Category Archives: National Trust

Walking with dinosaurs

A dinosaur was seen at Yallambie yesterday. Not the reptilian monster variety so favoured in the movies of Ray Harryhausen and Steven Spielberg, but a cone from a tree, largely unchanged since the Jurassic period.

Bunya cone
Bunya cone

The Bunya Bunya “Pine” or Araucaria bidwilli is a native of Queensland. The huge cones it produces erratically every few years contain edible seeds, a little like a potato or roasted chestnut. The tree in the garden at Yallambie that dropped the cone almost certainly pre dates the current Homestead. It was planted about 150 years ago by the early settlers from a seed reportedly supplied by Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, colonial Government Botanist and the then director of Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, possibly to mark the event of the first Royal visit to Australia by Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh.

Early picture taken on the south lawn at Yallambie with Bunya pine on left.
Early picture taken on the south lawn at Yallambie with Bunya pine on left.
Group on the lawn at Yallambie, seated under the Bunya pine. Annie Murdoch (ne Wragge) is seated behind the dog. Alice Wragge is far right behind the Bunya branch, holding her hat.
Group on the lawn at Yallambie, seated under the Bunya pine. Annie Murdoch (ne Wragge) is seated behind the dog. Alice Wragge is far right behind the Bunya branch, holding her hat.

The Bunya is an Araucaria, a curious genus of evergreen coniferous trees in the family of Araucariaceae and a survivor from a time more than 100 million years ago when much of the land in the southern hemisphere was joined into a single super continent – Gondwanaland. Trees like the Bunya of Queensland, the Norfolk and New Caledonia “Pines” and the Monkey Puzzle of Chile, Araucarias all, are a clue to the original distribution of the species. Seen from a distance the Monkey Puzzle, so named because the task of climbing the sharp and interlocked branches are a puzzle even for the monkeys of South America, is a very similar tree in aspect to the Bunya. The Bunya is sometimes even referred to as the “False” Monkey Puzzle. The Bunya is however slightly more open in growth than the Monkey Puzzle, which is a handy thing when, like the monkeys of Chile, you need to climb one.

Grace Wragge (ne Wilson) standing with shawl around her shoulders. Probably her sister, Alice Wragge, seated and Syd Wragge, Grace’s husband lying down. A fence around the old east west tennis court is on the left. Bunya pine visible in the background.
Grace Wragge (ne Wilson) standing with shawl around her shoulders. Probably her sister, Alice Wragge, seated and Syd Wragge, Grace’s husband lying down. Bunya pine is visible in the background.
Harry Wragge at Yallambie holding up a shot gun. His father, Thomas Wragge, is standing behind on the left of picture. Another son, Syd Wragge, is lying in front of him also with shot gun. Annie Wragge, Thomas' eldest daughter, is sitting up next to Syd. Another daughter, Alice Wragge, seems to be in the middle of the 3 women behind Harry, (eyes turned down). The 3 point tree in the background above Alice’s shoulder is the Bakewell era, Italian cypress still growing at Yallambie. The Bunya pine is to the right.
Harry Wragge at Yallambie holding up a shot gun. His father, Thomas Wragge, is standing behind on the left of picture. Another son, Syd Wragge, is lying in front of him also with shot gun. Annie Wragge, Thomas’ eldest daughter, is sitting up next to Syd. Another daughter, Alice Wragge, seems to be in the middle of the 3 women behind Harry, (eyes turned down). The 3 point tree in the background above Alice’s shoulder is the Bakewell era, Italian cypress still growing at Yallambie. The Bunya pine is to the right.

