Friday, November 30, 2012

Homesteads of the Murray - Cobram Homestead

My lovely readers, as you enjoy this story, please keep in mind that this book was written over 10 years ago by a very neive, romantic and history loving 20ish year old, intent upon capturing and preserving the legends, as well as the architectural heritage, of the homeland area she loved. As such, much of the present day facts have altered - for example, Cobram Estate Olive Oil is now very sucessful and widely recognised, but at the time this was written, was only just getting its start - and the language and writing style used are the simple, uneducated musings of myself, aged 20ish. Hoping you enjoy just the same - and again, biggest thanks to the lovely Brooke Orchard for the photographs from so long ago !

 Cobram Homestead

In 1854, the banks of the river Murray were still and quite with the occasional tribe of natives the only human inhabitants. Wrens and Kingfishers flourished in the riverlands, inquisitive grey kangaroos and wide-eyed possums enjoyed the plentiful food amidst tall trees and grasses.
Little wonder that the sight of a paddlesteamer – the “Lady Augusta” – held small cause for concern and much cause for intrigue when it chuffed it’s way through the region. How could anyone living on the river banks then have known that the coming of white man would bring so many changes?
The “Lady Augusta”, with her load of passengers, was the first of the riverboats to pass through the Cobram-Barooga Forests, steaming it’s way upstream from Echuca. Yet there was one person who had beaten them to this area of natural abundance. Octavious Phillpotts, son of the Bishop of Exeter, owned the vast cattle station of Cobram.

Stretching along the Victorian side of the muddy waters, Octavious had been overseeing the 128,640 acres of Cobram Station since 1845. He had drawn the name Cobram from his Koori friends along the riverside, a friendly tribe whom he had come to know well during his 19 years of occupancy. However, by 1864, for reasons undocumented, Phillpotts decided to draw a close to his involvement in early Australian “squatacracy” at Cobram. Selling his station, complete with coach house, stables and quaint colonial timber homestead, he left the breathtaking river views and moved on.
It wasn’t until 1880, 16 years later, that Cobram was purchased by a family who would begin to turn the station and it’s homestead into a magnificent property of local repute. For 26 years, Hugh Dick battled the floods and droughts and economic crashes that coloured Australia’s agricultural industry in the late 1800’s, as he built up Cobram Station.
Following the economic strains brought on by drought and depression in the 1890’s, life took a prosperous turn for the Dick family on Cobram Station. The Dick family had held onto their property when many around them were going bust, and as such, it was now time to build for the future. 
In 1906 Hugh began work on his fine station homestead. High on a sandhill, the homestead was to overlook the river in three directions, and stretching away to the West, the expanse of his cattle station. With verandahs spanning the house on every side, glorious views of the river, fattened cattle, rivergums and orange orchard were available to every beholder.
The old colonial homestead came tumbling down to make way for the grandly proportioned federation home. 250,000 bricks were used in the house, all kilned on the property. Cobram was a spacious 90 squares, with its 13 rooms constructed of baltic pine, red gum and murray pine. Each of the main rooms, from the elaborate dinning room to the simpler children’s bedrooms, held beautifully carved fireplaces, 7 in total, and Wunderlich ceilings. The welcoming foyer greeted guests with its leadlight doorway and tiled floor design extending from the edge of the verandah, right into the house and winding up under a marvellous cedar fretwork archway. Gas lightfittings kept the homelights burning brightly out across the glimmering river on many an evening.
Hugh Dick quite obviously desired a home that would suit his family, and a garden that would honour his wife whom he loved deeply. Set out in the driveway is a heart shaped carriageway. Brimming with roses and set off with healthy date palms, the inner lawn of Hugh’s love heart garden is a sweet momento of his devotion. Elsewhere, the grounds were filled with stately trees – magnolias, figs, locust, palms and peppercorns. A gardener was employed to tend the flower beds and roses, while Hugh Dick implemented the watering of his grounds from the river through irrigation.
For 110 years the Dick family held Cobram Station, 84 years of which was lived out in the elegant homestead. However, with the passing of time, so to goes the passing on of land.
In 1990 Cobram change hands, and was run as a bed and breakfast hosting such notables as Julie Anthony, a former Governor, and the band Midnight Oil. However, 6 years later, wanting a change in life direction, the host and hostess had Cobram again up for sale.

