An afternoon at the lake house
An evocative visit to Henry Handel Richardson’s childhood home in northeast Victoria
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