An af­ter­noon at the lake house

An evoca­tive visit to Henry Han­del Richard­son’s child­hood home in north­east Vic­to­ria

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Summer Reading Special - KER­RIN O’SUL­LI­VAN

IT feels a lit­tle eerie, as if I’m look­ing through the great author’s eyes, in­deed through time it­self.

The french win­dows of Henry Han­del Richard­son’s one-time child­hood home, Lake View House, have been flung open and the glo­ri­ous north­east Vic­to­rian sun­shine floods in. From the shady ve­randa I have an unim­peded view of the lake; its is­land, cre­ated from an old mullock heap, prompts mem­o­ries of Chiltern’s gold­min­ing her­itage.

Lake View House be­came the home of Ethel (Et­tie) Florence Richard­son, bet­ter known by her pseu­do­nym Henry Han­del Richard­son, af­ter her fa­ther moved the fam­ily to Chiltern in 1876.

Now owned by the National Trust of Vic­to­ria, this house be­came the cen­tre­piece of the clas­sic tril­ogy The For­tunes of Richard Ma­hony, her most im­por­tant work. Chiltern was ru­ral Baram­bo­gie in the books and the lake I’m ad­mir­ing was the swamp in Ul­tima Thule.

Ac­claimed as one of our great­est nov­el­ists, Richard­son achieved early recog­ni­tion over­seas and was trans­lated into sev­eral Euro­pean lan­guages. Dur­ing her two child­hood years in Chiltern, she ab­sorbed im­pres­sions of the Aus­tralian coun­try­side that were to flavour her writ­ings: the ‘‘still­ness of the bush’’, ‘‘gen­tian­blue skies’’ and ‘ ‘ sun­light and space’’. At Lake View, Richard­son re­called in My­self When Young, she in­vented sto­ries while bounc­ing a ball against the ‘‘liver-red brick­work’’, find­ing in the ve­randa’s shad­ows ‘‘a sense of free­dom’’.

A wan­der through the homestead finds it fur­nished in pe­riod style, with a col­lec­tion of Richard­son mem­o­ra­bilia. A pi­ano re­minds that young Et­tie ex­celled in play­ing and singing, later un­der­tak­ing mu­si­cal stud­ies in Leipzig.

Fol­low­ing the Murray red gum hall­way, I dis­cover me­men­tos of her life and work. An ouija board re­calls Richard­son’s fa­ther’s in­ter­est in seances; a cabi­net of vin­tage med­i­cal in­stru­ments the legacy of the prac­tice he con­ducted from the front room. A re­pro­duc­tion of the fa­mous Ru­pert Bunny por­trait of the writer graces one wall.

It is the sim­ple Vic­to­rian writ­ing desk, how­ever, that catches my eye. This desk ac­com­pa­nied Richard­son on many moves be­tween Eng­land and Europe, and it is here that she is said to have writ­ten Mau­rice Guest and The Get­ting of Wis­dom.

When Henry Han­del Richard­son died in Eng­land, her ashes were scat­tered in the English Chan­nel; Lake View ex­ists as the only me­mo­rial. Each year on Jan­uary 3, the homestead’s grounds host a birth­day cel­e­bra­tion with read­ings com­mem­o­rat­ing her work, plus a rous­ing round of ‘‘Happy Birth­day HHR’’, com­plete with cake.

Gold­fields-era Chiltern boasts an­tiques, bric-a-brac, a mu­seum and the 1866 Star Ho­tel and The­atre; in fact, 22 prop­er­ties are reg­is­tered by the National Trust.

As I leave Lake View, a cop­pery sun sinks and the shad­ows deepen to ‘ ‘ pur­ple- blue’’, j ust as she de­scribed them.

Lake View House at Chiltern was for a time the home of Henry Han­del Richard­son

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