These days, when you first arrive in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia one cannot help but wonder what happened to the city it once was, nicknamed Smellbourne and Bearbrass in the Victorian era. With the mouth of the Yarra River which used to be a tipping haven for the cities rubbish and sewer system, it is now surrounded by shops and casinos and high rise modern glass structures. With four new residential sky scrapers being built, standing at over 90 stories each, going up in 2019, it is mind boggling to think that the same area was once housed by tents filled with the poorest families this city has ever seen and hundreds of lost children that once roamed the streets like it were Charles Dicken’s London all over again. It is hard to imagine the delightful homes and gardens right around the corner or in the suburbs just a tram or train ride away. But some things never change. The rich will always live right next door to the poor as they have done so for hundreds of years.
You really do not need to go far to enjoy a bit of Australian history through some of Australia’s best preserved Heritage listed homes and National Trust Homes and their surrounding gardens. If you look hard enough you can still find some of the most prestigious homes and estates that survived the test of time in the new city of Melbourne, exploding with life. Melbourne is full of hidden treasures from as early as the 1840’s if you know where to look. Whether you have small children or a bus full of elderly tourists, there is something for everyone to see from the largest private residence to places like the tiny museum set in the Fitzroy Gardens in Captain Cooks Cottage just east of the CBD.
Government House built 1872-1876 is a Must See
I visited the Government House back almost eighteen years ago but I can tell you it has not changed much since the 1870’s. It is still the home of the Governor of Victoria and in this year it is graced by her Excellency, the Honorable Linda Dessau and her husband Mr. Anthony Howard. To visit you must be invited and have an entrée card and photo I.D. and once a year the house becomes open to visitors so I did just that. I had once met the footman from the estate and he told me that every day his main job was to lay out the clothing of the Governor, and this was only back in 2000. I am curious if the Governess has the same luxury today. At any rate, the incredible building has some of Melbourne’s largest gardens surrounding it, the Royal Botanical Gardens. And a ballroom said to be bigger than the one in Buckingham Palace. Shakespeare in the Park and even the White Night Festival can be enjoyed during the summer months in the adjoining gardens to the estate. You might not even know it is there because it is hidden by the amazing trees that were probably planted at the same time the house was built. As a bonus, the Shrine of Remembrance is just a twenty-minute walk away from the Heritage Listed Estate. You can catch the tram back to town or head the opposite direction to Elsternwick to see the beautiful Rippon Lea Estate which also offers live entertainment on its grounds during the summer months.
Enjoy Roses, Safari Zoo Animals, and Theatre at Werribee Park Mansion built in 1874
If you are looking for a day trip out of the CBD (34.5 km away) and want to smell the vast rose bushes of many varieties and perhaps see some wild animals that roam the plains of their safari zoo then this destination you won’t want to miss. Werribee is one of those rare and fabulous large estates that have survived the test of time with its beautiful formal rose garden (which has free entry). The original estate is a museum with stunning grounds and even boasted the largest laundry facility in Victoria when it was built in 1874. It now incorporates a modern hotel and spa with additional conference rooms for your private or work event or just a romantic overnight stay. And if you do not feel like trekking all the way back to Melbourne after the sun sets and feel like staying late, Werribee Park Mansion has a wonderful restaurant and even has a promenade theatre doing an evening play called, “What Was That?”, a play reenacting the history of the building. And it has been running since 2003. And as the writer states, it changes so even if you have seen it before it will still be entertaining.
A Picnic or Moonlight Cinema at Rippon Lea Estate and Gardens built in 1868
Rippon Lea is one of those magical homes that makes one think of such stories and “Alice in Wonderland” or “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”, which was actually performed there as a theater production many moons ago. They now offer moonlight cinema. You can take your own picnic lunch or dinner there and are allowed to bring even a bottle of wine if you wish and they have a charming gift shop to purchase books and memorabilia. This home has wonderful National Trust membership offers and day tours. There are smaller gardens than at the Governors’ House but still quite beautiful and Victorian in style. With its big oak trees and well-groomed yard and tall brick walls, you feel like the manor belongs to you for a day. Many films have been shot there as well as the theatre productions. I think you can even rent out the back room for your wedding and they have a floor they can put over the pool for parties. It is a fabulous place to take children to enjoy a relaxing day in the shade looking for butterflies.
Como House and Gardens built in 1847
The energy of this house is one of a ghostly manner. At least that was the vibe I felt when I visited this hard white Italian style estate in Toorak. The house was owned by one family for over 100 years and was donated to the National Trust. The gardens and house have been kept up beautifully and have a feeling of Australian Royalty, the more upper class that was not necessarily political. Set on a now busy road, you would not know it was there due to its high hedges and the wall surrounding it. You will feel like you have gone back in time to an era of tea parties and reading on the deck with a glass of cold water in the Australian sun. They sometimes offer live piano concerts.
Before You Go There are Many More Unmentioned Victorian Homes in Melbourne
There are more Heritage Listed and National Trust Homes and Gardens all over Melbourne and the state of Victoria but these few should give you something to write home about, the snail mail way on a groovy postcard. If you wish to be fully absorbed in the Victorian Era I suggest you join or at least contact the National Trust and get their full list of protected Victorian homes. And if you cannot leave the city then don’t miss the amazing old theatres and pubs scattered all over the CDB. Melbourne is one of those rare cities that can make you feel like you really could travel back in time despite all of its newnesses.