A few years ago, when our son was still quite young, Father Christmas brought him a radio controlled, model aeroplane of infinite possibility. In that time honoured tradition, I took our son outside on Christmas Day to educate him first hand in the finer arts of piloting a model aeroplane. After his initial test flight, I took the controls myself and managed to fly the plane on my first pass into the top most branches of the Bunya nearly 40m above our heads. The expression on my son’s face as I looked at him and he looked at me, tears welling in his eyes, resolved me immediately in my course of action. To the strains of “Don’t do it Daddy – I’d rather have a daddy than a plane,” and with a passing thought to those monkeys across the Pacific, I hoisted myself up into the sharp branches of the Bunya, pausing only once to wonder at a mummified possum, (an indicator perhaps to my possible fate) eventually climbing all the way to the top from where I was able to dislodge the plane to the ground. That done the only question remaining then was, “Now how do I get back down?”

By the time I stood once more safely on Terra Firma, having miraculously avoided that all too rapid descent, my clothes were in tatters and my arms cut to ribbons but I had the time honoured words ready, used by father to son for generations. “Don’t tell your mother.”

The Bunya "Pine" at Yallambie, c1955
The Bunya “Pine” at Yallambie, c1955

There are several other old Araucarias growing in the Yallambie Park reserve and one or two in the private properties neighbouring its boundaries, including at least one other Bunya. One old Hoop Pine (Araucaria cunninghamii) was cut down in its prime in a private garden in Moola Close in recent times but the “Lone” Hoop Pine which is growing still so superbly on the river flat in Yallambie Park is a magnificent specimen. Standing alone, noble and tall and listed by the National Trust of Australia Register of Significant Trees, it is ranked of State significance. I collected a seed from a cone of this tree nearly 20 years ago and planted a seedling at the bottom of our garden adjacent to an old Pinus radiata that was at that time in sharp decline. The Pinus is long gone now but the Hoop Pine is growing nicely in its place and measures something now over 5m tall.

Misty morning with Hoop pine , August, 2014
Misty morning with Hoop pine , August, 2014

There are a few Bunyas growing in Heidelberg Gardens, probably planted there by fellow Heidelberg Shire Councillor of Yallambie’s Thomas Wragge, Peter Fanning in the 19th century. I remember running barefoot through Heidelberg Gardens as a child, my chief memory from then being of that “prickly park”. Araucaria’s are seen in many types of parkland but considering the size of its cones, it’s a wonder that the Bunya has been planted so extensively in public spaces. Summer nights in Yallambie are occasionally disturbed by Narnian “Dufflepud” thumping when the Bunya has a mind to drop its cones. It’s a bit like Tom Hanks in the movie “Castaway” with his sleep disturbed by the coconuts falling around his camp. Years ago I travelled through some remote parts of the Pacific and the fear of falling coconuts is something you hear people talk about there but not with any great seriousness. Likewise, although unlikely,I imagine the damage would be pretty severe were a Bunya nut ever to nut your noggin.

Bunya pine at Yallambie, January, 2015
Bunya pine at Yallambie, January, 2015

As a fruit tree the Bunya provided the first Australians with an important source of indigenous bush tucker in Queensland. It was one of the few foods that they would harvest in excess of their immediate needs, taking the seeds away and burying them to eat the edible tubers at a later date. The trees were highly prized by the Queensland tribes who called them Gubbi Gubbi and held vast gatherings in the forests of the Bunya Mountains when the cones were ripe. Stories exist of the murder by Aboriginals of unfortunate Red Cedar cutters in the Bunya Mountains, retribution for the damage done to Bunyas during the extraction of their cedar logs. From 1842 Bunyas were protected by the colonial government of New South Wales in what became known as the “Bunya Proclamation”. Unfortunately, one of the first acts of the new government of Queensland upon separation in 1859 was to revoke this decree and proclaim new timber getting regulations, an early example of victory by loggers over conservation but by that time the Bunya tree and other Araucarias were being planted in homestead gardens across Australia, including the garden at Yallambie.

