A not-so-small piece of Australia’s history is on the market at Sydney’s Gladesville, and I took along my point-and-shoot to capture the grand Victorian estate’s most charming features.
There were many, not least of which was the house’s history. Adam, the property’s agent, told me that “getting across the house’s history” was vital. ‘Avondale’, as the estate is known (Victorian mansions always seem to have impressive names), was owned by Banjo Paterson’s sister. (For those who need a revisit of their Australian literary history, Paterson, one of the nation’s most celebrated writers, was best known for penning The Man From Snowy River and Waltzing Matilda.) Her solicitor husband built the house in 1888, naming it ‘Elanerne’ (it has been renamed a number of times since).
The house sits directly across Looking Glass Bay from Banjo Paterson Cottage Restaurant, which was previously Paterson’s grandmother’s home. Standing on Avondale’s striking verandah, Adam pointed this out, indicating across the water to a sandstone cottage that he told me was once known as ‘Rockend’ (something that my fastidious Google searching subsequently confirmed).
The property is, fortunately, heritage listed, with New South Wales’ heritage database pinning its significance to being “a highly intact residence of high quality”. The database specifies that the building’s overall form must be maintained, and that it should continue to be used as a residential dwelling. This is particularly valuable not only due to the obvious significance of the building itself, which is a picturesque example of large, extravagant Victorians, but because the house carries with it a noteworthy connection to one of the country’s most celebrated figures.
While I hate to start my description at the house’s rear, there is no avoiding the fact that its frontage onto Looking Glass Bay is one of its most breathtaking aspects. Being able to take your picnic gear down to the water and spend the afternoon suspended on a hammock by the bay is a luxury normally afforded to weekenders and national parks. The price reflects this incredible location (along with the rest of the house’s offerings), with offers being sought around $6 million.
The five-bedroom house is a pleasing combination of charming heritage features (this house is positively bursting with nineteenth century attributes), and slick renovation. This is best seen in the guest house, which was once the property’s stables before the acreage was subdivided to the 2,114 square metre block it is now. The two storey guest accommodation is thoroughly modern, bearing a flow-through balcony, full contemporary kitchen and enviable views over the pool and the bay. The pool itself has an impressive new addition – a sandstone alcove leads to a wet bar (yes, please!) and full bathroom that soaking swimmers can take advantage of.
The gardens have the elegant wealthy quality reserved to places like these – pretty, posh, pricey. Some of the best bits of the house can be found in the garden – mossed statues and rusted ornate gates preserve the home’s character. The rear yard is also blessed by nature – I was mercilessly attacked by a tiny spider while walking towards the guest house (prompting me to say at the time, lamely, ‘How terrifying!’).
The house is best described through images, but, to summarise: high ceilings; sophisticated detailing; view-blessed sun rooms; long, commanding hallways; and – the contrast that can always be found in homes at this end of the market – brand new kitchens and bathrooms. As crazy as I am about heritage, I would be a little frightened at the prospect of using a Victorian kitchen or bath (but would still jump at the chance to photograph them) – they are the two rooms in the house where maintenance alone generally will not suffice.
It is always good to end a post with a general ‘sum-up’ of a house’s best points, but there are no individual qualities that stand alone in making Avondale so covetable. It is the combination of its parts – first-class location, elaborate gardens, grand features, high-end comforts, notable history – that make it one of Australia’s most interesting homes.