Sunday, March 8, 2009

Kilmany Park

This is the first substantial homestead that William Pearson built at Kilmany Park, near Sale in East Gippsland, presumably at around the time when he married in 1859, and proceeded to create a family of seven children. The dwelling that preceded it was by all accounts a pretty basic affair, and had narrow windows, it was once claimed, for ease of shooting at “blacks.” I do not know if this is true, but it seems at least possible. By the time this pretty house was built, there were no more blacks to shoot at.

At some point in the late 1870s this beautiful, larger house was built right next to the earlier one, presumably to accommodate the extended family, which by then included William’s widowed mother from Scotland, and other relations. Certainly it reflects William’s burgeoning fortunes. This photograph was taken in 1906. Perhaps emboldened by his parliamentary responsibilities, the younger William decided to pull down both of the earlier homesteads, and to erect an even bigger house on the same site
This was the result, though in fact it was only the first and front portion, essentially half of what was originally envisaged as a four-sided mansion on a colossal scale. That grandiose Edwardian plan presumably fell victim to the onset of the First World War and, William’s premature death in 1919.

The south facade is a curiously flat and blocky affair, only partly leavened by the awkward, two-bay, single-column upper arcade, the unsatisfactorily cinched lower entablature, the four eccentric little ground-floor windows, and the raised platform supporting it all. It seems unlikely to have been designed by an architect; more probably an imaginative Sale builder with plenty of pattern-books and an unlimited budget.

This is the interior of the drawing-room on the ground floor, to the right of the facade, as it must have been in about 1912. It is the typical Edwardian hodge-podge of plaster mouldings, monstrously overblown mahogany door-frames and other detailing, busily scattered furnishings, carpets, fabrics, including faux watered silk on the walls, frills, borders, folding screens (for servants to eavesdrop behind), framed prints and photographs, and other knick-knacks, even a potted palm, and numerous oriental objects probably purchased in Melbourne from the Centennial International Exhibition of 1888. I am not quite sure about the eccentric positioning of the upright piano on the right, a somewhat uncharacteristic nod in the direction of economy. Nor do I recognize any stick of furniture, though I suspect that the large famille rose porcelain bowl on the center table sat until recently, full of dried lavender, on the side table in the sitting room in Mum’s house in Melbourne.

And here is Kilmany Park as it appears now, pluckily rescued from institutional oblivion - it was for many years a bleak Presbyterian boys’ home - by the enterprising proprietors of a bed-and-breakfast business.
Gran’s ashes are buried under a tree at the edge of what was once the croquet lawn.

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