Heritage preserved, just

Heritage preserved, just


A small corner of the large lake in the garden of Rippon Lea in Melbourne. Since the land was purchased in 1863, the garden has delighted the people of Australia and the original underground irrigation system remains in use.

A small corner of the large lake in the garden of Rippon Lea in Melbourne. Since the land was purchased in 1863, the garden has delighted the people of Australia and the original underground irrigation system remains in use.

Aa

Rippon Lea is one of Australia’s great gardens.

Aa

RIPPON Lea is one of Australia’s great gardens. The spreading 19th-century estate in suburban Melbourne comprises more than five hectares of pleasure gardens of international significance and retains many original features including a broad terrace overlooking sweeping lawns, large lake and waterfall, a mound and grotto, a large fernery and a conservatory.

Exotic and native trees planted between 1888 and 1903 are now mature. From the entrance lodge a winding driveway leads to the impressive Italianate mansion.

Enjoying the charm and beauty of Rippon Lea today, it’s hard to believe this significant part of European settlement’s history in Australia survived intact only by the skin of its teeth.

The story begins in 1863 when Sir Frederick Thomas Sargood bought just over 11ha of scrub on Melbourne’s outskirts. His father had made his fortune supplying goods to the Bendigo-Castlemaine goldfields and then retired to England, leaving Frederick to manage his business. Together with his wife Marion, Frederick visited England in 1860. It’s possible his parents’ newly acquired grand house near London, with large garden and lake, inspired Frederick to create something similar in Melbourne.

As well as being a garden lover, Frederick was immensely practical, keenly interested in engineering and irrigation. He imported thousands of plants, including rare orchids, and installed a complicated and effective underground watering system that remains in use. Frederick continued expanding the gardens until his death in 1903. In 1910 the estate was bought by Benjamin Nathan, and founder of Maples furniture stores chain and also a passionate gardener, who continued to improve Frederick’s legacy and expanded the plant collections. Benjamin died in 1935 having bequeathed Rippon Lea to his daughter Mrs Louisa Jones, who was anxious to fulfill her father’s dream of preserving the estate for the Australian people.

Enjoying the charm and beauty of Rippon Lea today, it’s hard to believe this significant part of European settlement’s history in Australia survived intact only by the skin of its teeth.

Everything ran smoothly until 1954, when the ABC bought nearly one hectare of the grounds for a TV studio for the 1956 Olympic Games. Then, in 1963, a compulsory acquisition order arrived for a further 1.7 ha, for more studios and truck access.

This loss would have been disastrous for the garden: the lake, vital for irrigation, would have gone, together with the waterfall, tower and grotto. The public was outraged and Louisa Jones appealed all the way to the High Court, where she lost.

Undeterred, she negotiated for 11 years with state and federal governments. 

When Louisa died in 1972, the property passed to the National Trust on condition the government returned the land. Rippon Lea is lucky to have been owned by enthusiastic gardeners for most of its life. Their spirit lives on: the trust keeps the estate beautifully and is implementing an extensive tree replacement program to help safeguard its future.

Rippon Lea, 192 Hotham Street, Elsternwick 3185, open daily 10am-4pm May to September, 10am-5pm October to April. Phone 03 9656 9804, www.ripponleaesate.com.au

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by