Woodlands Homestead, located at Woodlands Historic Park, is a unique and treasured part of Victoria’s heritage.
The Foundation of Woodlands 1843–1866
William Pomeroy Greene was born in Ireland in 1797. While in the Navy, he contracted fever in India and was advised to emigrate for his health. Emigrating from Ireland to seek a healthier climate, William Greene and Anne Greene (nee Griffiths) arrived at Port Phillip in the barque Sarah on 5 December 1842 with the seven children, a governess, the family butler, a carpenter and his family, two grooms, a guardsman, a gardener and five domestic staff. They also brought two thoroughbred horses, stud Durham cattle and a prefabricated wooden bungalow manufactured in London by Peter Thompson.
The Greenes lived at South Yarra while William looked for land on which they could settle. As a former Royal Navy officer, he was entitled to a grant of one square mile (640 acres or 256 ha.), little of the new colony’s land was surveyed and available for sale at the time, but a site near Bulla met the Greenes’ requirements. Carpenters erected temporary buildings for the household staff while the homestead was being established. The family moved to Woodlands, the name they had given the property, on 9 June 1843; although the house was not finished, it was quite livable.
The climate was much cooler than the Greene’s had expected, so the house was lined internally with bricks and fireplace installed to make it more comfortable and permanent. Within a few months a large paddock with a stockyard was fenced in. Crops, vines and fruit trees were soon planted and wells were sunk.
At Woodlands the Greenes were soon self-sufficient. ‘We had flocks and herds, our poultry of all kinds, we baked our own bread, made our own butter and cheese and had melons and other fruits in abundance’. By the end of 1844 the property is reported to have carried 1200 sheep and 180 cattle, including 90 milking cows.
In February 1845 a stable block which was also to serve as a coach house and shearing shed, was built, and extra wings and a verandah were added to the house. French windows in the front rooms opened on to the verandah; doors in the internal corridors led to a courtyard and garden in which magnolias and pomegranates were planted.
Rolf Boldrewood (author of Robbery Under Arms) often visited Woodlands during the 1840’s. He described it as: “The country house par excellence of the period. Neither a farm nor yet a large estate, it was something between the two, while the household and the ménage generally were much more in accordance with the habitudes of the English country-house life than often obtains in Australia.”After William Greene died of a chill suddenly on 5 March 1845, his wife Anne Greene carried on ownership and management of Woodlands with the help of her second son Rawdon.
The family lived the life of transplanted Anglo-Irish gentry, mixing with the ‘gentle folk’ of Port Phillip. Visitors included Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe, and the rising young Irish lawyers, William Stawell and Redmond Barry. Mary Greene, William and Anne’s only daughter, married William Stawell (later Sir William, Chief Justice of Victoria) at Woodlands Homestead in 1856. Mary Lady Stawell (1830–1921) published her memoirs as ‘My Recollections’ in 1911, and they are an invaluable source of information on the early history of Woodlands Homestead.
The property’s long association with horse racing began at the time. Rawdon Greene established private race meetings and steeple chasing. He was a founding member of the Port Phillip Agricultural Society and the Victoria Turf Club in 1848, and of the Victorian Industrial Society in 1851, which ran model farms and aimed to improve the livestock. He conducted model ploughing exhibitions on the property.
Mrs. Greene died early in 1865. Rawdon Greene inherited the property but sold it in August to 1866 to Andrew Sutherland.
Changing Ownership: 1866–1889
Woodlands Homestead then had a succession of affluent and eminent owners, many leading figures in the history of Victoria.
Andrew Sutherland purchased Woodlands Homestead from Rawdon Greene in 1866 and lived there for six years. Little is known about Andrew Sutherland, a merchant of St Kilda, or his use of Woodlands.
Charles Brown FisherIn 1873, Charles Brown Fisher (1818–1908) took out four mortgages on the property, acquiring the adjacent Maribyrnong stud at the same time. Racehorse owner and prominent South Australian grazier, he was the largest pastoral holder in Australia and one of the richest men.
