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Banyule Homestead - historical land to be sliced

Banyule Homestead

Historic Banyule Homestead, located in Buckingham Drive, Heidelberg has a Development Application pending (Notice dated 11 May, 2011) to subdivide the land and build a number of townhouses.  Application No. P14284

The Homestead and its grounds as well as the surrounding area of Banyule Flats, are the remaining parts of the Banyule Estate dating from the pre Gold Rush era of the 1840’s. This property is one of a few remaining of its type in the State and of major cultural, environmental and historic significance.

Brief History

Banyule Homestead was built in 1846 for Joseph Hawdon, to a design by Colonial architect John Gill. Heidelberg in the 1840’s was a desirable location for rural retreats of the colonial
gentry. Gill designed several houses in medieval styles but Banyule Homestead is his only known one in the Elizabethan style, which was more common in Sydney than Melbourne at the time.

It was finished by Joseph Hawdon in 1846. Set on 283 hectares (700 acres). It's a mansion almost as old as Melbourne with over 2 hectares of gardens. John Hawdon was an Australian pioneer. Hawdon's villa was replaced with a “handsome Elizabethan mansion known as Banyule”.

Banyule Homestead is predominantly Elizabethan in style with Flemish Gables, pepper pot chimney groups and some Gothic Revival elements. It is one of only a few remaining houses or homesteads of this style and of this era in Victoria.

It had a succession of 20th century owners who made it into a cattle stud, but by 1950s the house had fallen into disuse. Sold 1950 with 275 acres. Mr Stanley Korman developed it for housing. Robert Simpson bought it, only a few acres remained. The house badly needed help. There were birds in the dining room!

1963 Banyule Homestead with about 3 acres of garden was purchased by Mr and Mrs Robert G Simpson as a family home. It was renovated and restored.

The original simplicity was changed to give it a somewhat Gothic character to the building.

Korman Group subdivided and sold a lot of the land.
The house was classified “A” (to be preserved at all costs) by the National Trust of Australia (Victoria).

The homestead should have been given to the City of Banyule as it is part of our heritage. It should have stayed open to the people of Victoria.

It's a mockery of democratic process that this property was sold into private hands after NGV when it was deemed as “surplus” government property. It was offered for sale by the Minister of Finance.

The State Government bought the property from Mr Simpson in 1974 for use as n extension of the National Gallery for $2 million from the State to secure this important collection of painting of the Heritage School of Art.

The council lacked imagination in not buying it in 1994. Lack of business foresight on their part. It was a lost opportunity.

1995. Commissioner Lawrie Jones described the building as being “woven into the architectural fabric” of the area. “I would be very concerned if the homestead was sold and the car-park and surrounding grounds carved up in residential development.” The Banyule municipality was named after the house!

There is a heritage overlay over the property in the Banyule Planning Scheme. The Homestead and its grounds are recognised as being of both State and National significance by Heritage Victoria and the National Trust.

The Council had the money to but homestead but commissioners Julian Stock and Laurie Jones were not in favour of spending it on the property.


(Photo courtesy of Friends of Banyule. The townhouses would be imposed on this view.)

Property's value

It has historical, architectural and aesthetic, tourist and environmental values and should be available for the public, not just for a few. It is part of the fabric of our history.

Walls of handmade brick, it represents an era of gracious living, now largely gone. Melbourne, only a few miles away when it was an infant township.

The property needs to earn a living as no one can afford to keep it.
Some of the features are:

  • Sandstone foundation
  • cedar woodwork
  • two foot thick walls of thin hand-made bricks
  • Roof with massive trusses fitted together without nails – like a ship
  • Wrought-iron keys
  • Shingle roof probably changed to slate.
  • Large cellars
  • Cedar and teak timber for ceiling, rafters, doors and floors imported from England
  • 16 rooms

Application for Subdivision
The application for subdivision would in our view, seriously diminish the heritage integrity of the listed property including its historic site, as a whole. Its grounds and setting, being an integral part of it.

With a substantial portion of its grounds gone and with three two storey, contemporary town houses in close proximity, its setting would be materially altered and diminished in a significant way. There is no on going “reasonable economic use” involved here;

With all the profits from property taxes, stamp duty, and income from property development, it's pure hypocrisy that a stately old and such an important building as this isn't funded and cared for adequately. With respect for indigenous people already gone, it's clear that our Colonial history is not of much value either. Without the nimbys, there would be no checks to the land grabs for developments, and they would have the freedom to use our suburbs for their own greed and profits.

