Friday, November 16, 2012

The mystery house

One of the things about having kids who do a wide range of activities is that I find myself travelling regularly to places several suburbs away to take them to stuff. We don't live in or even near Werribee, but that is where one of our activities is located, so we trek out there each week (and usually make the trip count for double by stopping off at the marvellous Absolutely Gluten Free shop as we go).

Every week, on our way, we drive past a heavily treed property that my girls call "the house of mystery".

It's a large block, and densely forested. I'm not very good with size estimates of property, but it's easily four or five times as big as my residential block, perhaps more. I guessed 3 acres, and my subsequent research confirmed it as 1.6 hectares (about 4 acres). Its borderline runs flush up against a high chain-link fence that borders the driveway of a set of light industrial workshops and factories, but driving down there doesn't help you see the actual house, as tall mature trees and thick bushy undergrowth rises high into the skyline, with no discernible gaps between them.

You can, occasionally, catch glimpses of a house through the trees.

It's one of those things the girls and I have always speculated about, in an idle kind of way. What does it look like? Who lives there? Why is there such a big property in the now reasonably suburban Werribee landscape?

Well, today I decided finally to assuage my curiosity, which, of course, I could have done at any time in the past by simply employing the Learned Professor Google. What I discovered tickled me pink, and the girls too.

The obvious starting place was Google Maps, which rewarded us with an intriguing aerial view (satellite, one presumes). In among the thick clumps of trees, looking, as always, like broccoli from on high, we could make out what looked like a dry concrete swimming pool of the old rectangular tiered style, a series of odd-looking curlicue structures, and - excitement! - what was an unmistakeably art deco house in the middle, like a castle in its own moat of green.

Fired up to know more, I then Googled the actual street address (obtained from Google Maps) to discover that the property has a name - the Carter Mansion. When it went on sale in 1977, the Age ran the most wonderful article about it, which you can see here thanks again to Google. It turns out that the mansion was built in 1940 for Mr and Mrs Roland Carter, a couple well known in the area for being, presumably, both stonking rich and a bit eccentric; to quote the aricle, this pair "chartered three aeroplanes for their wedding. One contained the bridegroom and wedding party, the other two the guests and all three circled Werribee during the ceremony."

The house itself? Oh. my. It has, apparently, 14 rooms, three storeys and get this, a ballroom with a bandstand that goes up and down. As if that wasn't enough, an entire storey of this structure was apparently set aside for a gentlemens' retreat. And! And! The strange curly things in the garden are an aviary "structure" of some kind.

So all this piqued our interest about the Roland Carters themselves. It didn't take long to discover that Roland, along with his three brothers John, James and Walter, was the head of a pretty massive poultry operation, exporting eggs globally in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. So successful were they that they ended up building 120 cottages for their farm workers in the area, and the entire section became known as the Carter Estate.

A rich chicken magnate! Brilliant!

I found a few more snippets, but I'm historian enough to not want to post them without being sure I've got the correct Roland Cater. There might be part 2 to this story, if I ever pursue this properly.

Whoever would've thought the mystery house would be so interesting!

This is post 16 in NaBloPoMo. 16 down, 14 to go!

1 comment:

  1. I love this story Kathy, we often hunt out info on those amazing little pockets of history we have in Victoria. We have recently moved to the Geelong area and finding lots of lovely surprises. Sinead.