A wise stock and station agent sent Melbourne engineer, Ken Dugan, a brochure for the sale of Cobram in 1996. At first Ken wondered what he could possibly do with a river property, but decided to drive up from Melbourne and have a look none the less. At the sight of the peppercorns at the front gate, Ken was hooked, their weeping branches reminding him of childhood farm visits. The river view and date palm trees totally won him over – there was no tuning back, Cobram was sold.


Discovering that Cobram’s soil and environmental conditions were perfect for olives, the Dugans put their hands to the proverbial plough and never looked back. Four years later, and the thousands of Tuscan olive trees were ready for their first harvest. 30 tonnes of “Murray River Olives” were harvested in the first season of production at Cobram, netting 6000 litres of precious oil. Ken and his wife, Joan, have a discerning desire for their oil to become something that everyone can buy, rather than boutique olive oil. And with a touch of lovely sentiment, Ken, Joan and each of their 5 children and all of their 11 grandchildren have an olive row named in their honour, each producing their own fruit flavoured oil consistent with the orchard environment of the surrounding farm land at Cobram.

The Dugans have been hard at work in their new home as well as on the land. The old scullery, laundry and kitchen have been transformed into one spacious, sunny kitchen with superb views of deck, garden and river beyond. Out on the deck, which is constructed on the foundations of an old water tank, one can look out to an island in the river which makes up part of the station land. A large forested area, accessible by bridge or even by dry crossing in times of drought, it was used for cattle grazing in days of yore, but nowadays it hosts campers and fishermen keen for relaxation on the river.
Surrounding the homestead stand some remnant  out buildings, reminders of an almost closed portion of history. The Cobram carriage house stands as solid as the day it was built in the early 1850’s. It’s shingle roof has been covered with corrugated iron, but the shingles can still be seen from inside the musty building. With a reputation for housing black snakes, which Ken assures visitors usually “nick off” when people arrive, the carriage house still shelters a hay wagon. A fairly modern looking item, it is occasionally harnessed to George, a mighty 16 year old Sulfolk Punch

When the Dugans arrived at Cobram, they discovered a rickety old hut, which, unlike the carriage house, fell over with one little push. Long before the federation homestead was built, the Dick family employed a man for the simple task of hunting rabbits on Cobram. He lived by the rolling river in an old tent. Kind heartedly, Hugh Dick had a hut built for him, in which to rest his weary bones. The rabbit mans shack, like the necessity for the rabbit man himself, did not see out the ticking over of a new millenium.
Deep in a shadowy corner of the Cobram garden is what the Dugan grandchildren affectionately call the “fairy garden”. Happy hours are spent in the fairy garden, where the children play under the all seeing eye of a chirpy looking gnome. The magic of a fairy spell is almost woven by the well known verse he watches over on a stone tablet…
“The kiss of the sun for pardon,

The song of the birds for mirth


One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth”
The simple little verse aptly sums up the feel of Cobram Homestead with it’s mirthful birds and sunny corners. Essentially it has changed little, despite the planting of olive groves and New Zealand willows flickering in the breezes either side of the sandy drive. It remains harmonious and graceful, still pulsating with the wildlife that first watched the Lady Augusta paddlesteamer sail past all those years ago. Then, the picture of Cobram was serenely peaceful in its simple bushland. Today, when the orange grove comes alive on a dusky summer’s eve, with sprinklers bursting, blowing prisms of water everywhere through mellow sunlight, Cobram is still the embodiment of the serene peace of an Australian country homestead.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A little secret.....

