Having recently written about Ziebell's Farmhouse Museum, it caught my interest and I thought I'd go visit it myself. If you'd like to visit Victoria's oldest German immigrant building in the heart of the Wesgarthtown Pioneer Precinct, get your tickets. It's free to register and choose a time slot and date, but once you get to the museum, entry is $3 adults and kids 50 cents. It is open Tuesdays from 11.30am to 2pm, and Sundays from 11.30am to 3pm. Group bookings and tours are available by appointment. See website for details.
William Westgarth, a prominent Melbourne merchant had prompted German migration to Victoria. He bought 640 acres (240 hectares) of Crown land at Thomastown on behalf of 16 German and Wendish families. The village they established soon became known as Westgarthtown. The German and Wendish immigrants settled at Thomastown and Lalor in March 1850 and were among 5 million emigrants who left Germany during the nineteenth century, mainly for economic reasons. For over 100 years, dairying was the main activity of these settlers and their descendants; wagons, then later trucks, carried the milk to Melbourne's inner suburbs.
When you arrive at the farmhouse, there is someone on hand to take you on part of the tour if you want, which suited me, but most of it is self-managed and you're left to wander the garden, visit the pioneer cemetery and the Lutheran Church, which was closed. There are pamphlets available at the farmhouse with information about the farmhouse, the garden and a heritage walk which you can take while you're there but the pamphlets were in low supply on the day. For a more detailed account of the evolution of the garden and a full list of the plant varieties, see here and click on links that interest you while you're there.
Click to enlarge image & click again for clearer view
Around 17km away from the city, it's about a half hour journey by car from city central. At first, I doubted my GPS because it looked like I was driving through a sea of suburbia and it didn't look like I was heading towards acreage that resembled where an 1800s farmhouse might sit. Finally, I come upon the address at 100 Gardenia Rd, Thomastown, and suburbia looked like it fell away.
A dairy farming settlement in its former life, established in 1850 by German and Wendish immigrants, much of the land it sat on has given way to suburbia and sub-division, and the garden you read about is suddenly not as huge as you imagined. Having said that, it may not cover acres of land but it's large enough to hold a lot of interesting blooms and shrubs, including the Rosa Cécile Brünner - Polyantha (miniature rose) aka China hybrid rose which was part of the original garden. The gardens today remain much as they were in the mid 1850s.
A love of beauty and culture is evident in this historic garden which endured at Westgarthtown. It gives you a rich insight into the lives and interests of Christian and Sophia Ziebell. Imagine for a moment and cast your mind back to the 1800s and what it must have been like to arrive in Australia after a perilous journey for months at sea, then be surrounded by an alien and hostile environment. The garden was like a haven for themselves and their family of 10 which numbered 8 of their 10 children who migrated with them.
The Ziebell's Farmhouse is the largest of Westgarthtown's five remaining German/Wendish farmhouses which once comprised part of the village of Westgarthtown or New Mecklenburg. Christian and Sophia Ziebell built their five room random rubble bluestone house with stone quarried from a paddock nearby, bordering and dividing their dairy farm with drystone walls. The home was shared for a time with many of their 8 adult children, some of whom later built their own homes nearby. It is said they came with their own labour force having adult children, with Christian a butcher by trade, 54 years of age, and Sophia 51 when they migrated.
The Ziebell's were self-sufficient people with a smokehouse on their property. As well as constructing all buildings themselves their orchard and garden provided them with fruit from the trees, vegetables and herbs, which they had planted. Among other things they made their own cheese, butter and soap, and preserved the meat from the animals they slaughtered. The bluestone home gave them a sense of permanence and it remained home to many in their family until 1974 when the neighbouring brick veneer house was built. There have been minor changes made with electricity only connected in 2002, and the telephone shortly after. However, water, gas and sewerage have never been connected.
The whole family slept here while the house was being built
The home itself is a typical German farmhouse design, inclusive of a steep pitched roof, which in Germany was intended to prevent the build up of snow. Built between 1850-1856 it has 61cm thick stone walls and all rooms interconnect, unlike an English style house which had hallways. The upstairs area which are the bedrooms for the Ziebell children is closed to the public, but the timber work and staircase looked warm and inviting. There are many pieces in the farmhouse on display that are not original, but merely used as props to give you an authentic feel of the era. However, you'll see a big timber chest on the ground floor which travelled with the Ziebells on the Pribislaw (ship), and it's astonishing to realise that the one chest held everything, including clothes that these 10 people owned.
You'll find the head of Jessie the horse on display; her presence representing the importance of horsepower to farming. Her iron shoes will give you an understanding of the size of the horse. The rooms in the home were actually larger than I imagined, and without hallways and corridors, open plan in style before its time. The bedroom downstairs was used by the adults, the bed being an original from circa 1890s.
The kitchen is always the heart of the home and it's easy to imagine this large family gathering and enjoying the warmth of their new home. The kitchen implements on display have been donated and cover a breadth of history. The Coolgardie Safe on display is an original and built by Carl Alfred Ziebell in 1915. It's placed by the window so that any breeze would increase its evaporative cooling effectiveness. The stove cooked all the meals three times a day for 10 people, plus afternoon tea. It also heated the water and provided the warmth for the bathtub.
Amongst the outbuildings, you'll find the smokehouse. With no refrigeration, that was another way to preserve meat. Ducks and chicken provided food, while their feathers were cleaned and dried to fill pillows and eiderdowns. Nothing could be wasted as these pioneers needed to be as self-sufficient as possible. Covered for safety purposes, there's an 8.5mt deep tank that collects roof water via a straining gauze mesh which is then hand pumped through a pipe that goes to the bottom levels ensuring its purity and freshness. It's amazing to note the small cart house, the first building to be built, provided a living space below and a loft above where the family slept while building the house. The pioneers did it tough.
You may read all about it, but there's nothing like actually being there and visiting the farmhouse on a tour; to close your eyes and walk through history for a small price. Imagine yourself being in that era, living that life, building, growing and breeding everything you needed. While you're there you might enjoy the Westgarthtown Heritage Walk which takes around 90 mins and is 2.9km in distance. The walk commences from the Ziebell's Farmhouse and takes you on a unique journey through time and uncovers a hidden story of early European settlement in Australia. See the Maltzahn's Farmhouse, Wuchatsch's Farmhouse, Siebel's Farmhouse, Graff's farmhouse, Thomastown Lutheran Church and Thomastown Lutheran Cemetery. These surviving buildings are of national significance for their illustration of German migration to Victoria.