Sunday, February 21, 2010

Melbourne's Oldest House

Melbourne is a young city compared to Europe but we do have buildings still standing since our settlement in the 1830s. One of my favourites is the Mitre Tavern that I stumbled across as a young man starting his working career in the city. I would take lunch time walks and wander the laneways and arcades to discover the hidden treasures of Melbourne.

The Mitre Tavern dates from the mid 1830s

Not that long ago I posted a picture of the oldest house in Willamstown on my sidebar - I did some research on it and found this article from our Melbourne newspaper "The Age".

"A RAMSHACKLE mess in Williamstown is the centre of a bitter conservation row because it is thought to date from 1842, making it possibly Melbourne's oldest house. It is also on a prime development site and has an owner who needs to sell to prop up his dwindling superannuation.
The weatherboard house, which has been unoccupied since at least the early 1960s, was listed in 2007 by Heritage Victoria on its heritage register after considerable debate.
This makes it technically one of the state's most significant buildings. But the owner said he had been told as little as $10,000 would be available as a grant from the State Government to restore it, despite an estimate that proper repairs would cost $200,000.
The 839-square-metre block has been estimated by the real estate agents who want to sell it to be worth about $1 million.
"This cottage represents the first settlement in Melbourne. Before it was built, more than likely there would have been tents. In America, Europe or England, remnants of first settlement are made national monuments."
But while Victoria's National Trust believes owners of such buildings should be given much more financial assistance to preserve them, its senior historian, Celestina Sagazio, said there was not enough evidence that this was Melbourne's oldest house. She said there had been considerable debate in Heritage Victoria before the building was finally listed on its register.
"What we do know is that the block was first gazetted in 1837. Its first owner was a James Cain who bought it in 1841 and then sold it to William Pope in 1842," she said.
"The first reference to a house on the site was the first local council rate book of 1856, which said there was a four-room timber dwelling occupied by Clara Pope, the widow of William Pope."
Mr Page said he did not want to see history destroyed. "Someone suggested it should just catch fire, but I don't want that to happen. I have been approached by someone who wants to restore the building, and if I get a demolition permit I will let him take it."
He said he was retired and living on superannuation. The imperative to sell had resulted from the decline in his super due to the economic downturn.
"I offered it to the council to rent it as parkland, but they rejected the idea, so here I am getting no rent and having to pay big rates on it each year."

It was hard not to feel some compassion for the owner and yet do we preserve our heritage to the disadvantage to this gentleman who initially saw this property as just an old house. I'd be interested in the opinions on these sorts of conflicts between heritage and financial gain.

Another building I pass almost daily on the way to work is this one. It has intrigued me for years and so I googled it to find the following information - a lovely story.

"A plaque in the wall says: 'This shop and dwelling built in 1850/1, by James Heffernan, is a reminder of Melbourne before the gold rushes. It has been owned by a single family since 1899, when V.S.Azzapardi established a newsagency and general store. His daughter and son-in-law, Beatrice and Georges Russell established the present business in the 1930's. The building was restored in 1989 by his grand-daughter and her husband."
These words came from another Melbourne blog that is well worth a look.

A building of this history if lost to developers would be a travesty but how long can a family resist the financial gain from the sale of a such a prime piece of real estate?


  1. My sympathy is with the man who owns the building. Why should he be obliged to live in reduced circumstances just to provide other citizens with their heritage?

    PS I love the new header photo.

    PPS Word verification is laryboo, which sums up this man's plight, perhaps !!

  2. I tend to agree with your thoughts as well in that situation. Surely to move the building to another site would be a win/win compromise.

    The new header is the inside of one of our older Melbourne trams. I remember travelling to work in my younger days by tram, it was fun and infact I might just take a ride next weekend and blog it.
    Thanks for taking an interest in our blog.


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