Can I share a little secret with you? I LOVE Barbie Dolls......OK that may not come as such a surprise, but I thought I would share my love of pop culture and this classic mid century doll with you......
Firstly, if anyone can tell me the name of the Barbie pictured above and where I might get hold of her I will be eternally in your debt. Also, I am so curious to know what other dolls appear in this picture and of course to see the overall image itself............
Below is a photograph of my collection of dolls as it stands right now.....I have many plans to continue to add to this, so I guess one of the best investments I could make would be to obtain a cabinet to house them all in - I am running out of room in my walk in robe - and they are so beautiful they should be on display !!!!

My collection at the moment......

Coming additions (I hope ! But over many years of course, not all at once !)..........


I loved Barbies as a child and spent hours making them beautiful clothes to wear (now I just make the clothes for myself instead), but my adult love for the dolls can be attributed to a birthday gift from my friends Lisa, Catherine and Mel about 3 years ago, when I received the anniversary 1959 doll.....look at what you have started girls !! With much gratitude I blame you three for the rekindling of my Barbie love !!!!

Quote of the month - October 2012

I recently saw this quote on the facebook page of one of my favourite movies, The Shawshank Redemption, and it struck a chord with where I have been at lately. Although I am far from being falsly imprisoned, the polar opposite ebb and flow of fear and hope in my life has been very real. It is my wish to be more like Andy Dufresne and live a life of hope no matter the circumstances I am in.....

"Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free."

And now I am off to inspire myself by watching the film again........and knowing hope has the victory in the end makes it so much more endurable  - I am willing the same to one day be said of my life!!!
Night everyone !

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Backroads Trail.....

Can you tell that I really REALLY love the community I live in? I am totally the history lover, I seek to promote all that is aesthetically wonderful about mid century design and the subcultures associated with it, but one of the initial motivations for this blog was to honour my Grandmothers (Alice and Jean) and their lives here in the 'Golden Rivers Country' of Northern Victoria.
Alice and Jean both lived a large portion of their long lives in this area, participating in the culture and community, caring for their environment and its people, working to make it a more beautiful, happy and connected place to live.....a place they invested in with all that they were, to build a future for their decendants (ME !!) This is why I love living here (and also because the people are so lovely and REAL, and the countryside so distinctive and charming.)
In the light of this, it thrilled me no end to see my area promoted to the masses through the formation of 'The Backroads Trail" a gourmet food tour of this region.....and let me tell you there is lots to love !! Avacados, Free Range Meats, Winery and Meadery, Olives, Honey, Wines, Citrus and and abundance of art and artisan products.  Let me share the brochure with you.......

So, this area is moving ahead dynamically in terms of gourmet and organic production (the sense of bonded community already exists) me all that is needed to see us become a world renowned region is our own distinctive music and artistic culture - just like the Bayous of Louisianna in the USA. I wonder would anyone take up the challange of building that with me? In the meantime, enjoy the tour along The Backroads Trail !

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The plight of rural treasures......

One of the most tragic things about living in rural areas is seeing the decay of our beautiful architectural fabric. Unlike the big cities where there is frequently financial investment in historic buildings of significance, rural people do not possess, generally, the type of wealth required to save iconic landmarks (especially as many of today's wealthy rural landholders etc are absentee owners and not involved in the local communities....but that is another issue altogether....) And unfortunately, it must be said, Rural Development Australia and Rural Development Victoria actually provide little or no assistance to the smaller communities seeking to progress themselves entrepreneurialy or protect their heritage in this manner......the restrictions placed on grant applications make funding available only to the larger provincial centers (think Bendigo or Ballarat), or at a push, Councils with much more vision to invest that many of the poorer Councils in remote areas.

