When you visit Woodlands Homestead, there are many aspects to consider. There’s the history of the building and those who inhabited it, and its prominent place in the early days of Victoria. There is also the unique nature of the construction of the first stage of the building, plus how the homestead grew and evolved over the years through different owners. There’s how those who lived here made Woodlands Homestead a home, with its heritage gardens, aviary and tennis court. Also, there’s how the homestead functioned as the centre piece of a working property, with all of the supporting outbuildings this entails.
So please keep your mind open to all aspects as your explore Woodlands Homestead.
Our ApproachOur approach to Woodlands Homestead is different from most historic houses. Originally no objects survived from the earliest days and few details of furniture were recorded. However, through generous donations, Living legends has been gradually furnishing rooms with period furniture and collection displays.
Because the rooms are not fully furnished, you can make a closer inspection of the architecture of the house. The story of the building is told in the rooms of the homestead, and ‘clues’ to its construction are to be found throughout the house. Look out for them.
For example, the sitting room was one of five rooms in the original portable home. It may have been the dining room first, and later a parlour or living room. The French windows (with some of the surviving handblown glass) and the wooden ceiling are original. The fireplace and jarrah floor were installed in the 1920s.
What to Look For in the House
Furniture and Collections
Despite the changes made to the house over its 170 year history, many original features can still be seen. Furniture and interpretation displays have been gradually added to the various rooms in the homestead.
There have been generous donations from Brian Durran from Furniture Galore and the McCracken Families, who are descendants of the McCracken family. Cumberland Homestead, the ruins of which are located at Woodlands Park, was owned by the McCracken family.
Most recently Gregory Smith, President of the Royal Artist Society of Victoria, loaned oil paintings which he had painted over the last 20 years. They highlight recent events at Woodlands, including stages of the renovation of the house and gardens, plus the 2003 fire which threatened the homestead.
One of the most notable features of the house is the decorative wall finishes in the west wing rooms. They are among the oldest surviving examples in Victoria dating back to the late 1840’s or 1850’s.
The hand-painted decorations were found having been covered by later layers of wallpaper, paint and plaster. Much work remains to be done before they are fully restored… a task needing expert knowledge and skill.
Details of the decorations are:
Meeting Room 1 (formerly a bedroom) — rods decorated with foliage and patterns in shades of brown. This room has an armchair, plus table and chairs for meetings. It also houses two cabinets of donated McCracken memorabilia, one each from different arms of the family. If you lift the small hatch in the floor you can see an identification number and letter on the framing timber, which was a marker by Thompsons to simplify erection of the house.
Meeting Room 2 (formerly a mens’ bedroom) — ionic columns and panels painted to look like marble. Almost unchanged since the 1840s, this room has its original floor, wooden ceiling and cornice, fireplace and cupboards.
- Model Room (formerly a bedroom) — rods decorated with foliage and patterns in shades of brown. Now houses two large models of the homestead which show various stages of development.
- Music Room — green floral patterns on a beige background.
- Sitting Room — rods with stylized flowers and leaves on a grey-blue background. A large display cabinet in this room features the remnants of an Aboriginal scar tree.
See also the ‘Patterns of the Past’ section on the Building Research page for more details of the decorative scheme at Woodlands Homestead.
Other Things to Look For at Woodlands Homestead
Scarred Tree Display
In the sitting room at Woodlands Homestead, a large display case houses the remains of a section of a scarred tree. Aboriginal people created scars on trees by removing the bark for various purposes, including shelters, canoes, shields, and containers. The scars, which vary in size, expose the sapwood on the trunk or branch of a tree. European settlers also removed bark from trees to build huts. Generally, these scars will be more square or rectangular in shape than those created by Aboriginal people.
To remove bark, the Aboriginal people cut an outline of the shape they wanted using stone axes or, once Europeans had arrived, steel axes. The bark was then levered off.
It is possible that the cut bark leaving this scar may have been a shield. Today, scarred trees provide Aboriginal people with an important link to their culture and their past. There are a number of scarred trees located within Woodlands Historic Park.