A noted sportsman, Fisher had ridden at the first race meeting in Adelaide in 1838 and helped to organize the first steeplechase over four miles (6.4 km) of stiff country. In the 1850s he imported several thoroughbreds and after he moved to Melbourne in 1865 bought most of his brother Hurtle’s Maribyrnong stud in April 1866 and made his début racing under his own colours at the spring meeting of the Victoria Racing Club. He retired from the turf as an owner and sold his stud but continued to import blood sires. Well known at Flemington for his courtly manner and English dress, he was vice-president of the V.R.C.
It seems likely that Fisher lived at Woodlands, or on the adjacent Cumberland property, which with the nearby Oaklands he acquired during the 1870s. However, Fisher’s interests were focused on the Northern Territory. By 1885, Fisher was under considerable financial pressure. Bad seasons, falling wool prices and over-capitalisation forced Fisher into bankruptcy in 1895. His fate was a common one for many pastoralists during the 1890s. (See the entry for Charles Brown Fisher in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.)
Benjamin Josman FinkIn 1886 Woodlands was sold to a five-man company of politicians, land speculators and money-lenders. The key figures were Benjamin Fink and the well known Sir Thomas Bent (Premier of Victoria from 1904 to 1909). Both men were obsessed with acquiring land for further speculation and may have seen Woodlands as a place for future suburban development.
Benjamin Josman Fink (1847–1909) was a businessman, politician, land speculator and property developer. Amongst other deals in Melbourne, he bought Cole’s Book Arcade, built ‘The Block’, Melbourne’s leading shopping arcade of the day, and took over and rebuilt Georges Ltd. Among the hotels he bought, leased or controlled were the Ballarat Star, Albion, Saracen’s Head, Governor Arthur and Rose and Crown. When he was declared insolvent in 1892, large assets were in the name of his wife. (See the entry for Benjamin Fink in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.)
Thomas BentSir Thomas Bent (1836–1909) was a politician and land speculator. He was a member of both Brighton and Moorabbin town councils, was Mayor of Brighton nine times and a liberal member of the state parliament.
In the 1880s, Bent speculated in land companies all over Melbourne, expending public money to underwrite expansion. He developed the suburb of Bentleigh, named after himself. He was Commissioner for Works and Railways in Sir Bryan O’Loghlen’s government in 1881–1883, and used this position to extend the railway line from Caulfield to Cheltenham, thus enormously increasing the value of his own property developments. The exposure of Bent’s corrupt dealings led to the defeat of O’Loghlen’s government at the 1883 elections.
In the 1890s, when many of his colleagues became insolvent in the severe crash that followed the property boom, Bent was almost bankrupted. He had transferred many of his assets to his wife’s name and this saved him from bankruptcy. He kept afloat by taking up dairy farming at Port Fairy.
Despite his reputation, Bent was chosen as the new Liberal leader in Victoria when Irvine quit to go into federal politics in 1904, and thus he became the 22nd Premier of Victoria at the age of 66. Australian born, Bent was the first Victorian Premier with a strong Australian accent. (See the entry for Thomas Bent on Wikipedia.)
In 1887, the leading Melbourne lawyer, William Henry Croker, bought into the company, becoming sole proprietor two years later in 1889.
Horses and Hounds: the Croker Era 1889–1917Under William Croker, a prominent maritime solicitor, Woodlands became a centre for Melbourne’s hunting fraternity. Croker was the foundation President of the nearby Oaklands Hunt Club. Meets and steeplechases often crossed the Woodlands Property and Mr. and Mrs. Croker entertained Club members to dinner after the events. William Croker was also prominent in the horse racing world and was one of the best known Victoria Racing Club stewards of the day. The Crokers used Woodlands as a country house rather than as a permanent residence. From 1896 William Croker owned only 120 acres around the homestead. Croker purchased the ‘Altona Homestead’ in 1905.
Ben Chaffey and Champion Race Horses, 1917–1937Woodlands was sold in September 1917 to Cowra Chaffey, wife of Benjamin (Ben) Chaffey (1876–1937). Canadian born, Benjamin Chaffey was the son of George Chaffey, the co-founder of Mildura.
As a noted pastoralist, member of the principal horse racing clubs and supporter of the Oaklands Hunt Club, Benjamin Chaffey maintained the traditions founded for Woodlands by the Greene’s. Ben Chaffey built up a vast pastoral empire, developing and working large tracks of the West darling River country in NSW. His sheep stud at Moorna was famous, and his properties at Manfred and Kilfera were some of the best-watered and improved in the NSW outback.