 As such, the result is often communities that give up in despair and resignation. Here is one such sad example (and I usually avoid taking a negative tone on my blog if possible, but this is one of those occasions when my ire has been aroused.)
The Koondrook Hall. A beautiful, Heritage Listed building that has grown increasingly unsound to the point where it has been condemned. Look at these pictures......isnt it beautiful? And right opposite the Murray River in a most idealistic spot too !!! Why did the local council not purchase this building, obtain funding for it's restoration (because according to RDA or RDV the Council are the only ones who can!!! Grrrrr), and then put it to an excellent use.....maybe town halls are not as much in demand these days - but what about renting it out to the community to have a local produce/artisan/gallery/community workshop space with great coffee? What about a restaurant? What about a library? What about an art studio? What about a media space with wi fi? A bean bag cinema? What about an info center? Canoe and pushbike hire centre? Need I go on?????????
I dont know about you, but if I had money to spare, I would buy this place, restore it (even if that ment replicating instead of restoring) and put it to great use in a community that is crying out for all of the above....the potential is enormous, and the lack of vision pathetic. Knocking this stunning old landmark down to be replaced by plastic display boards showing what once stood there is a ludicrous and completely unprogressive step.........but maybe, it is the only option left when governments seek only to appear to help rural communities (with lackluster gestures and inaccessible funding), instead of actually assisting them in practical terms on the ground.
There is, however, still time, if anyone would like to make an offer on this beautiful old gal with the purpose of restoration/replication (it is heritage listed after all), I am sure it would be seriously considered. If so, contact me via this blog........

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Living Doll - Miss November

Living Dolls are mothers, nurses, models, photographers, graphic designers, grandmothers, students, teachers - infact you name it, they come from every walk of life but have this one thing in common - they love and live vintage !
Our stunning Miss November has more than classic vintage looks to her bow - she posesses an intellegence to her pursuit of the vintage lifestyle that is downright is the ever lovely, Miss Jasmine Shae     
What does 'vintage' mean to you?
Vintage is a way of life. It’s the obvious things like clothing, cars, and music, but it’s also the values and history. I love wearing something that I know has a history, that other women have cherished, enjoyed, and passed down. I love knowing that you won't run into another gal with the same dress as you, or walk into a home where they have the same clock or kitchen set. And I love feeling like I am a part of something bigger, and that I am continuing the story of a well-made piece of history, instead of flooding the world with another cheap dress destined for landfill within a year.
What was it that first prompted your interest in vintage culture?
Like most of us in the culture I have always loved old movies and idolise women such as Rita Hayworth, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, and Edwige Fenech. I used to love looking through my nanna’s wardrobe and remember being mesmerised with the glamour of everyday items. She had a hairbrush and mirror set, which, as a 5 year old, I thought was fit for a queen. The silver inlay and brocade pattern was like nothing I had ever seen. She died when I was 9; I inherited the set and it became my most prized possession. To this day I often think of her when I’m vintage shopping and wonder whether she would have liked this dress or that hat.

