Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Homesteads of the Murray - Chapter Three

Olive Hills

Wagging her golden tail, sniffing the air and bouncing gaily to meet you, the welcome is instantaneous at “Olive Hills”. Wilma the golden Labrador is as hearty and playful as any young dog barley out of puppy hood. She trots around her home, rolling in the grass, playing with her owners, revelling in a glorious summers day outdoors. In a carefree way, Wilma the dog depicts all that is wonderful about “Olive Hills” at the turn of the millennium. It is a home that shouts out a hearty welcome, and is filled with warmth, family and friendship.

“Olive Hills” was born out of the prosperity of the popular wine growing district of Rutherglen in North Eastern Victoria. The homestead, with magnificent views of the rolling hills filled with cattle and cool green vines, commenced it’s life as a successful vineyard under the name of “The Olive Hill”. It was Hugh Fraser, prominent local pastoralist and Councillor, who settled his family at the hill, once a part of the large “Gooramadda Run”.
As a winery in the late 1800’s, “Olive Hills” was hugely successful, producing 4000 gallons of liquid gold in the harvest of 1870, the highest return of any property in the Gorramadda district that year. Hugh Fraser was an innovator, causing “Olive Hills” to be one of the first wineries in the area to have a winepress, instead of using the traditional foot stomping method, pumping out impressive quantities of the like of Verdelho, Arcarot, Riesling and Hermitage.
With 25 acres of his property planted in vines, Fraser matured his wine on site and provided 2 cellars for the purpose. One, a brick building with a thatched roof, gave 4000 gallons of storage. The other, also a large brick building, had a galvanised roof accompanied by brick stillhouse and blacksmith. Hugh Fraser employed Chinese workers to tend his vineyards and found their labours rewarding, as could be seen by the success of his harvests. With such returns and increasing wealth, Hugh began to create one of the largest stations in the area at the time, complete with elegant mansion. With the purchase of two nearby properties, “Olive Hills” more than doubled in size from 1000 acres to 2250acres, and the construction of the fine homestead was begun.
It was completed in 1886, the walls a ruddy red brick a full 18 inches thick. With galvanised roof and cast iron guttering, the cypress timber ceiling frame has been well protected from the elements for the duration of it’s 116 year life span. Hugh Fraser had his 60 squares of living space adorned and furnished in high style by Melbourne craftsmen, Robinson and Moffett. 20 squares of that living space is found underground, with four large rooms providing a cool retreat for the Fraser family. These cellar rooms boasted marble mantle pieces and big oak doors, in unison with the above ground rooms. With a temperature in the rooms varying little from around 17 degrees, the Fraser family were quite able to endure the dreadfully heated Australian summers, cool in the cellars of “Olive Hills”.

Across the roadway, another brand new mansion was beginning construction at the time of “Olive Hills” completion. The creation of “Fairfield”, an imposing two storied country manor, gave fuel to rumours that a great rivalry existed between the two properties. To add to this speculation, a visit from a prominent parliamentary dignitary was expected in the Rutherglen district at the time. Where else should he choose to stay the night but “Olive Hills” or “Fairfield”, for no other houses in the area were quite so fine. But which home was it to be? Preparations were energetically made by both parties, each hoping that the Governor would be suitably impressed and choose to honour their home with his presence. At “Olive Hills” preparations included the installation of a septic system. Alas, it was to no avail, for the Governor, although he dined at the table of Hugh Fraser, instead spent the night across the road at the newly finished “Fairfield”. It is this incident that has kept the legend of rivalry alive to this day.

The Frasers were an accomplished family. One daughter in particular filled the house with her talent and ability. Already a wonderful local artist at 18, she enriched the doors and walls of her home with lovely paintings and decorative motifs, the homestead blossoming with a certain womanly grace through her artists brush.
At last Olive Hills was complete, but Hugh Fraser was only to enjoy it for a mere 10 years, for in 1897 financial disaster arrived on his doorstep, and with the crash of 1890’s, Hugh found that he had no choice but to sell up. Away went all his furnishings and fine fittings, and it was said that at the time Hugh Fraser was fortunate to have walked away with the clothes he was wearing. Sadly, Hugh also left behind the graves of his wife and three children, buried in a small private cemetery on the property.
Two of Hughs sons drowned in a dam on the property, and in memory of his boys, two pencil pines were planted, still growing tall today in the “graveyard paddock”. Coincidence or not, these beautiful trees are only visible from one window in the house, that of the master bedroom. In later years, the graves of the private cemetery were exhumed and re-buried in Wangaratta, the little “Olive Hills”cemetary now no longer in existence