Extensive alterations were made to the Woodland Homestead house by 1919. The rook gables were extended to cover the verandah and its new granite pillars, and a new front entry porch and projecting picture window on the southern side were added. A tiled pathway and an aviary were built in the central courtyard, and the gardens surrounding the house were redesigned and planted with exotic species, watered from Moonee Ponds Creek by a new irrigation and sprinkler system.Chaffey’s interest in elaborate watering systems stemmed from the irrigation settlements pioneered by his father (George Chaffey) and uncle (William Benjamin Chaffey) in the Murray basin. Besides making extensive alterations to Woodlands Homestead, he brought water to the property from the Moonee Ponds Creek through a system of dams, holding tanks and underground pipes.
At Woodlands, Chaffey indulged in his hobby of breeding thoroughbreds. As a young man he’d developed a fondness for the thoroughbred race horse, and later he had a great deal of success on the Turf. He owned horses from 1890 onwards, but probably the first important race which he won was the Adelaide Grand National Hurdle with Stagefright in 1920.
He owned another useful jumper in Percolator, and raced Rawdon with success before selling him to the late Mr. A. Miller, for whom he won the Grand National Hurdle Race.In 1922 Whittier, owned by Chaffey, ran second in the Caulfield Guineas, and he followed that performance by winning the Caulfield Cup a week later. Whittier repeated his Caulfied Cup victory in 1925, and Manfred was successful in 1926. Whittier and Manfred were Victoria Derby winners in 1922 and 1925 respectively.
The V.R.C. St. Leger was won by Chaffey with Caserta in 1923, and Accarak won the Australian Cup in 1924. Ninbela won the V.R.C. Oaks Stakes in 1927, and a year later Burnaby won the Adelaide St. Leger.
Ben Chaffey was keenly interested in the conduct of racing and was a member of the Australian Club, plus many racing clubs. On the retirement of James Grice in 1930, Chaffey was elected chairman of the Victoria Amateur Turf Club. In the last few years his health declined, and he was not able to maintain a full interest in his own horses. He was the owner, however, of Aldershot, a promising two-year-old.
Chaffey died on 3 March 1937, deeply in debt. A run of bad seasons, the Depression and his sometimes erratic business behaviour were to blame. He was buried in the Bulla cemetery. His estate was broken up and Woodlands was once again on the market. (See the entry for Benjamin (Ben) Chaffey in Obituaries Australia.)
Woodlands in Obscurity: 1937–1978
Few physical changes were made by subsequent owners to Woodlands Homestead, which remained a rural retreat on the edge of the metropolis of Melbourne.
Charles Brown KellowAfter Ben Chaffey died in 1937, Woodlands Homestead was acquired by Charles Brown Kellow (1871–1943), known throughout Australia as a sportsman, pastoralist and motor car distributor. He lived at Woodlands with his daughters Winifred and Hope, and under Winifred’s care, the southern part of the garden was rejuvenated.
Kellow won the Austral Wheel Race (the ‘Melbourne Cup’ of cycling) in 1896. His interest in cycle racing saw him take over the management of Lewis and Kellow, cycle importers and manufacturers in Swanston Street. His interests switched to motorcars, and he secured the agency of De Dion Bouton cars. He was a founder of Kellow, Falkiner P/L, distributors of Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Packard and Wolseley cars. In July 1928, Kellow purchased two airplanes at the International Exhibition in London. “I consider that flying will soon become as popular as motoring,” he said. “I shall use the machines for both business and pleasure, mainly for flying from city to my station.”