The application is presently being accessed by Heritage Victoria.
Minister for Planning, Mr Matthew Guy
matthew.guy@parliament.vic.gov.au

Level 7
1 Spring Street
Melbourne
Victoria, 3000

Heritage Victoria
Department of Planning and Community Development
1 Spring Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
(GPO Box 2392, Melbourne VIC 3001)
Level 9, 8 Nicholson Street
East Melbourne VIC 3002
(PO Box 500 East Melbourne, East Melbourne VIC 3002)

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Comments

Melbourne's green wedges are under attack. With growing obesity, Melbourne's spreading suburbs was obviously not sustainable, as done by our former Brumby government. The financial and environmental costs are considerable, and the short-term cash grabs didn't carry over and cover long term spending. The Liberals promised to stop the sprawl, but now they are forcing higher density living and cancerous inroads on our "green lungs" of Melbourne! Every "vacant" piece of land is available for more developments - even heritage land like this one! Where will it end? The parasitic disease spreading over our cities and destroying their liveability is a reliance on population growth to maintain our economic health - but it's basically fatalistic. We should learn from Greece and their economic woes. Economic reliance on secondary industries, being overtaken by cheaper imports, cannot sustain modern living standard of Europe. This has happened in the UK too. Without our mining resources, Australia would be struggling financially. Population growth and property investment can't be maintained in the long run. It's all short-term and fatalistic. With foreign mining companies and foreign governments buying up our land, we are being sold off by Treasury - due to being bankrupt of ideas.
Our heritage should not be for sale, and flogging off land to the highest bidder must stop before we become foreign owned, our food producing land has gone, and our heritage and history covered by generic high-density housing.

Re: Photo courtesy of Friends of Banyule. "The townhouses would be imposed on this view."

No, they would not. See page 16 of the Statement of Heritage Impact, specifically the part where it says:

"Given the limited views to the homestead from the public areas of the [Banyule Flats] reserve, and the generous separation of the proposed dwellings from the main historic residence, it is considered that the introduction of the proposed dwellings will not further impact on existing views, or dominate the homestead in these views from the east."

Contrary to what your article seems to suggest, a large portion of the money that will come from "all the profits from property taxes, stamp duty, and income from property development" will be put aside to ensure that the Homestead will be "funded and cared for adequately", as outlined on page 15 of the Statement of Heritage Impact:

"A sum of $300,000 will be set aside to undertake the conservation and repair works..."

For those interested in reading it, the Statement of Heritage Impact for the proposed subdivision and development of new lots
at Banyule Homestead can be found here: http://www.dpcd.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/62495/Heritage-Impact-Statement.pdf

This whole thing is not as bad as most people seem to think, and as a long time admirer of the Homestead I'm rather saddened by how quickly people criticize yet another plan to restore it. The last time was around 16 years ago, when the Banyule Council offered the private owner a substantial grant to restore the house, on the condition that the grounds be open to the public. This move was met by massive public backlash, with many residents voicing outrage in the local paper and sarcastically remarking how they too would be happy to open their houses up for that kind of money. It is no wonder the offer quickly disappeared and was forgotten about, with both the private owner and the Banyule Council under fire for daring to even consider such a thing.

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 countless times in arguing this point, no government will do this either. A house, even a heritage homestead, is just a building, and as such it cannot heal over time. Anybody 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; your website is called 'can do better', but can you actually come up with a viable and legal alternative that has not already been tried and failed?

"...it is considered that the introduction of the proposed dwellings will not further impact on existing views"!
What sort of generalisation is this? A double storey building will not be seen? It will be seen from the walking track, as in the photo. How would hide it?

The $300,000 over 10 years would not nearly be enough to restore the homestead. It's just tokenism.
The development will mean it is never available for public use again as the car parking will be compromised, as well as the resident's privacy. The building should never have been sold to private owners.

"A house, even a heritage homestead, is just a building, and as such it cannot heal over time..." For many people, our heritage is precious and under threat from many sources. There is no reason for this development. The only people who gain will be the owners, and the rest of the community, and our history, will be locked away forever. The "development" and growth-frenzy is over-riding Melbourne's past, and our developer-friendly government policies give them preference of the majority objectors.

A mistake was made in the past by having this building put up for public auction. This can't be undone, unfortunately, but at least it should be protected from opportunism and further compromise to the integrity of the whole property. The real solution would be compulsory acquisition, but it probably can't be legally justified. If the present owners can't afford its upkeep, they should sell it and it should pass into public hands once more.

