THREATENING A HOUSE WITH QUITE A HISTORY

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By ROBERTO CHUTER

There are many houses with histories. But this particular house has more than most. Located in one of Elwood’s most historical streets, Tiuna Grove, No. 3 does not possess a heritage overlay to save it from destruction by profiteering developers. Why? No one knows why, including the City of Port Phillip. Mayor Dick Gross, admitted that it seems that it was a mistake not to include these properties in the heritage overlay in the first place. What are the Port Phillip Heritage Review doing? Seriously. In 2009, Tiuna Grove and Elwood residents battled for a few years to rescuer this house from demolition because developers attempted to remove the original 100 year old covenant that was in place. Fortunately, Elwood residents were successful.

Built in 1912 on land owned by Liet. Col. Harry McLeod Duigan formerly of the Australian Imperial Forces (who had a distinguished military career and was a noted athlete), the house is legendary for its historical and cultural significance. The beautiful dwelling is a rare example of a Federation home which retains virtually all of its original interior fittings and red brick structure.

In particular is the famous ‘ The Red Room’ (original dining room) which still boasts of its stunning floor to high ceiling Tudor-style timber panelling and leadlight bay windows. Many artistic and lively events have taken place in ‘The Red Room’.
Flashing back to 1921, the then owner allowed Leslie Taylor, known as Squizzy Taylor, to hide out in the back room of the house after fleeing, disguised as a school boy in a Scotch College uniform, from 60-66 Glenhuntly Road, Elwood. In 1923, Charles Miller and Edgar Clarke sold No.

3 for 2950 pounds and apparently bidding was pretty spirited. Liet. John (Jack) Frank and his wife Frances lived at No. 3 in 1940s, Sadly, on 22nd June 1944, Jack was tragically killed. The house became a share house in the late 1980s, John Downes also lived there sometime in the 80s. John was renowned as the godfather of the modern Natural Tucker Sourdough movement in Australia and established the Firebrand Sourdough Bakery at 69 Glen Eira Road in Ripponlea. Then in 1994, the famous Australian playwright, Julia Britton, then aged 89, leased the property. Britton wrote fourteen or more of her successful plays in the house, many of the produced nationally and internationally by Peter Holmes A’ Court’s Back Row Productions.

From 1994-2016, No. 3 became a much talked about cultural and community hub under Britton’s tenancy. Fifteen play and screenplay readings were read and presented in ‘ The Red Room’ with many personalities involved along with endless rehearsals for the acclaimed and award-winning stage productions of “The Death of Peter Pan”, “The Object of Desire”, “The Lost, “Half A Person” and “Homme Fatale.”

In 2001, the famous La Mama Theatre in Carlton staged an open-air season of “The Murderer’s Barbeque” for the Port Phillip residents in the back garden of the property. The production was nominated for a number of awards and local residents packed out the performances to full capacity. No. 3 was on a roll when a number of feature and short films were filmed in the house and the gardens. These included the internationally acclaimed: “The Dream Children” (also penned by Britton), “Come Said The Boy”, the horror film “Swallow” and the Screen Australia documentary entitled: “Fearless” about the life of Britton also featuring the house. The
documentary aired on ABC-TV, cable channels and worldwide networks. Because of the doco No. 3 welcomed many overseas visitors from Greece, England, the U.S. and Germany eager to meet Britton and visit the house which was fast becoming a quaint tourist attraction for the culturally minded.

No. 3 has also had a long association with the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) properties such as the Old Melbourne Gaol but mainly the Rippon Lea Estate from 1990-2001, producing and creating site-specific performances from Britton’s front room in No. 3. These highly popular productions included: “Loving Friends”, “The Great Gatsby”, “Anne of Green Gables” and the controversial adaptation of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” Many famous and infamous personalities that have lived, stayed or been associated with No. 3 including: Lady Primrose Potter, Mirka Mora
(artist), Paul Cox (filmmaker), Clifford Frith (artist), John Clarke (TV satirist), Bryan Dawe (satirist), Jane Turner (actress), Nicholas Denton (actor), Barry Lowe (playwright), Heather Ellyard (artist), Andrew Domink (filmmaker), Manu Bennett (actor), Rennie Ellis (photographer), Jenny Bannister (designer), Graeme Squires (actor), Gerry Sont (actor), Wayne Groom (filmmaker), John Ruane
(filmmaker), Maestro Richard Dival, Tamlyn Lord (actor), Anthony Breslin (artist), Kate Llewellyn (novelist), Sarah Roberts (actress), Mark Lee (actor), John Muirhead (ABC-TV producer), Chris Young (musician), Sam Mallet (composer), Ronald Woodcock (violinist), Kerri Simpson (singer), Kevin Stanton (musician/composer, Paul O’Brien (actor), Lucien Savron (Theatre Director), Albert Tucker (artist), Dr. Michael Kozminski, Dr. Lisa Dethridge, Dr. George Mucknicki, Simon Barley
(sculptor), Jacqui Henshaw (photographer), Peter Leiss (photographer) and the list goes on…

Sadly, with the death of Britton in 2012, a large memorial was held in a packed marquee in the back garden. The house was eventually auctioned off in 2016 in front of a large crowd of onlookers and potential buyers. Surprisingly, prior to this auction the owner had destroyed the 100+ year old gum tree (for no apparent reason) that stood in the right hand corner of the front garden homing much beautiful birdlife. How did Council allow this to happen? Aren’t trees of historical significance protected? Residents were infuriated. The back garden also suffered some
significant loss. Originally three grand 100+ palm trees highlighted the garden, (apparently in honour of WW1 fallen soldiers) two vanished over time, and only one stands today, its existence now threatened.

At present the No. 3 (and the next door dwelling No. 5) is once again under threat by greedy developers seeking to consolidate the large properties and replace them with a single monolith of three floors consisting of 19 oppressive apartments. Again this is about greed and pure profit at the expense of the residents and the community. Fortunately, the Minister for Planning in the Victorian State Government has granted interim heritage protection for No. 3 (and No. 5) as requested by the Port Phillip Council. This interim protection will last until the 30th June 2020
which gives Council time to put in place permanent heritage plans. Which is about time and way overdue! The developers requested an adjournment of the VCAT hearing so some necessary preparations could be made. VCAT (and we all know what VCAT is like) granted it of course! The final hearing is scheduled over 7 days from 2-10 of December.

 

The developers said the demolition of the properties will not proceed until the permit is in place. But on the morning of July 10, five or six workers arrived at the site and started digging up parts of the grove to disconnect gas lines to the properties preparing for demolition next month. “It wouldn’t surprise me if we showed up tomorrow and the bulldozers were here to knock it down” stated one of the residents. The developer Nick McKimm expressed that the workers had disconnected the gas and power at the site as a safety precaution and was adamant the houses would not be demolished yet saying: “There will be absolutely nothing more done at the site
until we have the proper permits.” Developers have stated this many times before and did the complete opposite (secretly at night).

No. 3 Tiuna Grove, Elwood is an important, valuable and essential asset to the City of Port Phillip’s historical and cultural identity. Elwood seriously needs to maintain its architectural history which seems to be vanishing at an alarming rate. No. 3 should be classified and preserved (at all costs) as a Heritage property. One loses faith in the City of Port Phillip’s Heritage Review policies. What heritage property does the City of Port Phillip possess that is crucial to the education and enjoyment for our children and future generations? Basically none.

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