Freelance writer exploring Melbourne and beyond. If you enjoy the following article click on the Like button, Facebook it to your friends or subscribe. I'll update you with yummy and often free events. Like my photos? I instagram @redbagwilltravel
Published May 31st 2012
Coolart on the Mornington Peninsula
Even in the 1890s Mornington Peninsula was known as Melbourne's playground; a place for the rich to build their country retreats. In 1895, Frederick Grimwade built a red-brick mansion with 27 rooms and a lookout tower. His son Russell described the era as life in an "unbuttoned mood".
With our fast paced modern world we might better describe Coolart as 'life unzipped', with plenty of surprises for city folk foraging for a pleasant country outing.
As the property is now owned by Parks Victoria, members of the public are free to roam around the mansion and extensive grounds during opening hours. Crane your neck to look up at the high ceilings, imagine the formal dinners and being waited on by servants, or visit the old buttery and butchery built from hand-made bricks; these thick walls predated refrigeration. In this environment it is easy to imagine milking the cow or hand churning the cream to make butter.
Outside are formal gardens with garden beds of flowers and original trees with exotic names such as Chinese Ginko and African Blue Atlas Cedar. These gardens are also home to the famous Coolart Music Festival held in January each year, and are the perfect setting for a picnic. There are extensive lawns where the kids can run around but also plenty of seats and tables for the less agile. There are also free electric barbecues if you have remembered your snags and tomato sauce.
After lunch take a walk along one of the numerous tracks. If you take the Woodland Walk you can try koala spotting. The walk continues across Merricks Creek Bridge (named after the earliest white setter on the site) and takes you to the beach. From here you can look out over Westernport Bay to Philip Island in the distance.
Or you can head off on a different path to explore the wetland area. Shush! Be very quiet, crouch behind the bird hide and you might spot one of the sixty species known to nest in the area. Winter and spring are the most spectacular seasons, when over 1000 Australian white ibis and other waterbirds congregate on the lagoon to breed. Other regular sightings include swamphens, ducks, swans, grebes, and harriers. You can hire binoculars from the visitors centre.
The wetland area is thanks to Tom Luxton. When ill -health forced Grimwade to sell Coolart in 1907 it changed hands several times before Loxton brought the property in 1937. So much surrounding land on the peninsula had been cleared and drained for agriculture, so he decided to establish Coolart and its remaining wetlands as a wildlife sanctuary.
The one-way glass windows of the observatory provide a broad-spectrum view of the wetlands which Loxton extended over a thirty year period. Every day at 1:30 pm an audio visual presentation is shown which introduces the history, management and wildlife of the park.
During January, Parks Victoria also runs a Junior Ranger program where kids can earn themselves a Junior Ranger Certificate Activities include 'Let's Go Around The Farm' and 'Let's Go Beachcombing'.
So many things to do and a chance to slow down in this fast-paced life, before you have to zip home again.