Bunya pine at Yallambie, January, 2015
Bunya pine at Yallambie, January, 2015

In the family of Araucariaceae there are three genera of which the Araucarias form one. They are “living fossils” of the forest and it is commonly believed that the long necks of sauropod dinosaurs may have evolved specifically to graze on the foliage of the tall trees. A third genus known as Wollemia was known only through fossil records and its only extant species went undiscovered until 1994 when the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis ) was found growing in an inaccessible canyon, 150km north west of Sydney. It’s a truly remarkable story and one I would suggest you read in detail elsewhere. I read a very informative book a few years ago by James Woodford on the subject but managed to leave it on the roof of my car one day so can’t lend it to you. I found the book later blowing up and down Lower Plenty Road in the rain but was at least able to salvage the last chapters describing the progress of the Wollemi Pine’s reintroduction into civilisation. Fewer than 100 trees are known to be growing in the wild, in three closely situated localities within Wollemi National Park. It is listed as critically endangered but a propagation programme is underway to sustain it in garden form. This might be meeting with some success. We were at a party last month and the Christmas tree in the home was an impressive living tree, standing more than two metres tall in a pot. Not a Norfolk Pine, the tree more usually used in Australia for such purposes, but a very fine looking Wollemi “Pine” that looked like it had stepped right out of Morticia’s garden room in the “The Addams Family”. It had lovely, fern like leaves which is a contrast to those of the Bunya which has sharp, prickly fronds well suited to ripping the motor out of a Victa lawn mower. The Wollemi would make a great landscape tree. I wonder whether Banyule Council could possibly be encouraged to plant one down in the Yallambie Park reserve?

As if in commentary to that farcical notion, my thoughts are suddenly interrupted here as the skies of Yallambie come alive with a flock of Sulphur Crested Cockatoos outside our window. They are wheeling and screeching around the neighbourhood to land in the upper branches of the Bunya where the model plane was once lodged. Don’t let it be said that native birds avoid exotic gardens. They know exactly where to come when doing the rounds. I dare say though that the cockies around here find the Bunya cones too tough even for their large beaks. It might explain the mess the pesky blighters have made recently of our other fruit trees. I caught them in our walnut earlier, stripping the branches leaf by leaf and dangling while they did so looking like they were hanging from a trapeze. They are sitting in the Bunya now looking at me as if to say, come and get me. They don’t know about that plane or the monkey in me. It’s said that if you’re looking for dinosaurs today, to look no further than to the birds of the sky. But just for a moment, look again at the trees they perch in. It might be that the herb you’re looking at is of a similar antediluvian origin.

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo in oak tree at Yallambie, January, 2015
Sulphur Crested Cockatoo in English oak tree at Yallambie, January, 2015
Agave "century plant" flower and parrot at Yallambie
Mexican Agave “century plant” flower and parrot at Yallambie
Pesky little blighters: Sulphur Crested Cockatoos in walnut tree at Yallambie, January, 2015
Pesky little blighters: Sulphur Crested Cockatoos in walnut tree at Yallambie, January, 2015

A National Trust landscape

The glazed look that creeps across a face when you tell someone you live in Yallambie is the motivation behind this blog. “Where’s Yallambie?” usually follows and after the answer -16km due north east of Melbourne – comes the inevitable, “Oh, is that so? I thought it was in the sticks.”
It is true that the land that makes up the present day suburb that is Yallambie remained rural far longer than it’s close proximity to Victoria’s capital would suggest. But today the locality marks the geographic centre of the City of Banyule and includes a history that dates back to the very earliest days of the Port Phillip district. To give an idea of that history is my aim in these pages. As a good starting point and as an overview it’s probably best to begin with the landscape classification of Yallambie which was made by the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) in 1998.
The full classification follows under.