Kellow had extensive pastoral interests and hunted with Oaklands Hounds for some years. In partnership with J.B. McArthur, he raced Forfano, who won several steeplechases. Kellow won many important races, but the win he cherished most was that of Earlborn in Prince of Wales Cup at Flemington.Heroic was the best horse owned by him. When Heroric was offered as a 3-year old, Kellow, who was a plucky buyer, startled the racing world by giving a then record 16,000 guineas for him. Heroic won the Champagne Stakes, Ascot Vale Stakes, AJC Derby, Caulfield Guineas, Newmarket Handicap, W.S. Cox Plate, and many other races. Heroic’s great record as a racehorse with 51 starts, 21 wins, 11 seconds and 4 thirds, was matched by his prowess as a sire: seven successive years as Australia’s leading sire. During his seasons at stud, Heroic sired 29 stakes-winners that had 110 stakes-wins between them. (See the entry for Heroic on Wikipedia and also Heroic’s Australian Racing Museum and Hall of Fame webpage.) Kellow kept a few mares at Tarwyn Park Stud, and from them bred Hall Mark and Nuffield, each of whom had successful careers. Hall Mark, the son of Heroic was a staying professional. At three years old he won the 1933 Melbourne Cup with a split hoof defeating a good field. From 52 starts, Hall Mark had 18 wins, 16 seconds and 9 thirds. His main wins were in the Doncaster Handicap, AJC Derby, VRC Derby, Caulfield Stakes, Underwood Stakes (twice), AJC Champagne Stakes, AJC Sires’ Produce Stakes, Melbourne Cup, VRC St. Leger Stakes, C.B. Fisher Plate and Memsie Stakes.
Kellow’s plans to establish a horse stud at Woodlands were thwarted by his ill-health, and he sold the property to Frank McClelland Mitchell in 1939. (See the entry for Charles Brown Kellow in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.)
Frank McClelland MitchellFrank McClelland Mitchell (1872–1947) served for 53 years with Broken Hill Proprietary Co Ltd and was Company Secretary until his death in 1947. Mitchell also rented the rest of the Woodlands original acreage and the neighbouring Cumberland property until 1945. In 1945 Mitchell purchased the bulk of the original Woodlands property, and also Cumberland, which had been sold by William Croker in 1906. This increase of 1896 acres transformed the property from the small “country house” allotment, to approximately the area of the present Woodlands Historic Park. Mitchell’s main aim for the enlarged property was to build up a flock of quality wool producing sheep. Sheep were grazed on the property and shorn at nearby Cumberland.
After Mitchell died in 1947, his wife Violet continued to live at Woodlands until her death in 1958. Thereafter, the house, it’s outbuildings and the gardens deteriorated. For some years the property was leased for grazing and agriculture.
A small portion of the land was acquired by the Commonwealth Government in 1961 as part of the approaches to the Tullamarine Airport. This included land between Moonee Ponds Creek, Bulla Road and the site of St Mary’s Church which was moved in 1973 to its present location in Bulla.
The rest of the property remained in the Mitchell family until 1978 when it was compulsorily acquired by the Victorian Government as part of Gellibrand Hill Park.
RestorationIn the 1960s the Shire of Bulla committed itself to the reservation of the Woodlands and adjacent Gellibrand Hill, and in 1972 proposed to the state government that the sites be purchased and developed as a metropolitan parkland. The National Parks Service and organisations involved in planning for the area north-west of Melbourne joined forces; a plan of Management for the proposed park was published in 1974.
Funds for the acquisition were provided by the Commonwealth and State governments and by the Shire of Bulla. Following lengthy negotiations, Woodlands was reserved under the National Parks Act in 1981.
Restoration of the homestead in 1983 and 1984 was funded by the National Estate grants program, Employment Initiatives Program, the Community Employment Program and Victoria’s 150th Anniversary Board, through the Shire of Bulla.
Living Legends: 2006–Today
Living Legends opened in 2006 with a lease of the Woodlands Homestead and 170 acres of cleared farmland from Parks Victoria. Today visitors can mingle with retired champion racehorses, “smell the roses” in the heritage gardens, walk, run, bike or climb in the surrounding Woodlands Historic Park, or enjoy a Devonshire Tea in the Woodlands Homestead. Restoration and enhancement of the interpretation displays continue. As a not for profit organisation Living Legends relies on donations and bequests to achieve these goals. Please give generously.
Research into the history of Woodlands Homestead, Cumberland homestead, Dundonald homestead and Woodlands Historic Park continues. We are eager to learn more about the property, especially its history since 1900. If you have any information or photographs, please contact Living Legends CEO, Dr Andrew Clarke.