The living history of the spectacular garden on Mount William Station is preserved by the fifth generation of the same farming family.
Story By Trisha Dixon
When Major Thomas Mitchell left Sydney to explore the Murray Darling river system in 1837, he climbed and named the highest peak in the Grampian Ranges, Vic, naming it Mt William after William IV, then King of England. Rising out of the plains like giant monoliths, the Grampians lie immediately west of Ararat, and stretch 90 kilometres from Dunkeld in the south almost to Horsham in the north.
At 1168 metres, Mt William towers over Mount William Station, taken up by the Chirnside family in 1842, providing a magnificent backdrop to the volcanic plains that grow some of the most stately iconic river red gums in Australia. Well-named ‘Australia Felix’ by Major Mitchell, this is “a land so inviting”.
The Chirnsides were early pastoralists in the Western District, arriving in Australia in 1839 from Scotland. They bought sheep in the Riverina and by 1842 they had established Mount William Station. Later they acquired a station on the Wannon River and nearby Mokanger Station, and then a chain of properties including “Kenilworth South”, “Wardy Yallock”, “Curnong”, “Carranballac”, “Werribee Park”, “Warrambeen”, Mt Elephant Station and “Koort-Koort-nong”.
The 20-stand bluestone woolshed was built in 1862 and while it is still in use today, it is also a much-admired feature from the garden at Mount William Station. Giant red gums anchor this wonderful old building in the landscape, with the dramatic backdrop of the Grampians providing the ultimate setting.
Robert Barr Smith purchased 8093-hectare Mount William in 1920. A year later, a fire destroyed the homestead and, although some of the original bluestone remains, the present house and garden were the creation of Eda Barr Smith.
The Barr Smiths had also come to Australia from Scotland and settled in Adelaide. In the philanthropic tradition of their family, they were generous benefactors to the University of Adelaide over many decades, endowing money for the library – a fine Georgian building designed by Walter Bagot and later named the Barr Smith Library – as well as assisting the founding of St Mark’s College at the university.
The garden at Mount William was always kept in immaculate condition with three full-time gardeners to look after the many flowerbeds and the large kitchen garden and orchard. When Robert and Eda retired to “Delamere” at Dromana on the Mornington Peninsula, Vic, Mount William was given to their son R.M. Barr Smith, his wife Elizabeth and their four daughters. The property continued running fine wool Merino sheep and cattle, with some cropping.
In 1969, R.M. Barr Smith was among the first Australian cattle breeders to introduce Charolais cattle and Mount William has become the biggest Charolais stud in Victoria, recognised throughout Australia. The garden during this time was kept immaculate by loyal gardener Sergie Tognon, who worked at Mount William for 46 years.
Present custodian Annie Abbott says the gravel was raked every Friday and all the verandahs swept daily. “Sergie cut all the hedges himself and mowed the lawns by hand for years before a ride-on mower was purchased,” Annie says. “My mother gave him morning tea, signalled by ringing a bell at 10am sharp, lunch at 12 noon and afternoon tea at 3pm. Sergie became part of our family and there is a plaque dedicated to him in the rose garden he tended his whole working life.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #72
Outback Magazine: Aug/Sept 2010