Now housing a harp, piano, table and chairs, the Music Room has been variously called “Smokers Room”, “Billard Room”, “Sitting Room” and “Living Room” over the years. It is now used as a meeting room for functions at Living Legends, and sometimes as an intimate room for small special dinner parties.
This is the only room in the west wing without a fireplace. The ceiling is of painted hessian or calico over boards. The wooden ceiling cornices are original. A doorway, cur into the adjoining bedroom in the 1960s, was blocked up during restoration in the early 1980s. Look for the ‘bubbled’ handblown glass in the French windows.
The Model Room houses two large models of Woodlands Homestead created by model maker Frans Hugens of Montrose. The first shows Woodlands as it evolved from 1843 to 1918. The second shows Woodlands as it evolved from 1918 until today.
This room was probably a separate building, used as a bakehouse, for some years before being joined to the south and east wings. You should look for the original bread oven, the irregular ceiling, and (outside) the rough sawn red gum weatherboards. When the Chaffeys lived at Woodlands Homestead, the room was used as a laundry. The servants’ call board in the passage probably dates from the same time.
On the verandah, note original beaded edge weather-boards and shutter catches. Granite verandah pillars and tiles date from 1918. The grey and dark brown external colour scheme is as it was after the 1918 alterations were made.
The aviary and the tiled path in the courtyard at Woodlands Homestead were originally built in the 1890’s or 1900’s. (The aviary was extensively restored in 2009.) The glazed doors from the west wing corridor once opened out ‘into a courtyard and a garden which grew pomegranates and magnolias’. The garden has long gone but the Magnolia grandiflora, planted in 1844, survive. They are believed to be amoungst the oldest exotic trees planted in Victoria and are listed on the Significant Trees Register.
This is a weatherboard building with lath and plaster walls and ceilings. It was probably built between 1890 and 1910, and is thought to have been used as accommodation for farm workers. This building was reblocked in the 1990’s and restored.
“In 1845 the children’s governess left and my mother engaged a tutor for us, a married man with a small family, for whom she built a very pretty cottage,” wrote Mary Stawell (William and Anne Greene’s daughter) in her Recollections.
The older, two roomed section of this building, which has some beaded weatherboards (like the house), split timber lining and a fireplace and bread oven, was the tutor’s cottage. The other rooms are believed to have been added during the same period as the farmhands’ quarters.
The south end of this building has granite and scoria walls; the rest is of rendered brick with timber infills. It’s thought that the southern section was built first. It has a shingle roof (later extended and covered with corrugated iron) and a large fire-place, and since its floor is below ground level for coolness, it was probably used for food storage or cheese and butter making.
The central part includes the stables, groom’s room, tack room and loft. Note the original prefabricated horse stalls, exposed truss roof (the same as in the house); split slab timber wall and cast iron windows.The northern end has a different roof structure and wall construction, suggesting that is was built a little later.
The combination of vernacular (local) building techniques and prefabricated components, and the pre-1850 date of construction, give the stables special significance. Over the years they housed many thoroughbreds, hunters and race horses.
Upper Stables and Pens
This building is of post and rail construction with a corrugated iron roof supported by large tree trunk posts. The stalls are of rough sawn, split and dressed timber, coated with white-wash; the small pens, which were built much later for calves, are of sawn hardwood.This building includes the remains of an early stable but was largely rebuilt early in the last century. Extensive restoration have been carried out over the last 40 years and today the stables are used as a feed and tack rooms for the horses housed at Living Legends.
The round-headed steel nails used in these timber chicken coops suggest they were built around 1900.
Believed to date from the early 1900’s and possibly moved from another site, the toilet retains one overhead cast iron cistern.
Underground Water Tanks
These were installed during the Chaffey’s ownership (1917–1937), when an irrigation and sprinkler system for the garden, drawing water from a weir on Moonee Ponds Creek, was put in. One of the 2 original tanks remain today with the top section of tank-shed used today as a community and functions location. Original horse shelters in the paddocks also date to this period. Additional horse shelters have been constructed in the horse paddocks over the last five years. Today, the Rustic Tank Shed over the top tank is used for functions at Living Legends.