Local Treasures: Time Travel Dalwood Style

Entrance to Dalwood House

Entrance to Dalwood House

Day Shift – 18/06/2013 – 02:10 PM
Presenter: Carol Duncan
Interviewees: Ann Hardy, Secretary of Hunter Regional Committee of the National Trust and Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist, Newcastle University

Ann Hardy, Secretary of the Hunter Regional Committee of the National Trust and Gionni Di Gravio discuss the forthcoming gathering at Wyndham Estate and visit to the historic Dalwood homestead

Broadcast Notes:

Ann Hardy asked Gionni Di Gravio to be guest speaker at a special dinner provided by the National Trust for its volunteers who help run the properties across the State. The aim was to provide a pep talk, and suggest some new approaches to using social media and new technologies. And, in addition, offer ideas to enhance and share the stories connected with these places with the wider global community, to bring benefactors and helpers together for new collaborations. During the interview both Ann and Gionni admitted that they had never been to Dalwood, so Carol requested that they take lots of pictures and share the experience.

Gionni’s story begins here: Upon our arrival at Wyndham Estate, our guide for the tour was Mr Don Seton Wilkinson, a historian and author, who has diligently researched and documented the history of his family. Don is descended from the Wyndham and Glennie families, as well as Audrey Wilkinson. So, he is a living embodiment of the Hunter Region’s vigneron pioneers. (All photographs on this page were taken by Gionni Di Gravio unless otherwise stated)

Don Seton Wilkinson with tour group

Don Seton Wilkinson with tour group

Don took us on a trail that began at the river and wended its way up past the vineyards, the pioneer cemetery and onto the homestead. The trail is professionally signposted and laid out.

Panorama - Crossroads (Click for a larger image)

Panorama – Crossroads (Click for a larger image)

Panorama - Vineyards (Click for a larger image)

Panorama – Vineyards (Click for a larger image)

Wyndham Family Graves

Wyndham Family Graves

Panorama - Entrance to Dalwood

Panorama – Side Portico entrance to Dalwood (click for a larger image)

Dalwood HouseOur pilgrimage trail led us to the jewel which was the Dalwood homestead. Dalwood House is National Trust property that lies within the Wyndham Estate Vineyard in Branxton, New South Wales. It is a single-storey stone house built around 1828-1829 by one of the Hunter Region’s early pioneers, George Wyndham (1801-1870), a pastoralist and vigneron.

Its construction possibly began very soon after George and wife Margaret purchased over 2000 acres of land at Branxton in January 1828.  It was named Dalwood after one of his father’s farms at Dinton.

Dalwood's doric columns

Dalwood’s doric columns

The homestead represents arguably the only surviving example of a Greek Revival style building on Australian soil, the Greek style influenced by George Wyndham’s passions for the classics, born from his education at Harrow and St John’s College Cambridge. The doric columns typify a simple beauty of form.

Doric columns from the inside

Doric columns from the inside

We entered the house through the doric columns of the side portico, which originally was accessed from the main bedroom (see item 18 on the floor plan below). According to Don, the main entrance was actually from the front verandah, although as the use of the house evolved over time, the usual entrance was from the back, by way of the stone flagged verandah beside the kitchen and service wing, into the flag stone floored ante room, and then to the formal rooms at the front.

Dalwood House Floor Plan (Courtesy of Don Seton Wilkinson)

Dalwood House Floor Plan (Courtesy of Don Seton Wilkinson)

Panorama - Original Entrance to Dalwood

Panorama – Original Entrance to Dalwood

Nothing could prepare you for the entrance to the drawing room (Room 1), which is larger than expected. It was breathtaking, and quite unexpected to see such a large space in what looked like a modest farmhouse from the outside. It was as if Wyndham had somehow fitted the Parthenon inside his farmhouse. How Australian! From the outside a humble abode, inside a ‘temple’.

Two thoughts initially came to mind, firstly the book by George L. Hersey entitled Pythagorean Palaces: Magic and Architecture in the Italian Renaissance (Cornell University Press, 1976) where he explored the method of creation of Greek temple structures as an unfolding architectural algorithm, once they set it in train they could reproduce structure after structure. Secondly, a recent documentary or news broadcast on the the recent conservation work on the Parthenon that featured interviews with the conservators and monumental masons and tradespeople working on the reconstruction and repair of the ancient monument, commenting on the subtly of the art they were uncovering through their work. There was an element of visual illusion that the ancient Greeks adopted in the construction of the building, a warping and a bending, in order to use imperfection to create the illusion of perfection. All skewed to a human perspective. I found this extraordinary, and very similar to what Wyndham had, for me, achieved in Dalwood, somewhat on a lesser scale.

I was unable to capture the feeling of space within the room through a photograph. It is something you will need to experience in the flesh, to fully understand what is going on here.

Dalwood passageway to courtyard

Dalwood passageway to courtyard

Dalwood Steps

Dalwood Steps

Dalwood Courtyard

Dalwood Courtyard

Being in the centre of the courtyard at Dalwood is very reminiscent of a Pompeian villa, I almost expected to see the remains of the plaster people frozen in time.

Visual surprises everywhere

Visual surprises everywhere

Dalwood trees

Dalwood trees

Dalwood mystery

Dalwood ‘mystery’ dome

Don also explained that the Dalwood ‘mystery dome’ at the rear of the courtyard is the cover to the well for the household’s water supply.

Panorama - Dalwood Courtyard

Panorama – Dalwood Courtyard

On our walk back, as dusk was approaching, I again looked back at the modest, humble homestead, with its doric columns, and a new sense of awe at what we had just briefly experienced. An outback illusion. I raced up to Don, who was having a discussion about the foundation work to the building, the estimated costs, and asked “You haven’t given up on the place have you?” He replied “No we haven’t”. “Because” I said, “UNESCO was able to move, with the help of the Italians and Americans whole Egyptian temples from one place to another, block by block, to avoid being flooded by the Aswan Dam, so we do have the technology to save such a little place – it’s worth saving”.

We can take pride that there are people out there willing to volunteer their time and lives to look after such buildings. What we need to remember is that buildings such as this also look after us.

For more information on Dalwood see: http://www.dalwood.org.au/

See Ann Hardy’s photographs (including the sundial) here: http://nationaltrust-hunternewcastleregion.blogspot.com.au/2013/06/dalwood-house-another-national-trust.html

Gionni Di Gravio
20th June 2013

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