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.

1 comment:

  1. Talk about a nightmare trying to get the fonts to behave in this story.....if anyone tells me that wordpress is easier to use, i am so there !!!!


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