Hector McKenzie came to “Olive Hills” in 1898 with his own grief still fresh. Born in Canada, Hector had been working as a contractor on public works and railways for a number of years in New Zealand when he made the move to Australia. With his wife and 8 sons he set sail, the land of the long white cloud was no sooner out of sight than this wife was washed overboard and drowned. And so it was that the 9 McKenzie men came to “Olive Hills” and began anew the life of farming wheat, oats, lucerne, cattle and vines. Despite their loss, the men threw themselves into this new farming venture, improving and extending “Olive Hills” capabilities. According the Indigo Shire Heritage Study, the fantastic brick tower on the homestead was added in 1898, making the McKenzie boys the powers behind this improvement, obviously as keen to be impressive as the original creator of their home.
Coming on the heels of the McKenzie ownership was Mr Richard Knight, a notable Rutherglen identity. Mr Knight lived simply and for many years alone, existing in but one or two rooms of the homestead. Upon his passing away, the property was sold to a Melbourne hotelier who held the keys to Olive Hills for approximately 10 years, visiting rarely. Needless to say, the lack of attention for so many barren years saw the homestead become dreadfully unkempt and scruffy. The leakage of the tower causing three feet of water to build up in the basement rooms for a start, and a number of outbuildings had also been knocked down, with little or no regard for their historical value. It seemed that Olive Hills love affair with country grandeur had reached its end.
In 1997, Kay and Ross Perry were not really looking for a new home. However, one day Kay found an advertisement for the sale of Olive Hills in the local newspaper, and when she informed Ross, who knew of the property, his heart leapt ! They simply had to inspect the home and gauge it’s potential. At first look Kay thought the house dirty and dreadful, but Ross was besotted ! A former carpenter, he could visualise the potential and see the structural soundness of the well built home. They decided to go to the auction , arranging for their accountant to bid for them. Ross and Kay set their price and let the accountant go to work. He would not even look their way as the auction progressed, but eventually, the Perrys found that they had won the day – Olive Hills was theirs ! And now the hard work could really begin.

The Perrys, owners of Valentines bakeries in Albury-Wodonga and Wagga Wagga, with a fresh approach to winery sales, hope to unite their ability in the kitchen with their love for wine by the addition of a bakehouse. Their 480acres of glorious property is well suited to the winery tours so popular in Rutherglen, and they hope to open their winery and bakehouse to the general public in 2003.

With three vibrant children, Harry Joseph and Matilda, the household is alive. The footprint of youth can be found everywhere, and Ross and Kay are unabashed about making their house a home of warm family love. Rooms are full of family photographs and the captivating artistry of children's paintings. The kitchen, relieved of its former ugly green lino, has been renovated to create the cosy hub of family life. Kay has seen to it that the perfect degree of sentiment has been infused into the kitchen. Each family member was asked to list three of their favourite things and a local artist was commissioned to create tiles to represent each item. Everything from Wilma the dog to a glass of wine is colourfully denoted on the tiles that are definitely the talking point of both kitchen and pantry.
Each room is elegant, and in the bathroom the exquisite nature of Ross and Kay’s d├ęcor is felt as much as any other room. A photograph of Ross’ great Aunt hangs on the wall, every inch a silver screen movie star look alike. And inscribed about the edges of the bathroom sink, set suitably in a dramatic old sideboard, reads the story of the tulip….
“Once upon a time a youth was enamoured of a beautiful girl. When word reached him that his beloved had died, mounting his horse, he galloped off the edge of a rocky escarpment, meeting death instantaneously. As blood seeped from his wounds, bright red tulips sprang up all around. Thus the tulip became a deceleration of love. A tulip offered by a young man to his beloved says “as the redness of this flower, I am on fire with love”.”

Out in the sparkling sunshine, Harry, Joseph and Matilda splash all day long in a Mediterranean style in ground swimming pool, filled with Murray water. It is a recent addition for the purpose of keeping cool and having fun ! And for out of the water good times, the discovery by Ross, of horse and moose swings made of old tyres at a Sydney trade fair now provides perfect entertainment. They rock and lollop under the strong branches of a gnarled old fig.
In the “Olive Hills” garden, practical meets romance. Celery grows alongside of lavender, Chinese mint with standard iceberg roses, beetroot and strawberries mingle while butterflies find delight in each and every plant. Like so many aspects of the stately yet strangely rustic home, the garden is undergoing a much-needed upgrade with the classic touch of the Perry family.

