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In Melbourne, we are blessed with fine mansions. Some like Como House and Ripponlea attract tourists from around the world. They come to gain a glimpse of Melbourne's establishment and their lavish abodes.
Labassa in North Caulfield is less well-known but falls firmly into the category of lavish grand estates. The two-storey mansion had 35 rooms and the grounds extend all the way to St Kilda Beach, with entry gates on the corner of Balaclava and Orrong roads.
There was a string of seriously rich owners including Alexander Robertson, a partner in the Cobb & Co coach service, and John Boyd Watson II, heir to a Bendigo mining fortune.
The mansion was decorated with the finest embossed wallpapers and mahogany timbers and a huge stained-glass window dominated the entrance hall and a rare trompe l'oeil ceiling.
You see Labassa has had a much interesting history than simply rich people living the high life. It has also had a fascinating bohemian past.
As sometimes happens to large mansions, it was turned into flats in the 1920s and as these became run down it became a warren of cheap accommodation for 'interesting' people. So many spaces were rented out and there was even one tenant living in a cupboard under the stairs.
In the words of actress, singer, and writer Jane Clifton who lived at Labassa from 1971 to 1973, residents were a "motley, often itinerant, collection of hippies, students, librarians, teachers, the occasional drug dealer, muso and/or pop star. People rode their motorbikes from the rear courtyard out through the front door for fun."
Chatting to a Melbourne artist, I asked her if she visited Labassa in her youth. "Oh, yes. I remember it well, she said. "It was full of artists and writers. I remember meeting the writer Frank Hardy there. We used to go to parties there some of which went on for days. When the police knocked on the door because the neighbours were complaining I was usually the one pushed forward to calm them down, because I looked a bit more respectable than some of the residents. Especially the one who was completely naked except for drawings all over her body."
Thankfully the National Trust did not turn its back on all this amazing social history and in 2013 they gathered together 135 former residents, owners and their descendants and began to research project into Labassa's remarkable bohemian past. Compiled by historian Vicki Shuttleworth, you can read more such accounts of Labassa's bohemian past at the Labassa Lives Journal.
Or to experience it for yourself attend a forthcoming event at Labassa, which focuses on its creative rather than simply its rich past.
You will begin the Private Lives experience with refreshments in the Drawing Room, followed by a guided tour of those rooms with a particularly strong artistic heritage.
Visitors get to meet former residents and hear their personal tales of life in the house. Painter Stephen Hall has a "great big little story of survival and inspiration" to tell.
Filmmaker John Laurie recalls the days when "we were beatniks and drank claret".
Your evening view from the Tower includes the story behind Labassa's inclusion in Kenneth Slessor's poem Fives Bells . Why did Slessor mention Labassa's tower in his famous poem? Learn the true story as you climb the heights.