PRINCE ALFRED, THE DUKE OF EDINBURGH, ONCE WALKED THE HALLS OF THIS HISTORIC HOMESTEAD IN CENTRAL VICTORIA.
Take a peek inside this restored 1864 homestead in Learmonth, Victoria, that once hosted royalty.
CERES HAS AN ILLUSTRIOUS past that includes royal connections. Edinburgh on on his australian tour in 1867, prince alfred, duke of edinburgh, famously stayed at the grand homestead at Learmonth, 22 kilometres north-west of Ballarat. In gratitude Queen Victoria sent a gift of a vine cutting from Hampton Court Palace, which today still grows in a conservatory — named The Vine Hall — at the heart of the house. For 150 years, Ceres has captivated all those who have lived here — past owners have attested to its aura. For the current owners, Jane and Geordie Charles and their four children, Ceres is fifirst and foremost a warm and welcoming family home. “It’s a romantic place and a little snapshot of history,” says Jane. “The house has a personality. We love to be here in it, to be grounded.” Ceres was built in 1864 by Thomas Bath — the fifirst licensee on the Ballarat goldfifields and the man who built Ballarat’s historic treasure, Craig’s Royal Hotel. Thomas named his country estate Ceres after the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain, fertility and motherly love. “It was like a village here with the forge, stables, outhouses; they had servants and hunting weekends,” says Jane. “And armed with the Victorian man’s botanical knowledge, Thomas planted his garden…” Indeed, as you drive towards the inner sanctum of the homestead, passing the beautiful old stables, barns, castellated kennels and other outhouses, into the yard, you feel like you’ve slipped into another era. The garden boasts an artist’s studio loft and a rustic summerhouse, and is embraced by grand old elms, oaks and monkey puzzle trees. In the 1900s the Coghlan family, founders of Ballarat Brewery, were the homestead’s second owners, until 1979, when the Charles family (Geordie’s parents) purchased Ceres, adding it to their own farm holding next door. “It was purchased for the land really — 323 hectares that was originally for grazing, but now we do wheat and canola cropping as well,” says Geordie. “And then the farm manager took up residence here in the homestead.” >
Geordie is director of the family farming business and Jane is back grou na a lawyer by profession, who also comes from a farming background just outside Ballarat. “I grew up just across the highway, but although our parents were friends, I didn’t know Geordie until we met at a ball. I literally married the boy next door,” she says. Jane and Geordie bought the homestead and moved in after a year-long restoration in 2008, with their three sons, Edward, 13, William, 11, and George, nine. “We came from Ballarat, as we needed space,” says Jane. Since then, the couple has also welcomed a daughter, four-year-old Isobel. Jane remembers the first time they looked at the homestead, which had been quite well maintained, with a view to moving in. “It was the coldest, arctic day and the clouds were on the ground, it was dark inside the house, and really cold. I don’t think it’s been as cold since.” Thomas Bath had built his homestead in two stages. First, an original house with return verandahs and French doors, and for the pending royal visit, a separate, more imposing Italianate wing with a large bay window in the formal dining room and grand front entrance hall. Thomas had planted the vine in the void between the two buildings and when Jane and Geordie took over, that space had been covered by a glass conservatory-style roof. “The vine sent out by Queen Victoria was planted on the outside of the original building,” Jane says. When they started renovations they pulled up carpets to reveal a tessellated flfloor in the former entrance hall. The formal drawing room was beautifully intact with Victorian wallpaper in shades of gold and voluptuous drapes and pelmets. “This room is in original condition, with the original draperies,” says Jane. When the renovations began they simply unhooked the drapes and stored them in the shearing shed while the work was being done. “The room then set the colour palette for the rest of the house.” >
Jane and Geordie researched the decorative and architectural style of the period and worked with experts to ensure their The renovations renovations honoured thee rain which the house was built. they tracked down authentic light fifittings “all the existing light fifittings were from the 1950s”, and went to auctions, and sales of furniture and artworks. “We love our artworks and collecting,” says Jane who adds that her favourite thing was choosing fabrics for the new furnishings. “My heaven was to go into the interior designer’s back room where she keeps all her fabrics.” In the older part of the homestead they turned the kitchen into a bathroom, and the breakfast room into the master bedroom. The Vine Hall is now the main entrance, and leads to a stunning new kitchen and living area, with oak flfloors and French doors. Jane wanted the new kitchen to be the hub of the house. The AGA stove in the kitchen hearth is Jane’s pride and joy. “It’s like having a person in the house,” she says. At the other end, the living area has a huge open fifireplace with a limestone mantel. The kitchen wing looks out on a new garden, laid out with plants chosen for their appropriateness to the era. “The landscape designer Michael Mccoy was great in selecting the right plants. There was a lot of formal hedging here and we’ve continued that with bay laurel, and Portuguese laurel, japonica and privet,” says Jane. An iron arbour planted with wisteria leads to a bust of Thomas Bath, found in the stables and now mounted on a plinth in his honour. Beyond the picket fence that contains the garden, sheep are grazing in the paddocks, and for the children it’s an adventure playground. “The kids love it here, and their balls are always going over the picket fence into the paddocks… the nice thing about this place is just meandering about.” As for Jane and Geordie, their custodianship of Ceres is a balance of acknowledging its past and making it relevant for 21st-century family life. “We love the history and pay respect to the previous owners. But for us it’s a family home.”
The drawing room in the front wing, with its original wallpaper and drapes, set the palette for the rest of the renovations. Home owners Jane and Geordie tracked down authentic light fittings like this one from antique specialists. The piano belonged to Jane’s mother. Across the hall is the formal dining room. FACING PAGE Isobel swings on the oak tree in the driveway. The 1890 building behind her is a cool room.