Undaunted by the state their home was in when they purchased it, the restoration work was enthusiastically begun. Trenches were dug to allow for better drainage, re-plumbing and re-wiring took place, the leakage into the basement was stopped and the rooms cleaned up. The children soon found that the cellar’s concrete floors were ideal for rollerblading, but now that they are carpeted, these rooms provide excellent bedrooms and the space for a world of their own. Iron lace between the front steps provides ample natural light through to the downstairs rooms, and the 4 cellar bedrooms are far from gloomy.

Throughout the home Ross and Kay have been very particular about having things as historically accurate as possible. Ceiling roses that required replacement have been identically matched. Original larth and plaster has been retained, and the dinning room mantle piece that had been damaged, was restored and polished. All hand painted wall decorations, courtesy of the young Miss Fraser 100 years ago, have been maintained and indeed are a favourite showpiece. With great skill they have turned the once run down Olive Hills homestead into a tasteful dedication to youthful beauty.
There is no doubting that the Perry family’s warmth enhances every detail in their home. Exuberance and laughter of children, rustic charm of a country veranda bathed in Murray River sunshine, the welcome smile of Ross and Kay and the winsomeness of Wilma’s brown Labrador eyes – Olive Hills is a glorious work in progress, proof that life in on the Murray River is never ever stagnant.

** All photographs used in this article are by the incomparable Brooke Orchard at Brooke Orchard Photography - check out her highly awarded and nationally acclaimed talent !!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Microwave Tips and Tricks...

Well, ok, I know they never had microwaves in the 1950's, so what on earth is this post doing on my blog? Let me just say that throughout my blog I am aiming to recreate the simplicity of the mid century lives my grandmothers lived, as well as aesthetics of the era. If there was something around that made their careers as homemakers more efficient, more effective and less hard work, they would have been onto it !!!

I remember Grandma Jean working over an old fashioned wringer 'washing machine' on washday, cooking scrumptious dishes on a woodfired stove, sewing clothing on her treadle singer sewing machine, and preserving an abundance of fruit from the orchard with her Fowlers kit.

Nanna Alice enjoyed doing her housework to music on her hi-fi system, polished her linoleum floor with a vacuum like floor polishing machine, and had a beautiful collection of photographs of her life that she had taken on her box brownie.

They weren't always after the latest fad invention, they cared for their appliances etc and made them last a lifetime.....but a wringer washing machine was worlds apart from a washboard and tub; a hi-fi system to enjoy made housework so much more pleasant; a singer sewing machine was far more effective than hand stitching everything. And today, a microwave can help make your life as a home-maker (in full time capacity or otherwise!) much more effective too.......let me share with you some clever ways how:

Poached eggs:

I love to cook my eggs this way - it is so quick and leaves practically no mess to clean up at all. Simply crack two eggs into a mug with a drip of water (really, you hardly need any water at all). Pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds. Let sit in the microwave for 10 seconds, and heat again for 30 seconds. When you remove your eggs should be poached to perfection.....you can increase or decrease the time of the second heating session depending on how runny you like your yolks. *** The reason for the two heating sessions is to prevent the egg from over heating all at once and splattering all over the microwave.

5 Minute Chocolate Mug Cake:

Friends dropped in for afternoon tea unexpectedly and you have nothing to eat with your plunger coffee? Quickly pop

4 Tbspoons plain flour
4 Tbspoons sugar
2 Tbspoons cocoa
 in a mug and mix well.


1 Egg and mix

Pour in and mix

3 Tbspoons milk
3 Tbspoons Oil or melted butter
Splash vanilla extract

you can add 3 Tbspoons choc chips if you have them too !!

Wack in the microwave for 3 mins on high. The cake will rise up above the top of the mug, but don't be alarmed. Once done, let it cool, tip onto a plate and eat on its own - or with cream or ice cream, or even raspberry sauce if you are lucky enough to have some in the pantry !!

