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Published December 1st 2017
For lovers of renovation shows, history and high tea
A wonderful restoration - Photo Nadine Cresswell-Myatt
Murchison a small township, between, Nagambie and Shepparton may not yet be on your radar. But while it might sound like a galaxy away, it only took me just over ninety minutes to drive there from Brunswick.
I knew of Murchison from historic newspaper reports of the 100kg meteorite that fell from the sky in 1969, dividing up as it hit the atmosphere. My drop-in was somewhat more decorous as I landed on a comfortable four-poster bed in a suite at Thornebridge—a stately old Victorian mansion/hotel offering luxury heritage accommodation.
It was not until the next day when I took one of the regular organised tours of the heritage listed 1868 property that I fully realised the blood, sweat and callouses that lay behind my luxurious night's sleep.
My heavenly bed for the night - Thornebridge, Murchison - Photo Nadine Cresswell-Myatt
The story goes back 21 years. Tim Linton and his partner Clare O'Reilly were driving past what a derelict old hotel situated on a dramatic bend in the road just before the bridge over the Goulburn River into Murchison.
Tim and Clare have put in 21 years of incredible work to transform what was a derelict hotel - Photo Nadine Cresswell-Myatt
Amazingly, they could see the potential in the 100 sq., 1868 two-storey old hotel, which had once been a commercial traveller's inn. This was despite the dereliction and the fact that anything not bolted down had been stolen.
A welcoming light on at Thornebridge as I walk home - photo Nadine Cresswell-Myatt
They certainly didn't have any rival bidders as the hotel had been vacant for six years and after minimal haggling, they bought Thornebridge through Bert the local stock and station agent.
The first night in their new home was a novel experience. 'We slept in the smallest bedroom in the house,' says Clare 'It was the only room that still had a door. Even then we had to pitch a tent over us to prevent strange bedfellows such as rats, bats and possums falling from the holes in the ceiling.'
It is hard to imagine such primitive conditions given the present opulence of the property, with its perfect lath and plaster walls, stunning decorative paintwork, and ornate verandahs looking down over artfully recreated, Victorian box-room gardens.
Looking down at Victorian designed garden from the balcony - photo Nadine Cresswell-Myatt
The regular Sunday tours cover some of the history of the heritage-listed building. In the olden days, a horse and buggy left for the local station, bringing back commercial travellers, the luggage racks stacked with their suitcases full of goods and samples.
Tour group - it is always worth looking up at Thornebridge - photo Nadine Cresswell-Myatt
The salesman had their own commercial meeting room in the front room and across the hallway was a bar and behind that a Ladies Parlour. At one stage the building held the Thornebridge General Store, and at least one governor-general and three Victorian governors visited the hotel.
But what most people find so incredibly interesting on these regular Sunday tours is not so much the history, but the amazing work Tim and Clare have done in transforming Thornebridge from a derelict site to a luxury hotel.
It is a little like having your own personalised tour through the setting of a TV show like The Block, Love it or List it, or ABC's Restoration Australia as Thornebridge is a magnificent example of human capabilities and endeavour.
I think it best to let Tim explain the work that has gone into Thornebridge in his own words: 'Clare and I have worked for 21 years to restore this delightful Victorian building. When we purchased Thornebridge it was derelict, you could just walk in and have a look. All fire mantles and doors had been stolen, most of the downstairs floor and some upstairs has been stolen, part of the staircase had been stolen, sections of the roof had collapsed, the front verandah was falling away from the building, the stumps supporting the main beam in the cellar holding up half the house were not touching the ground, there was dry rot everywhere in numerous bathrooms, lathe and plaster walls were falling to pieces, and the building had every known species of vermin living in it. All materials used to restore Thornebridge were sourced second hand, picked up and installed with our own bare hands.'
Before shot - Thornebridge Website
Before shot Thornebridge
For anyone interested in woodwork, gardening, history or decorating Victorian houses this place is a must see.
Tim is a full-time accountant but, came 'from a family of chippies' and has been able to turn his hand to most building projects. This has included not only replacing skirting boards and floorboards, but also building Victorian furniture and recreating all the ornate mantelpieces.
Attention to detail - photo Nadine Cresswell-Myatt
But while Tim can turn his hand to most things the ornamental painting of the intricate ceiling roses and cornices on the incredibly high ceiling had him stumped.
The couple wondered what they would do until they came across renowned heritage artist and ornamental painter Derek Marvelley.
'Derek did some of the decorating at Werribee Mansion and Ravenswood' says Tim. My research shows the also did the faux walnut panelling of Florentino restaurant's upstairs dining room in Bourke Street.
According to Tim, 'trickery, or slight-of-hand were hallmarks of the Victorian age of decorating.' What looked like elaborate wallpaper was in fact painstakingly stencilled to save money and what appeared as oak or walnut grain was in fact carefully recreated by dragging various width combs through dark paint.
Derek, who trained as a lad in Wales was the master illusionist of such effects. Tim tells the story of how he once spent two years decorating a Toorak mansion only to learn that the next owners painted the whole interior white to make it look clean and modern. 'Being Greek the only thing they didn't cover over were the marble arches' says Tim. 'Derek had so perfectly recreated the look of marble through his paintwork that they didn't realise it was fake. So in some ways, he had the last laugh.'
