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.

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