YALLAMBEE by George Alexander Gilbert, c1850, elevated view of river, vineyard on side of hill rising from the river and house at crest of hill.
YALLAMBEE by George Alexander Gilbert, c1850, elevated view of river, vineyard on side of hill rising from the river and house at crest of hill. (SLV, H29575, http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/29449)

 

YALLAMBIE PARK, river flat, 1997
YALLAMBIE PARK, river flat, 1997

NAME OF PLACE: Yallambie House & environs and Yallambie Reserve
LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREA: Banyule City Council (formerly City of Heidelberg)
CADASTRAL INFORMATION: Reserved existing public open space on the western banks of the Plenty River from Lower Plenty Road. Private land comprising the remnant garden of Yallambie House 14-18 Tarcoola Drive, Macleod. The total area being about 9ha (22.5 acres).
TYPE OF PLACE: River valley landscape, comprising riparian habitat and horseshoe bend river flat and escarpment.
EXTENT OF CLASSIFICATION: Yallambie Reserve north of Lower Plenty Road to the extension of Allima Avenue and including the environs of Yallambie House and garden.
STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: The landscape of Yallambie Reserve is of high local significance. It is of Regional significance as a cultural landscape being the site of the former ‘Plenty Station’ and one of the very important early colonial sites. In summary it is significant for the following reasons:
a. Association with John and Robert Bakewell (1840-1867) and the Wragge family from 1872-1960.
b. As site of the ‘Plenty Station’, one of the earliest and best documented colonial settlements.
c. Remnant plantings of pines, hawthorns, oaks, elms, willows and orchard trees. Particularly the surviving Pines (Pinus radiata), Bunya Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii), Hoop Pine (Araucaria cunninghamii), English Oak (Quercus robur), Cypress (Cupressus sp.) and Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara).
d. Aesthetic characteristics of the river landscape, and views across and along the river valley from high points.

HISTORY
European History
The initial Crown Grant of the Plenty Station (Crown Portion 8) was to Thomas Wills 12 September 1838. This was sold to a neighbour Thomas Walker in 1839 who in turn subdivided and sold most of the land. Brothers John and Robert Bakewell purchased lot 5 (site of Yallambie House) in 1846* for 31 pounds. The Bakewells continued to add to their holding until they owned most of the portion north of Martins Lane and South of Yallambie Rd. Robert Bakewell purchased his brother’s interest in the land in 1859 for 6000 pounds. He retained the property until his death in 1867. It was purchased by Thomas Wragge in 1872. Wragge, a farmer, came to Port Phillip in 1841** from Nottingham. He leased a property on the Plenty River in 1857 and claimed to have started the first orchard in the district. Wragge added to the Yallambie holding and by 1893 his holding totalled 606 acres (245 ha). Thomas Wragge died in 1910 but the family remained in occupation until 1960 when the area north, west and south of the house became a housing estate.
The present house was built on the edge of the Plenty River escarpment between 1872 and 1876. Further improvements were carried out by Wragge’s widow in 1910 and in 1919 by Wragge’s sons. The house is described as having two levels built of stuccoed masonry designed in the Italian style. It has an asymmetric plan, bay windows and stucco ornamentation. The main roof is slate. There is a shingle-covered balustrade to the upper level verandah. Alteration to ground level openings is evident under the verandah but generally the full arch is dominant at the window heads. Corniced guilloche pattern balconettes and corniced stucco chimneys have survived. Extensive interior alterations occurred between 1919 and 1923. Removal of major outbuilding including the stables to the north of the house occurred relatively recently. The house itself is superficially altered and is of low architectural importance but remains as the period focus of the pre subdivision context.
Little of the former orchards of Yallambie remain – a few pears, figs etc. on the river flats. The hawthorn hedged farm track now extends from the public car park off Tarcoola Drive. A number of large pines and oaks also remain on the escarpment and river margins. These plantings provide perhaps the largest and nearest to the original context for an early Victorian house in Banyule. The hill slope and house garden typify the nineteenth century landscape and encapsulate colonial attitudes to nature and land.

DESCRIPTION
Geomorphology
Yallambie Reserve is on the Plenty River some 3 km from its confluence with the Yarra. The river is in a stage of early maturity. The stream profile and widened valley floor indicates that downcutting has significantly decreased except for scour during periods of flood. The river course at Yallambie has changed little over the past 50 years. The reserve itself is mainly a river terrace within a horseshoe bend of the river.

