While the records for many of our public buildings are well-documented, private homes, built during the earliest decades of Melbourne's establishment and becoming important sites in our development, are somewhat less well known. The Heritage Council of Victoria does list the buildings, sites, artefacts and ships which form the basis of our story, but are there pages missing?
Genealogy, the study of our family history, is now a popular past-time, with dates of many events, including births, battles and Bombers' wins, easily accessible. But as we delve further into the past, the details become more complicated to interpret. As you explore our city, admiring the blend of historic sandstone buildings alongside modern sculptures of glass and steel, have you encountered a home with a long history?
These 5 homes are amongst the oldest in Melbourne, each with a unique and compelling history.
Cooks' Cottage – Perhaps on a technicality, Captain James Cook's family home, built in 1755, pre-dates European settlement, making it the oldest home in Melbourne. While it is the "oldest" home, it was rebuilt in Melbourne after each brick, tile, window and timber panel was shipped from Yorkshire, England in 1934 to commemorate Melbourne's centenary. The two storey cottage has a pleasing covering of ivy, with the Union Jack fluttering above the quaint country garden. Tours of the home in Fitzroy Gardens, containing heirlooms, antiques and details of Cook's adventures, can be enjoyed 9am – 5pm daily. Contact the curators via email or phone on (03) 9658 9658.
34 Waterloo Crescent, St Kilda – Only 2 decades after Melbourne was settled, a local family moved into this heritage-listed colonial home. While all the modern conveniences are catered for in modern homes, in 1854, bathrooms were outside the home, a quirk the current residents must rue in winter. Another oddity is the direction the home is facing – away from the front fence. Although St Kilda is heavily developed now, in the 19th century, the inhabitants would have a clear view west to the coastline. In October 2016, the home was sold for just over $1 million.
330 King St, Melbourne – Built during the gold rush in 1850, Russell's Old Corner Shop is a two storey, six room cement-rendered brick home, now serving tea and refreshments. Looking out from windows placed according to Georgian-era designs, it's easy to imagine tall ships offloading a new influx of settlers chasing gold. Gaze upward to the Victorian-styled cornices, elegant and simple as the building lacked an elaborate sitting room. As the building is so unique in a city which was almost completely rebuilt using our vast gold stores, it's a fantastic history lesson in the heart of the CBD.
(by Cooks' Cottage)
41 Gipps St, East Melbourne – Built in 1888 as a stable for local horse and carriage owners, the barn door was opened to the future when a petrol pump was installed and the building was converted to a garage for the new horseless carriages. In the 1930s, Ola Cohn, one of our finest sculptors, transformed the residence into a home with an artist's studio on the ground floor. The home is now a memorial, with her creations placed throughout the home and garden, leading to the feature piece, a sculpture of Mother Earth atop Ola's grave. The home continues to be a source of artistic inspiration, with the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors meeting here regularly.
84 Claredon St, East Melbourne – Surrounded by homes of painted cement-render or the red tones of house bricks, the bluestones of Bishopscourt, home to our Anglican leaders, are particularly striking. While the city's first bishop chose the site in 1848, the builders were tempted from spiritual duty by the earthly pursuit of wealth, in the glowing hills of Ballarat, delaying construction until 1853. As a new century began, the home became an expensive burden for the church, necessitating the replacement of the northern wing with the current red brick construction. Although the interior has been modernised, the bluestone exterior and the delightful gardens remain as original features of the site.
34 Waterloo Crescent, St Kilda (by McGrath St Kilda)