Drying Herbs:

You can dry your own herbs in a microwave - think of the thrill of creating your own herbal teas strait from your garden ! Pick your fresh herbs and make sure there is no moisture on them (it will cook the herbs rather than dry them). Place them in between some paper towel to make sure. Place them in between the paper towel in the microwave and cook on high for 2 mins. Tah dah !! herbs for cooking and herbal teas in an instant !

Potato Chip Revitalisation !! :

Refresh stale potato chips by putting them on a plate for 30 seconds, then let stand for about one minute. You can also do this for soggy peanuts.

Ripen an Avocado:

Microwave avocado on Medium (50%) for 2 minutes. Turn over, microwave 1 minute more.

Increase your lemon juice:

Want to get the most juice from fresh lemons? Before squeezing fresh lemons, warm them in the microwave oven for about 40 seconds. You’ll get twice as much juice from each and every lemon.

Rain Soaked Newspaper:

It’s almost impossible to read a rain soaked newspaper. Don’t throw it away. Heat it on a low setting until it’s dry and once again readable.

Unused Stamps:

Everyone has at one time or another placed a postage stamp on an envelope only to decide later not to send it. Simply place a couple drops of water on the stamp, and microwave it for about 20 seconds. The stamp will come off easily.
No Cry Onions:

If you love to cook with onions but you don’t want to cry, trim off the ends, and heat them on full power for about 30 seconds. With these tips and tricks, chopping will be a tear free experience

** Some of these tips are courtesy of Associated Content

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Music of the Moment - The Jive Aces

Have you seen this wonderful film clip and song? It is doing the rounds of youtube, facebook etc at the moment in preperation for the single's release in May.....if you haven't yet caught it, take a peek at it now (click on the picture below).....I hope you are inspired as I was when I heard it...my feet couldn't stay still !!! My only negative comment is that I could do without matching poodle skirted rock n roll dancers (Hmmnnnn) But for more about "the UK's no.1 jive and swing band" check out their homepage here.......

I have pretty much decided that with the colder months now upon us in Australia, red hair seems to be the most dramatically warm way to go....and keep your eye out for the stunning redhead in this clip......me thinks that is the look I will be aiming for !! But more on that at a later date.......

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A visit to Sunnymeade

A couple of weekends ago I visited the most exquisite garden imaginable.....Sunnymeade in Euroa, Victoria. It was a brilliant Autumn day and I donned one of my most comfortable and prettiest dresses for the occasion and set off for the three hour trip. It was well worth the effort for the inspiration and peace the outing gave me. The garden was pretty as a picture, as you can see from the many photographs below, and Euroa offered scrumptious coffee and cake at the end of the journey. Plus, the drive gave me ample time to dream and imagine, especially on my way home as I conjured up visions of my own 'dream garden' that I someday hope to establish and see grow in beauty and gracefulness.....much the same as Craig has done with 25 year old Sunnymeade. A former chef, Craig decided to turn his hand to his greatest passion - his garden - and crafted Sunnymeade as his full time job, and pride and joy. It runs now as a bed and breakfast, as well as conducting bi-annual open gardens each year. The garden itself continues to be a work in progress ( as all 'good' gardens should be) as Craig tweaks and refines things here and there, and expands upon the already impressive 4 acres with new ideas and concepts. Sunnymead is well worth a visit for inspiration, but also for an uplifting dose of calm and tranquility....it's formal design and immaculate execution thoroughly deserving of it's innumerable garden awards........As for me, I could have sat on the hedged circular lawn in the sunshine all afternoon with a cup of chai tea in hand and drifted off to fantasy land.....complete and perfect happiness!

A fabric sample of my pretty dress above.....

(This dress was the first 50's inspired sundress I made in my post childbearing desire to always dress beautifully mid century vintage. It is therefore just a tad roomy and wonderfully comfortable as well as pretty to wear - and the cotton fabric is an absolute dream !!)

The gatehouse entrance

Aztec inspired wall

Moroccan inspired garden

Millennium clock

Egyptian inspiration for clematis garden

  And might I add, that Sunnymead is the first time I have seen an espaliered apple walk (such as is found in the movie "Emma" - see photograph below) in the flesh. Ever since I first saw the movie I have wanted to try one of these myself.....imagine the blossom in spring !!! One day, in my dream garden...........

 All stone work and masonry was built by the owner and designer, Craig....hasn't he done an incredible job !?

I loved the hot colours in this bed and contrast of the purple leaves - so dramatic and simply eye catching!

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