Flora and Fauna
Public access is gained to the horse shoe river flats from Tarcoola Drive. The land slopes down to the flats with an old farm track bordered by a row of Hawthorn (Crataegus sp) trees which provide an aesthetically pleasing entrance to the flats which open up before you as you descend the path. The River flats contains an impressive 100 year old Hoop Pine (Araucaria cunninghamii) and a 120 year old English Oak (Quercus robur) both classified by the National Trust. Remnants of the orchard remain in the form of a number of Pear and Fig trees. The River flats is bordered to the west by a number of homes fronting Tarcoola Drive including the original Yallambie Homestead and a number of remnant trees remain in this area along the escarpment some in the reserve and some in backyards. These trees include Hoop Pines (Araucaria cunninghamii), Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii) and Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara).
Other remnant exotics from the homestead era occur throughout the open space including Prickly Pear (Opuntia), Agapanthus (Agapanthus praecox), Cape Broom (Genista monspessulana), European Olive (Oleo europea), Maritime Pine (Pinus pinaster), Monterey Pine (Pinus radiata), Cypress (Cupressus sp.) and Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara).
A number of Manna Gums (Eucalyptus viminalis), possibly remnants, exist on the river flat; more of this species appear to have been planted. Along the River are numerous Black Wattles (Acacia mearnsii), Willows (Salix sp.), Swamp Gums (Eucalyptus ovata) and Tussock Grass (Poa sp.).
Unfortunately invasion of the reserve by weeds has occurred in many locations. These include Wandering Jew (Tradescantia albiflora), Cape Ivy (Delairia odorata), Angled Onion (Allium triquetrum), Asparagus (Asparagus officianalis), Bridal Creeper (Myrsiphyllum asparagoides), Great Brome (Bromus diandrus), Blackberry (Rubus sp.) Watsonia (Watsonia sp.), Prairie Grass (Bromus cartharticus), Fumitory (Fumaria sp.) and Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica).

Aesthetic Characteristics
Yallambie Reserve is an attractive open grassy landscape dotted with Manna Gums and remnant exotic trees. Pleasant views are possible from the elevated areas of the escarpment and from Yallambie over the horseshoe bend of the Plenty River toward the indigenous woodland on the opposite side of the valley. The approach to the Yallambie flat is along a riverside trail and from paths descending from Tarcoola Drive. One of these paths follows an old farm track and is hedged by hawthorns, pines and oaks. Preservation of the integrity of the western escarpment under private management is critical. The owners should be encouraged to participate in sympathetic management.

COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS
With the exception of Gulf Station no early river stations on the Yarra or Plenty Rivers remain relatively intact. Although the Yallambie river station landscape has been modified it nonetheless retains enough elements to allow interpretation of its earlier form. fragments of other river stations in metropolitan Melbourne include the site of Pontville Homestead within Paddle Reserve, Templestowe, but only minimal remnants of the plantings remain. Clarendon Eyre (fmr Springbank), off Bulleen Road, Bulleen, is on the Yarra escarpment but the landscape has been severely modified by recent road works and encroaching subdivision. As a landscape the Yallambie flat is comparable to other river flats on the Yarra but gains its uniqueness from the remnant plantings of large exotic trees and its association with Yallambie House.

Notes:
*The date 1846 in the above classification for the purchase of the house block would appear to be an error. According to Calder, (Classing the Wool and Counting the Bales), the land on which the residence stood was purchased by the Bakewells in July 1842. Certainly, Richard Howitt is known to have visited the Bakewells in their home at the Plenty Station in August 1842 where by that time they were already well established, “the first country newness being over”. (Richard Howitt, Impressions of Australia Felix).
**The date 1841 for Wragge’s arrival would also appear to be an error. (Ibid, Calder), Thomas Wragge arrived at Port Phillip in November, 1851.

YALLAMBEE_ survey_map_c1850