Here I am on a drizzly Sunday morning looking back at the entrance to the Yaralla Estate. Behind me the tree-lined drive continues for a few hundred metres and at the end is a four-story tower of a once opulent Victorian mansion.
The “garden parklands” that surround the drive are more like country paddocks rather than manicured grounds normally associated with grand residences. Notwithstanding this it is a pleasant surprise to come across so much open space in the middle of modern suburbia.
The walk down the drive finally takes you to a beautiful and private rose garden which is totally hidden away from Concord a busy inner suburb 15 kilometres west of the Sydney CBD in 2009.
Interestingly the suburb takes its name from Concord Massachusetts in the USA which was the site of the Battle of Concord in the American Revolutionary War of 1775-1778. (The first land grants in the area of Concord, Sydney, were made in 1793.)
The mansion is a hundred metres or so from the rose garden. As you emerge from the tree-lined pathway you are soon standing before an outstanding example of a Victorian Italianate mansion.
The guide reminds us that the building not only has high architectural, social and historic significance it is associated with the prominent early Australian family named Walker and the noted architects, Edmund Blackett and John Sulman.
A description of the building notes that it is:
“…a large asymmetrical two-storey building, now mostly plain rendered. Victorian/Italiante style. Slate roof with flashed ridges. Ornamentation generally confined to balconies and verandahs. Simple mouldings on cornices, pilasters and undersills around windows. Main feature is four-story Italianate tower, with smaller octagonal towers at corners. Verandahs reveal a distinct Indian influence. Detailing of special interest includes metal chimney “spikes”, large brackets under eaves, latticework valances, timber balustrades and leadlight windows at front…”
researched from Concord Heritage Society
One could be excused for feeling that the “house” is run-down but even if this is the case all you have to do is close you eyes and reflect back to the time, over one hundred years ago, when it played an important part in the social and cultural life of the early twentieth century. This is one case where the lived history outshines the buildings that remain.
Dame Eadith Walker the daughter of Thomas Walker who originally built Yaralla not only entertained society but she was also an outstanding philanthropist whose generosity still benefits Australians some seventy years after her death.
I wish I had known more about her when I was growing up. Her support of others should never be forgotten. Yaralla was not only a place of high life and high tea it was also a place of high endeavour.
For full information on the family look here.
The entrance hall
The tour of the interior of the mansion gives an insight into the changing fortunes of a grand building that was previously the “private” domain of one of Australia’s wealthiest families.
It is no longer a pristine showcase having been used by the Health Department for nearly seventy years. One could make the observation that as interior decorators they made good doctors. Apparently the original colours were mainly off-white which provided a wonderful setting for the fine pieces of furniture and carpet.
The many mirrors, paintings and museum quality carpets as well as most of the original fixtures and fittings are all gone. In accordance with the will the contents of the estate including the huge Asian, Middle Eastern and European decorative art collection were sold by the Public Trustee at auction in early 1938 after the death of Dame Eadith Walker.
The mansion is set back from the Parramatta river and enjoys traditional English grounds with many exotic plants. European stonemasons were employed to build a sunken garden, an Italianate terrace and a grotto. The home had a swimming pool, croquet lawn, and tennis and squash courts.
The parcel of land upon which this 1830’s cottage sits is unique in Australian history as it is of rare State significance because it incorporates an entire 1790s land grant within its boundaries.
In 1797 Isaac Nichols (1770-1819) received a land grant in Concord which he named Yaralla, an Aboriginal word believed to mean ‘camp’ or ‘home’. Nichols, who had the distinction of becoming Australia’s first Postmaster in 1810, established an extensive orchard on the property.
Later, Yaralla was acquired from the Nichols family in the 1840’s by Thomas Walker (1804-1886) a merchant, banker and benefactor.
The outbuildings include the dairy, a slaughter-house and a beautiful stable complex constructed for the visit of the Prince of Wales in the 1920.