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Published December 3rd 2018
A collection spanning two centuries that took a lifetime
Tucked away in Melbourne Street, North Adelaide, and not far from the city centre, is this new museum and tourist attraction - The David Roche Foundation.
David Roche was an avid collector from his early working years to his final weeks. He purchased antiques and collectables, art, furniture, ceramics and the whimsical. In fact, anything which added to his private interests was keenly sourced from all over the world. He kept the growing collection in his federation home, Fermoy House in Melbourne St, where it was shared and admired by his friends for many years from the 1960s through to the new century.
Some European furniture and the richly decorated hallway in the old house. Image by Kat May.
David passed in 2013, but before he died he established the foundation. It was his wish the items were to be kept as one collection and not be sold off. His aim was to now share his collection with the public, so everyone could come and see his remarkable home and a lifetime of collecting.
The majority of pieces and artworks are from England, Russia and France. David had specific interests and sourced items to go towards these collections. One interest was his love of dogs so he found many wonderful paintings and ceramic dog ornaments for his collection. He was well known for his work in judging dog shows and his philanthropic work in Adelaide. The dog judging hall at Adelaide Showgrounds is named after him in memory of the work he did on this field. If you like dogs you will surely like to see these items.
David Roche did all his own decorating and was kept busy finding pieces to go in the rooms of his house which were decorated into specially themed rooms. There is a pretty blue bedroom with all things of a Chinese influence. Here you will discover a gorgeous vintage silk bedspread, with Chinese ornaments and artworks adorning the walls. In every room, you will see the original and highly decorative wallpaper. Nothing was too precious, however. If David wanted to hang a picture he simply hammered in a nail. Other rooms include the military room, the formal sitting room and many more.
This guest bedroom contains a collection of an Asian influence in blue. Image by Kat May.
I asked one of the Museum guides, which room of Fermoy House visitors found the most interesting. He told me the kitchen, still with all its 1970's fittings of cupboards and stove and chock full of curios. This always brings waves of nostalgia to visitors. Personally, I liked the original 1950s blue bathroom with the most decadently patterned wallpaper complete with blue toilet, bath and blue tiles. There would not be too many houses left in Adelaide that has kept these original coloured bathroom fittings.
I am only revealing a sneak peek at the retro kitchen. Image by Kat May.
Every room in the house has its own style and is crammed with superb antiques and art. There is almost too much to take in at once so you may wish to return on another visit. The clocks, of which there are many in each room are unique. These old and precious items would not be found elsewhere in Australia. In fact, this collection as it is and housed in the owner's original home is unique in Australia. Venice may have Peggy Guggenheim, but here in Adelaide we now have the magnificent collection of the David Roche Foundation, and we are indeed fortunate to have his legacy.
GUIDED TOURS The only way to view the collection is on a general guided tour and you will be accompanied at all times. Children under 12 years of age are not permitted on tours. Please check the website here for current tour times and to make an online booking. If you are in a group, advise the staff on arrival and ask that you can be in a tour together.
On arrival, you are welcomed with tea or coffee and view a video about David Roche and his passion for collecting. Car parking is available onsite. Transport from the city is easy on the free city loop bus leaving King William St outside Parliament House. Make a day of it and have lunch and stroll the shops in Melbourne St.
The original sandstone home, Fermoy House, has been kept in good order. Image by Kat May.
Next to the house, a new exhibition building has been built with three galleries. On your tour, you also view inside this building. This gallery space holds special exhibitions throughout the year and you do not have to book to view the gallery space only. See the website for current exhibitions, talks or coming events.
Most of the staff here used to know David Roche. Even his gardener is still working here and doing a wonderful job keeping the garden looking lush and pretty. A new fernery area has been planted under a large old tree in the front garden and at the rear, a new courtyard garden has been established where the swimming pool once was.
The new building houses the larger items of the collection such as furniture , paintings and sculptures.
The original house is a fine example of South Australian architecture, being a return veranda villa built of sandstone. Most of the beautiful old homes along Melbourne Street have been demolished, so it is a true gift to Adelaide that this house will be preserved. Do stroll around to see the front of the house at the end of your tour.
This place is more than a museum. It was someone's home and it all has been left just as it was. It is as if David has just stepped out for a few hours and while the gardener is tending the white summer petunias, you can visit and have a peek inside this most unusual and astoundingly beautiful and intriguing collection in a home which has now become a part of Adelaide's living history.