"What sort of generalisation is this? A double storey building will not be seen? It will be seen from the walking track, as in the photo. How would hide it?"

What are you talking about? The photo proves nothing, aside from the fact that you can see most of the Banyule Homestead from the parklands. Do you have any idea how big the block of land is, how big those trees in your picture are, how steep it slopes or even where they're planning to build the townhouses? This is what I meant when I said check your facts, you're making far bigger generalisations than I without even bothering to research the other side of this issue. At least I can point to a written document (which details that the Heritage Council will be intimately involved in every stage of this development, and will be ensuring that the view in your picture is protected) to back my beliefs up, where is your proof that the townhouses will be visible from the parklands?

"The $300,000 over 10 years would not nearly be enough to restore the homestead. It's just tokenism."

Again, beyond your own speculation, do you have proof of this? Do you have any actual figures of how much it will cost to restore the Banyule Homestead?

Regardless, even if it is tokenism, it's the biggest 'token' that the Homestead has seen in decades. Far better than any level of government or members of the community, such as yourself, are willing to offer.

All that aside, the main point of my last comment was that even if you can dismiss my points like this, they are still points that you must dismiss in the first place. To omit them entirely from your article makes you seem like you are simply twisting the story to suit your own agenda.

Your 'real' solution makes a mockery of our legal system that only suits your present needs - I challenged you to come up with a legal and viable alternative, and you even note that it's not legal yourself, so why bother mentioning it in the first place? It's the typical frustrated response from somebody who does not like the idea of something but cannot come up with an actual solution, and I've seen it so many times it's almost scary. If a government is allowed to seize private property 'for it's own protection', where do we draw the line? Having very close friends who've migrated here from China, where you cannot own property (it is all owned and leased by the government) and even if you've leased it your home can be seized at any time and for any reason, I have no desire to see our government take even the slightest step in this direction, and neither should you.

As for your far more reasonable solution (comparatively speaking), as has been noted numerous times throughout its more recent history, regardless of what they say, neither the state government nor the local council are interested in paying any money for Banyule Homestead. I've heard from several sources that when the property was put to auction by the state government the local council insisted that they would need money to restore it (ie: that the state government would need to pay them to take it off their hands) and refused to pay anything for it! I'd wager that even if you pressed them on this issue now, both the state and local governments would refuse to make any commitment to buy the Homestead for any price.

That aside, even if they were to somehow obtain Banyule Homestead, it's also important to keep in mind that it was the state and council governments that allowed the Homestead to fall into such disrepair in the first place. The Homestead suffered the most in government hands, and they weren't interested in restoring it back then; why would they be interested now?

What really appalls me though, and the reason why I push so hard against this issue, is the extreme lack of faith the local community seems to have in the Heritage Council. Nobody seems willing to recognize or acknowledge the fact that the Heritage Council, the very people who know the most about the Banyule Homestead, the same people who's job it is to ensure that buildings like the Banyule Homestead are not ruined by development, will be involved in every step of this development. Nothing will happen without their okay, and so I feel that if they, remembering that they are experts on heritage, are willing to give it their okay, then I believe that it is worth supporting.

What people seem to be asking for is for some magical benevolent force to fly in and save the Homestead with a never-ending supply of money, but what I am asking these people to do is, if you do not like the idea of development at Banyule Homestead, to come up with a real alternative solution, which you do not seem to have. I'll ask again, but will not hold my breath waiting for a response: can you actually come up with a viable and legal alternative that has not already been tried and failed?

The owner of the property plays golf with Ted Baillieu, and also Matthew Guy. The result of this appeal will tell us a lot about just how transparent our government is, and how far favours between friends go.

Lukekul,

There is apparently a never-ending supply of money (taxpayers money) to support development against peoples' wills and ridiculous scales of immigration. Development does not pay for itself.

If population-growth-induced inflation on land prices were reduced, the cost of living would plummet and no-one would have to work harder and harder for so-called productivity improvements, because costs of doing business would be radically reduced.

The cost of preserving a homestead is tiny compared to the cost of subsidising first home buying (for immigrants and locals), or of building tunnels and tollways that no-one wants and for which the need is induced by government policy to service parasitic developments.

"....building tunnels and tollways that no-one wants and for which the need is induced by government policy to service parasitic developments". Exactly, the State government prioritises its spending to enable more growth, and thus public transport and libraries get a low priority. Freeways and arterial road infrastructure serves for further growth, and ongoing distribution of goods and services that feeds off it. A historic homestead is even further down their list, along with native animals, old growth forests and our heritage.

