When Judge Richard Billing extended his house in 1873 to include a tower, he probably wasn't doing it out of practicality. He was doing it to make a statement. The image this evokes is that playground mentality of "mine is bigger than yours so I must be better than you". It's a competition that has been going on worldwide for as long as history can remember.
When it was constructed in 1873, it was completed with balustrade parapet and central flagpole. I wonder what flag Mr Billing flew there? It certainly wasn't the Australian flag - that was only designed 116 years ago at Federation. Perhaps it was the Union Jack?
So the tower at Labassa was really built with nothing else in mind but being better than the Jonses. Yet, what Judge Billing didn't realise was that the tower would actually serve many practical functions over its 144 year lifespan.
Alexander Robertson purchased the property in 1889 and had the house turned into something even more magnificent. At this point the tower was re-roofed and the platform covered and this is where the practical use comes in because when Labassa was sold and divided into flats in the 1920s, the tower became an apartment.
Imagine the view that you could boast of from that apartment! The tower has a 360 degree view towards Melbourne and all around Caulfield. In the 60s, young couples kept a bed in the tower for 'presentation purposes' - that is "of course, he's just my flat mate, Mum".
The tower has been immortalised in poetry by Kenneth Slessor's Five Bells, used as a band rehearsal space and also been strong image in the imaginations of children at Labassa who believed the tower had been used by a Nazi spy during the Second World War or that a "gruesome murder" had taken place there or that pesky "old sea captain" was haunting the place.
After much needed refurbishment, the tower is now open to the public and has tours at quarter to the hour from 11:45am on the third Sunday of each month between February - November.
Take a tour of the house and have some morning tea or lunch in the kitchens (previously the servants' quarters).
Come to Labassa's next open day on the 17th of September and check out the tower for yourself. Perhaps you can make up your own tower legends.