What is your favourite era, and do you 'live it' every day? In what ways?
In my younger years, however, I was a punk kid. I died my hair every colour under the sun and immersed myself in the clothing, music, and ideology of the era. Over the years the punk music was joined by psychobilly, rockabilly, and even some country (gasp!) When I turned 21 I had an overwhelming urge to wear dresses and so my trips to op shops became less about tartan skirts and leather jackets and more about vintage dresses and brooches, and I started to care when I had a run in my stocking!
I would say my day-to-day clothing is most closely aligned with the 50s (I love interesting patterns, swing skirts, and head scarfs), followed by the 40s for a-line skirts and dresses, and the early 60s for structured wiggle dresses.
I guess I ‘live it’ every day. I wear a mix of vintage and reproduction vintage clothing everyday, have a collection of cats eye frames (the one redeeming factor of wearing glasses!), wear my hair in vintage styles, listen to old music, and drive a Chrysler cruiser (a modern car made to look like a 40s street rod – although I dream of one day owning a 1930s Ford or 1950s Chevy).
Tell us about your favourite item of vintage clothing, kitchenalia, music, furniture or whatever !
That would have to be my vintage brooches. I have at least 50 that I have collected over the years from various vintage fairs, op shops, and online stores through eBay and Etsy. They are a great finish to any outfit and are also practical if you want a bolero, cardigan, or wrap to sit just right.
Can you share with us why vintage culture continues to hold such appeal for you?
One thing I think we can take from the fashion of the 40s and 50s, is that we can dress in a feminine and sexy way, but also remain classy. Now if only men today would get that memo! There is an internet meme making the rounds that says something like “A well tailored suit is to women what lingerie is to men” So true!
I also love the positivity and comradeship of the culture. While woman actually living in the eras we idolise might have had it tough in terms of equality in the home and workplace, the culture now is thriving with confident and vibrant woman who are so supportive of each other. I have made some great friends who are all extremely intelligent, independent, and beautiful woman. And who, most importantly don't judge you for having over 100 pairs of shoes!
Do you have any tips for anyone starting out in the vintage scene?
Don’t worry about what others will think – do what makes you happy. I have met so many woman that say things like “I would love to dress like you do but don’t think it would suit me” and/or “I don't have the confidence to dress that way” Trust me, start wearing vintage and repro vintage and you will instantly feel more confident, confortable, and happy in yourself because you are doing what you want to do. Plus you are guaranteed to get complimented every time you leave the house, which can’t be bad for a woman’s self esteem!
My other piece of advice would be to use the internet. You can learn so much about clothing design and hairstyles of an era and you can find some great bargains on Etsy and eBay if you know what you’re looking for! Then just immerse yourself in the culture. Go to your local vintage fairs and rockabilly events, learn to swing dance, practice hairstyling, and do whatever it is you want to do.
Now is your chance to provide us with an overview of who you are and what you do.
Hopefully the essence of my views and beliefs have come across already, but as to what else I do – I live in Brisbane, Australia with my partner Glen and my two adorable dogs. I’m a psychologist and recently have submitted my PhD, which means soon I’ll be able to make everyone call me Dr! I’m an avid reader and adore science fiction and Australian fantasy. I also love old horror movies and 60s and 70s Giallos, which is good as my partner owns pretty much every decent one that there is. Completely opposite to that I love old fairy tales and Disney animation, especially the films from the 30s to 90s. I love dressing up, especially for Halloween. I used to speak Japanese fluently, now I speak it badly but long to go back there to live in the snow for while. I’ve dabbled in a bit of vintage modelling, for two reasons – so that I can wear some amazing garments, and so that I have the photos to look back on when I’m old and perhaps show my grandkids that I was pretty awesome back in the day. My many pipe dreams include teaching in Japan, living in Europe, designing clothing, owning a vintage boutique, and writing a book.
Finally, what or who inspires you and why?
My nanna – she will always hold a dear place in my heart for igniting my love of vintage.
My mum – she raised my brother and I as a single parent and always pushed us to want more from life and I believe she is responsible for my drive to succeed.
Laura Byrnes, creator of Pinupgirl clothing (one of the repro brands I buy from) - she is inspirational in her passion for what she does and her drive to always innovate and better herself. She grew her company from nothing (her sewing in her lounge room) to being arguably the most popular repro brand around today, and yet she doesn't sit back and rest on her laurels, she is always pushing herself to come up with something different.
Isobelle Carmody – An Australian fantasy author – I grew up reading her books and I think they have affected my views on a lot of things, from treatment of animals and vegetarianism, to prejudice and human rights.
Douglas Adams – his unique and light-hearted view of the world has always stuck with me. It’s hard to take a bleak perspective on things when you share his eyes. His quote “Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” is one of my favourites. It sums up my views perfectly – just try to live in and appreciate each moment.
Joe Strummer (back to my punk roots!) – he has always inspired me to think outside the box and question mainstream views and beliefs and some of his lyrics resonate with me still. Whenever I am unsure of what to do I think “Are you going backwards or are you going forwards?” It’s my life motto.
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