damn about it. Just look at the homestead and the property surrounding it from the outside and you can easily see that the restorations to it remain unfinished. If people want future generations to enjoy it the job needs to be finished, and for that to happen a lot of money is needed.

    I will concede that I may be taking a little too much liberty in my blanket accusations francis G, but at least I can point to the comments of those around me as basis for my beliefs. Do you have any proof that the owners are simply after profit, beyond your own assumption, or the assumptions of others? Have they actually said anything to this effect? As far as I know the owners themselves haven’t made any public comments on this matter, beyond the release of the plan to subdivide.

    Again I point to the $300,000 being set aside to restore the homestead as evidence that this is more than just a grab for cash. You cannot possibly call that a loss for the community, especially when nobody else seems to be interesting in paying (or able to pay) so much money… Or perhaps, if you feel that this is too weak a reason for the subdivision, you would be willing to start up an alternative fund for the restoration of Banyule homestead?

  6. ian says:

    I remember my mother telling me as a boy that when our war service home in Rosanna was built, there were no other houses beyond our back fence and the Banyule Homestead.

    The Homestead was always there, somewhere over the back fence of my childhood. Then as a young student at Banyule Primary School I met a boy who lived there. I remember once going over to his “house” after school to play and enquiring with the innocence of childhood if his parents were wealthy. It’s the sort of thing you ask at that age. “We’re just caretakers here” was the boy’s reply. He had a hyphenated last name which back then was unusual. It sounded posh so I wasn’t so sure.

    By the time I reached my teenage years I was delivering newspapers from my bicycle in Buckingham Drive and Berkeley Avenue, following the old Eaglemont Dairies milk delivery cart in the crisp morning air up to the “house on the hill”. Clip clop, clip clop, whoa there. From memory they took the little paper, a Sun, News Pictorial. Nothing unusual in their reading then. Plebs like the rest of us.

    Then Banyule became a gallery, an annexe of the National Gallery in St Kilda Road. A great idea in concept but missing something. That something was a crowd. Community objections to traffic in Buckingham Drive may have been part of the problem. Advertising was minimal. I remember riding my old bicycle over there at the end of my high school years to check it out. The ladies on the desk seemed surprised to see me. Yes, a visitor and a school boy to boot. “We’re glad you’ve come. Look out for the rare colonial furniture upstairs when you’re viewing the paintings.”

    Then the gallery closed and a sullen silence descended over Hawdon’s old house, disturbed only by the ghosts.

    I think it was in about 1995 that the State Government announced officially its plans to sell Banyule back into private ownership. Heidelberg Council begged the Kennett Government to reconsider and to put the building into their hands on a long lease at a peppercorn rental. But nobody seemed quite sure what the building would be used for. The pragmatists carried the day and the house was sold, raising I recall about $850,000 for a cash strapped Victorian economy. I went to the auction for a last look around. The house had suffered considerably from government ownership. All interior surfaces including the precious cedar joinery had been painted a gallery appropriate white. Fluorescent strip lighting abounded and dozens of toilets for public use had been installed.

    Heidelberg Council, thwarted in its attempt to convince the State Government to give it a lease, decided instead to offer the new owner money to help with the considerable job of restoration. The only stipulation was that the house should be open once annually for the general public to view. How many people recall the
    vitriol on the pages of The Heidelberger newspaper from people objecting to public money being spent in this way? Give me money, wrote one resident of Buckingham Drive and I’ll open my brick veneer too. In the face of such resentment is it any wonder the owner refused the money, closed the doors and nobody has seen inside since. Controversy over building of a garage at Banyule and the removal of mature trees have only further entrenched the lines of demarcation between owner and public.

    The problems that burden Banyule and similar large and historic houses around Melbourne are not new to the 21st century. Everyone calls it Hawdon’s house but it is an interesting fact that he did but briefly live there before immigrating to New Zealand. It was leased to numerous persons in Heidelberg’s early history.
    The farm was divided and leased also. A series of disastrous floods in the 1860s destroyed the productivity of many of these farms and some were abandoned. When Hawdon’s Melbourne agent, James Graham struggled to find a new tenant for Banyule, he moved into it himself. Read Graham’s letters to Hawdon, published in
    two books (“Pioneer Merchant” and “A Man About Town”). There are numerous complaints about the upkeep of such a large house, its impractical nature and the desperate straits of the tenant farmers. Graham writes to Hawdon telling him that the roof will need to be completely replaced. “In many places even with but a short shower we have to put down tubs and basins on the floor to catch the water coming down the ceilings.” (A Man About Town, p370). It was Graham who had the exterior painted in 1861, “the plaster was so very much cracked in many places… I had the walls and stonework very carefully repaired with best Portland cement.” (AMAT, p243.) Although he wrote to Hawdon that he found the house expensive to live in, this didn’t stop him from buying the house from Hawdon when he had the opportunity and from giving it to his daughter and son in
    law as a wedding present.

    Banyule has always been an expensive house to own. A multi millionaire might not be bothered by the expense but how many inner city Victorian mansions have been compromised by expensive and unsympathetic renovations. Having the money to buy an historic property doesn’t necessarily ensure the owner has the skilled knowledge to do an historic restoration, as opposed to renovation. Let’s hope for Banyule’s sake that the current owner fulfils his pledge to take advice from the Heritage Council.

    Now, in the face of all this discussion, I offer a solution. It’s one that I think should be acceptable to both sides of this debate but one which will probably sink without seeing the light of day. Let the owner of Banyule sell his
    land, but only if it is sold to the Banyule City Council at the going market price. The Council could then designate the land purchase as parkland, which would in effect be right next door to Banyule Homestead and its views. Personally, I wouldn’t object to my council rates being spent in this way. Sooner money spent for new park land than on superfluous council offices in Greensborough or lunch junkets for the councillors. During a telephone conversation with Councillor Wayne Phillips late last year about the sell off of Council parkland on the corner of Lower Plenty and Bannockburn Roads, Cr Phillips insisted that the money raised would be reinvested into the acquisition of new parkland for the City of Banyule. The sale of that land made $1.2 million.
    Here is a golden opportunity for Banyule Council to make good on that promise and do something very significant for posterity.

  7. Miss Rosanna says:

    …what about turning the Banyule Homestead into the proposed Impressionist Laboratory (a galllery that draws on Banyule’s artistic cultural heritage of the Heidelberg School – the feasibility study can be read on the council website) that has been mooted in the long term for Banyule? I believe the Yarra river precinct south of Banksia Street has been proposed as a possible site but given the significance of the homestead and its location – surely this would be the best place to start if the council had the money to buy the homestead and surrounding land?

  8. Lukekul says:

    Thanks for a good read ian, I quite enjoyed your comment. Your alternative solution is also an interesting one, but I don’t know if the council would go for it or not. I imagine that the current market price for land like that would be incredibly high, and a lot of work would need to be done to the land in question (which, as far as I know, remains a bitchumen car park) before it could be transformed into parkland.

    Miss Rosanna, the Banyule Homestead was already once an art gallery that matches your exact description – housing artworks from the Heidelberg School – but it was quite short lived. It is not in an easily found area and as it is not on a main road it does not receive any thoroughfare traffic. The Council was also offered the opportunity to buy the homestead from the state government back before it was sold to the current private owners. From what I’ve heard from various sources the state government was looking to sell it for any price, but the council insisted that they would need money to restore it (so they were essentially asking the state government to pay them to take it), and thus it went to a private owner. I think that ian’s solution is far more realistic, as even now I cannot imagine that the Banyule Council would be willing to offer any amount to buy the homestead itself. It simply costs far too much to maintain.

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