There is no fear that the walls of Thornebridge will be painted over. Derek spent 9 months living at Thornebridge with Tim and Clare painstakingly painting most rooms. Being in his late 70s it was his last huge job and a testament to his talent.
There are marbled arches, walls that look like leather and doors that you would swear were oak, walnut or mahogany. What looks like damask silk wallpaper is in fact achieved through 13 coats of paint. The background hue of the once vivid Victorian green walls shines coolly through and then is carefully painted and stencilled with pearl essence, gold-coloured paint.
Tim showing the stencil - what looks like wallpaper on the walls is infact careful stencilling
If it has taken Tim and Clare 21 years to open Thornebridge to the public it is because they wanted to have everything as authentic as possible. They sourced Victoriana from antique shops near and far. They frequented Steptoe and Son in Fitzroy for bits and pieces and they went on scavenging holidays from Toowoomba to Tasmania piling their car high with their treasure. The bed I slept in for example, with its canopy and buttoning was once the personal bed of a Hobart antique dealer.
They craned in huge cast iron baths with clawed feet through second-storey windows. Victorian light fittings were replicated by a workshop in Fitzroy. They sought advice on recreating an authentic looking Victorian bar from Sovereign Hill as this heritage park and been through the same process.
Tim showing the tour group the bar. He sought help in recreating an authentic bar of the period through Sovereign Hill.- Photo Nadine Cresswell-Myatt
Finally, there was the garden. Thornebridge once known as Gregory's Hotel was considered the "Mecca of the Valley" because of its four acres of magnificent gardens and riverside setting. Tim has created an impressive Victorian garden. There are dainty hedge- boxed gardens with vegetable varieties such as war greens and heirloom carrots amongst others. There are apple and plum trees and intricately designed geometric shaped pathways, fountains and foliage-covered tunnelled walkways. This would be the perfect spot for a garden party or an intimate wedding.
The symmetry of the garden is best observed looking down from the restored balcony. At the front of Thornebridge, you peer through the cool green foliage of the fourth largest plane tree in the state. This amazing tree, planted in 1913, is a sanctuary of dappled greenery, which is higher than the two-storey hotel, and a vast canopy of twisted limbs and branches.
Historic plane tree - photo Nadine Cresswell-Myatt
The regular tours of the property are followed by a traditional and elaborate high tea in the fine dining room. Guests partake of three tiers of dainty sandwiches, scones with jam and cream and a crowning glory of delectable cakes. The fine china tea set and authentic silverware all add to the decorum and richness of the occasion.
If you wish to stay, there are four double rooms on the property. All have large four-poster or iron beds, some with canopies and all decked out with beautiful bed linen and king size pillows. Then there is the novelty in bathing in 6ft cast iron bathtubs outfitted with Victorian fixtures.
Bathroom with 6ft clawed foot bathtub - Photo Nadine Cresswell-Myatt
Breakfast is just a short 100m walk away across the river bridge at Wagner Brothers Fine Food Store. This is also a quaint historic property with inside and outside seating, excellent coffee and wholesome gourmet food, including one of the best bowls of porridge I have ever tasted. See photo below.
Porridge with macadamia nuts - photo Nadine Cresswell-Myatt
There are a number of well-known wineries in the area such as Mitchelton and Tahbilk (click here) and a number of cideries but I really loved the local winery Longleat Wines which is a 5 min drive or a 2.5 km walk from Thornebridge.
Sandra has studied cheese making in The Veneto Region of Italy - Photo Nadine Cresswell-Myatt
Guido; a qualified winemaker makes wine on site and his partner Sandra has studied cheese making in The Veneto Region of Italy. So as you can expect the cheese platters are amazing. Longleat has a shady verandah looking out over the vineyards, and a well-behaved black Labrador keeps you company while eyeing off the last morsels on your plate. Wines are very reasonably priced, as are the food platters. Best to ring and pre-order lunches.
For cyclists, there are a number of excellent cycling tracks in the area, including The Murchison Ironbark Rail Trail. Click here.
Those interested in war-related history will also find Murchison a fascinating place. During World War II there was an internment camp in the district, which held 4,000 POWs mainly Italian and German but also some Japanese after the Cowra breakout. One of the legacies of that time is the mausoleum the Ossario) in the local cemetery funded by the Italian community for the Italian inmates resting there.
Noorilim is classified by the National Trust and is on the National Estates Register Facebook Noorilim
Or if you enjoy historic properties visit the 1879 mansion Noorilim Estate. Built for pastoralist and Member of Parliament, William Irving Winter it is one of the finest examples of Italianate architecture in Australia and is surrounded by 22 acres of botanical gardens, an ornamental lake and 75 acres of vineyards. This is only open once a month, but you can take what Tim describes as the 'double header', which is a tour of Thornebridge with high tea followed by this tour of Noorilim Mansion.( $85) For more details click here.
Murchison cashing in on its meteorite happening of 1969