Si­mon and Kate Tol have made his­toric home­stead Mount Mitchell in Lex­ton, Vic­to­ria, their fam­ily home as well as a suc­cess­ful busi­ness.

“We love to sit here and watch the sun set over the Pyre­nees.”

RARE IS A PLACE that cap­tures the imag­i­na­tion not only with its beauty but with buck­et­loads of po­ten­tial too. His­toric Mount Mitchell was such a place for Kate and Si­mon Tol. When they first vis­ited in 2015 any mis­giv­ings about its scale and grandeur were al­layed by its charm and tran­quil­lity — and thoughts of what could be. Kate and Si­mon were liv­ing in Gee­long and had been look­ing for a coun­try fam­ily home that also had the in­gre­di­ents for a new busi­ness when they saw Mount Mitchell. The pas­toral prop­erty at Lex­ton in cen­tral west Vic­to­ria dates back to set­tle­ment in the late 1830s. “We thought, ‘No, we can’t man­age that’,” says Kate. “But we’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in unique things so we rang the agent and had a look a cou­ple of days later. I re­mem­ber driv­ing out the drive­way and say­ing to Si­mon, ‘I don’t know how we’ll do it, but let’s do it!’” The es­tate’s past is straight from the his­tory books. In 1836 Ma­jor Thomas Mitchell, on his ex­plo­ration south from NSW, gave the most prom­i­nent hill his name­sake, Mount Mitchell. In his foot­steps two years later came Henry Bow­man, also from NSW, to take up the orig­i­nal land­hold­ing of about 8500 hectares. “Henry Bow­man was em­ployed by the gov­ern­ment to take up suit­able set­tle­ment land. He drove 48 merino rams down from El­iz­a­beth Farm in NSW, and brought 28 as­signed con­victs who be­came his labour­ers and shep­herds,” says Kate. At the time they bought the house, Si­mon ran a civil con­struc­tion busi­ness while Kate, a teacher, was head of phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion and health at Gee­long Col­lege. They had >

three chil­dren, Will, now 20, So­phie, 18, and 11-year-old Harry, and the Lex­ton area, 50 kilo­me­tres north-west of Bal­larat, was fa­mil­iar to them — Si­mon grew up in Bal­larat, and it was where Kate, orig­i­nally from Hamil­ton in Vic­to­ria, met him while she was at univer­sity. The fam­ily also had a week­ender in Moon­am­bel, some 43 kilo­me­tres north of Lex­ton, where they ran cross­bred and merino sheep. How­ever, the cou­ple had reached a point when it was time for a change. “We had our chil­dren in Gee­long, we had a ter­rific time liv­ing there,” says Kate. “But we were ready to do some­thing else; to have an­other project.” Mount Mitchell home­stead sat on a rise at the end of a long en­trance drive, sur­rounded by a high hedge. At the front there were rolling lawns shaded by ma­ture trees and views down to a lake. Over­look­ing it all was the grand blue­stone wing of the house, de­signed by prom­i­nent ar­chi­tect Charles Webb and built in 1861. This part of the house con­tained the re­cep­tion rooms, a li­brary and a vast bil­liard and ball­room that once hosted great house par­ties. Fur­ther wings had been added in 1910. Within the four hectares of gar­dens there was the crabap­ple walk, a parterre rose gar­den and 24 long beds in the kitchen gar­den. In the outer drive were the orig­i­nal >

CLOCK­WISE, FROM TOP LEFT Above the din­ing ta­ble are orig­i­nal bil­liard ta­ble lights that were re­stored by the pre­vi­ous owner; the kitchen gar­den is be­gin­ning to pro­duce enough for Kate and Si­mon to sell to restau­rants; Ruby the cat ex­plores the kitchen gar­den; bright al­stroe­me­ria make great cut­ting flow­ers; anemones grow in the side gar­den, which is still a work in progress. FAC­ING PAGE The cou­ple fresh­ened up the 1910 kitchen with a coat of Du­lux An­tique White USA paint. The ta­ble was cus­tom-made with red gum from a friend’s prop­erty. For stock­ist de­tails, see page 135.

sta­bles and coach-house, out­houses, cot­tages for the early man­agers and gar­den­ers, and be­yond that, 320 hectares of farm­land. It was spell­bind­ing. Bet­ter still, thanks to the pre­vi­ous owner, it was all in ex­cel­lent re­pair. “It was derelict when the pre­vi­ous owner Richard Sal­ter took over 34 years be­fore us. The brothers who had lived here were suc­cess­ful farm­ers, but they slept in a Rolls Royce be­cause it was warm and used to ride bi­cy­cles around the farm. There was grain stored in the din­ing room, and a pump sit­ting in an­other room. Richard did a ren­o­va­tion of the build­ings and de­signed and laid out the gar­den.” For Kate and Si­mon, a long set­tle­ment and the fact that the farm­land was al­ready leased out were also bonuses, giv­ing them time to start plan­ning their move and how they would run Mount Mitchell not only as their home, but as a busi­ness. Since mov­ing in, the cou­ple have suc­cess­fully launched into the events mar­ket and of­fer ac­com­mo­da­tion in their cot­tages, but they have also in­vested in the com­mu­nity. They have hosted wool­shed dances to fundraise for lo­cal causes and Si­mon is now pres­i­dent of the lo­cal Waubra foot­ball club. “It’s been won­der­ful to get to know the lo­cal com­mu­nity, and we’ve made some life­long friend­ships since be­ing here,” Kate says. “I can’t imag­ine ever mov­ing back to the city now.” In­side the home­stead they have re­painted many of the rooms and made the home their own. They use the for­mer ball­room as their din­ing area. “We live in all the rooms; it’s not a mu­seum, and we don’t want it to be pre­cious.” Kate and Si­mon both con­trib­ute when it comes to up­keep on the prop­erty. “Si­mon helps me in the gar­den, and I help him when he’s drench­ing the sheep,” says Kate. The cou­ple grow prime lambs and some of their kitchen gar­den pro­duce is sold to restau­rants such as Craig’s Royal Ho­tel in Bal­larat. First and fore­most though, Mount Mitchell is Si­mon and Kate’s fam­ily home and that alone has changed the way they think about things. “We love to sit here and watch the sun set over the Pyre­nees,” says Kate, for whom it still feels like a dream come true. “I can’t be­lieve we’re liv­ing here. It’s like it’s meant to be and I still pinch my­self every day.” For more in­for­ma­tion, tele­phone 0400 899 075 or visit mount­


LEX­TON VIC­TO­RIA HOME The Ger­man burr wal­nut bed­head in the guest bed­room is one of a pair and be­longed to Kate’s grand­mother.

Kate, Harry, Boof and Mitch visit the lake, which has trout and yab­bies. Harry loves to kayak and swim here. “It’s a lovely spot for pre-din­ner drinks in sum­mer,” adds Kate.

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