Instead of Planning being about creating and ensuring a more liveable Melbourne, it has become a euphemism to over-ride democratic rights and processes and force the public to accept more "developments" whether they want it or not!

Our State government doesn't lack money - it's their growth-based priorities that mean we have "shortages" of funds for where the public need them.

Unfortunately nothing will ever change. Things will go from bad to worse with continued loss of our native wildlife, old growth forests and destruction of our living standards....and we are paying the government to do this for us as we continue to be good honest citizens that never question nanny government why they blatantly rip us off with their stupid carbon taxes, stamp duties and all the other daft taxes they impose on us...and they keep adding more taxes because they can..

Editorial comment: Whilst candobetter can understand why so many, who want to protect our natural beauty, currently feel so driven to despair, we must nevertheless place on the record that candobetter does not share the pessimism expressed in this post. If those, who care for the future, voice their concerns through channels like candobetter.net and take political action, we think it is possible to remove the influence that selfish greedy vested interests are now undemocratically imposing on the rest of society and build a better future. It is essential that the influence of greedy vested interests be challenged everywhere that it is now wielded including at every level of government -- local, state and federal. If you know of a candidate who wants to protect our natural beauty from greedy vested interests who is standing for office, please support him/her and let candobetter readers know. if you don't know of any such candidate standing in your area, please consider standing yourself. We at candobetter will do all that we possibly can to support you.

Heritage Victoria have just handed down a decision on the previously reported application for subdivision of the heritage listed Banyule House (c 1845), and for the construction of contemporary town houses in its grounds.

It's a sad day for the Heidelberg area, and sets a poor precedent for further inappropriate developments that overlay our history.

The Council are yet to approve, but they will come under very heavy pressure from the State government to comply.

The "development" frenzy in Victoria is indicative of lack of innovation and ideas from our political leaders. They, under the smoke-screen of Victoria's chronic housing shortage, continue to allow all sorts of building permits and inappropriate developments - contrary to public opinion and submissions. Democratic principles continue to be rough-shod and over-ridden so that developers are assured of success.

The housing shortage won't be fixed while we have a Ponzi-economy based on ongoing and perpetual population growth. It just shifts the home-owning potential downwards, while the well-heeled are rewarded.

The heritage value of the property will be tarnished forever. Any plans to re-open it for the public, who should have access to it, will be compromised. Joseph Hawdon's home, and his pioneer status, will be lost in history and to future generations in our fragmented society.

Heritage matters little to this Baillieu State government. Incredible that "Heritage" Victoria should make the decision to allow this development on a heritage and significant historical property! It's a sad irony.

Firstly, I'd like to posit that the anonymous respondent "Lukekul" may well have a vested interest in the proposed residential development abutting the Banyule House estate. Unless this individual is prepared to name him or her self, then one should consider the intent or veracity of their comments from a skeptical viewpoint.

Living in Frankston, I've been following locally a similar saga to that of Banyule. A heritage-listed property in Frankston South has suffered a similar defilement to that which is confronting Banyule. I refer to "Westerfield" in Robinsons Road, a house designed by the Melbourne architect Harold Desbrowe Annear in the so-called "Arts and Crafts" style, and built on a 45 hectare allotment in 1924. Surrounding the house were terraced lawns, gardens and pergola (also designed by Annear), an orchard and vegetable garden, and a now-demolished timber windmill designed to generate electricity for the house. A large area of natural bushland east of the house was retained.

The Westerfield estate is now on 14 (see below) hectares and incorporates a house, garden, paddocks, dam and bushland. The two storey house has ground floor walls of uncoursed locally-quarried granite rubble and a half timber and stucco upper floor. The plan is unconventional, with three wings radiating out from a central stair hall. The house has no corridors, and many rooms have unusual shapes.

Despite the vociferous wishes of the local community and heritage supporters - who maintained lengthy vigils at the site - 2.7 hectares (nearly 20 per cent of the property) comprising remnant native bushland were compulsorily acquired by the state government and bulldozed to make way for the new Frankston Bypass.

I post this not to distract from the problems Banyule is facing, but to indicate that unless opposition is fierce, relentless and prolonged then there's virtually zero chance of success against the predations of a corporatist-minded government or its allies. And even then, failure is more probable than not.

— Regards and good luck, Geoff.