Our coach trip to Werribee Park on April 23rd was a great success. The weather was perfect and the Mansion and grounds were looking magnificent.
We started our visit with a tour of the Mansion and an introductory talk by the Park Ranger. The Mansion certainly is very grand and the rooms are set up as they would have been used in the late 1800’s. Plenty of information is provided to give a good understanding of life in that era. In the laundry there is an excellent diorama with a laundry maid projected into the scene to give a “live” account of her week and the processes and methods used to cope with the laundering of all the household linen and clothing. It was very well done and full of intriguing facts about the labour intensive tasks involved. The former library now provides an attractive café area where we enjoyed our lunch. The grounds are delightful to stroll through and you can catch The Little Red Train if you don’t want to walk!
We also visited the adjacent Victoria State Rose Garden which is very beautiful. Commenced in 1976, the garden fell into a bad state by the mid 1980’s and was under threat of the bulldozer when a local petition against its demise was instrumental in the forming of a Supporters Group. Today the area is well cared for by 150 volunteers and boasts over 5,000 roses laid out in a formal pattern spanning out from a central rose covered pergola.
The history of the property is rich with achievement but also tragedy. Thomas and Andrew Chirnside came to Victoria from Scotland and established a vast pastoral empire. In 1845 during a trip back to Scotland Thomas fell in love with his cousin Mary. However, her parents did not approve the match and so he returned to Australia alone. When Andrew later planned to travel back to Scotland, Thomas asked him to convince Mary any way he could, to come to Australia. When Andrew returned in 1952 he did indeed bring Mary back with him, but as his wife. Thomas remained single the rest of his life.
Thomas and Andrew built an elaborate sixty room Italianate style residence (similar to the Noorilim Mansion at South Murchison) on the rich fertile land beside the Werribee River. Apparently they wanted Mary to live in an outstanding residence unrivalled in Victoria at that time and to showcase their successful lives. The finest materials were used and the house was completed in 1877. Mary and Andrew lived there with their 3 youngest children and thirty servants. Andrew resided nearby at Point Cook until his health was failing and he joined them at Werribee Park. Sadly, suffering illness and depression, Thomas took his own life in 1887.
When Andrew died 3 years later, his son George cared for Mary, the Mansion and the Werribee Park estate. Mary died in 1908 after a horrible accident when her hair caught fire from a bedside candle and she did not recover from her injuries. In 1922 George sold the property and moved his farming activities to Lilydale. This holding later became the suburb of Chirnside Park in recognition of the enterprising family and the many contributions to the surrounding community.
Werribee Park was purchased by the Catholic Church in 1923 and for 50 years was a training college. During this time 2 large wings were added and today they comprise the Werribee Mansion Hotel.
Premier of Victoria, Rupert Hamer, was instrumental in buying the property in 1973 for the people of Victoria after a plea from local residents that the estate be preserved intact. Werribee Park is now managed by Parks Victoria and is a success as a destination for tourists and locals alike. It is very well maintained and as there is so much to see, easy to enjoy on multiple visits.
If you haven’t been to Werribee Park or it is a while since you did visit, make the effort to go there as it is sure please.