Marble Hill

Bushfires are scary!

The reality of any Australian summer is that there will be major bushfires, that’s the unfortunate result of high temperatures and the highly flammable vegetation found in the Australian landscape. Some of the major bushfires have their own names, the Ash Wednesday fires, Black Tuesday and going back to 1955, there were the Black Sunday bushfires in the Adelaide Hills. These fires were infamous not just because of the damage that they caused by also for being the bushfire that burned the S.A. governor’s summer residence called Marble Hill.

It was common during the colonial area that governors who found themselves appointed to places where high temperatures ensued during the summer months (eg India, the Malay peninsula, the Australian colonies) that a summer residence was built so that the Governor, his family and staff could escape the heat.

Very early on, after the proclamation of the South Australian colony, a governor’s summer residence was built in what is now the Blair National Park, it still exists today and it looks little more than a cottage. By the 1870’s a larger residence was needed, land was acquired in the Adelaide Hills in what was even then an isolated place, there was no town or village nearby. Building work began in 1878 and the Governor at the time and his family moved in early 1880. At the time it was state of the art, it had flushing toilets, gravity fed water and only the second telegraph line in S.A. (to connect it with Government House) A variety of governors then enjoyed their summers (most it seems moved to Marble Hill just before Christmas and stayed until May) until January 2nd 1955. The Black Sunday bushfires destroyed the house and surrounding buildings and nearly cost, the Governor, his family and his staff their lives, They did all escape uninjured and were evacuated to the city shortly after the fire passed.

The Marble Hill ruins stayed ruins except for a brief period in the 1970s where the National Trust were able to get grants to restore the caretaker's cottage, stables as tearooms and the tower belonging to the house. At the base of the tower they restored the governor’s study. I can remember years ago going up to Marble Hill to look at the restored part of the house and thinking it was a shame that no more was restored.

The S.A. government has now passed the estate into private hands with various conditions, the house needs to be restored with its historical integrity kept outside and the estate needs to be opened to the public on 7 occasions a year on a not for profit basis.

Each Australia Day a citizenship ceremony is held and having read about it in the paper thought it might be interesting to go along and have a look at the house and environs. I’m also quite excited by the idea that the house is being restored and thought it would be nice to see its progress.

View of Marble Hill from the old tennis courts which are now a picnic area, the tower is currently being restored and made safe again. The righthand side of the house had a large verandah on the first floor from which the occupants of the house had a spectacular view of the surrounding area.

The front of the house, hard to see behind the orange tape but it’s the front door and the windows to the left are the governor’s study.

The original plans for the house were for a much larger building but the western part was never built. However the western side was built in a way that future extensions could be added, so the alcoves for future fireplaces can be seen, the wall aren’t flush but extend in a way for an extension. On the bottom left there’s a small rectangular area where the wall was protected from the fire, all around the stones are black except for there, it would be interesting to know what had been there and protected the wall.

The views from the terrace, which had formal gardens during the vice regal era, it looks as if some work is going on there now. The dining room French doors opened out to the terrace.
From inside the ruin, looking up it’s possible to still see where one of the bathrooms were. Each of the bedrooms which were all upstairs had their own bathrooms and dressing rooms. The bathrooms were all renovated in 1938-39 and they got hot and cold running water. (Before just cold!)
The stables, which were originally built for 6 horses and then in 1938-39 was adapted to house 4 cars. It had been rebuilt by the National Trust in the 1970s and used as tea rooms, it’s now had the 1970s concrete floor removed, the original brick floor was underneath. The family that currently own Marble Hill are going to use this as a function centre. The restoration of the stonework was also a practise for working on the main house.

The spot on the driveway where the governor, his family and staff huddled together under wet blankets as the fire passed overhead.

The site of Marble Hill was chosen as it provided some magnificent views, and it still does.
Looking northeast through the hills.

Looking northwest towards the sea, can just see the salt flats at Burton in the distance.

The Black Sunday bushfires were 60 years ago and yet you can still see burnt out stumps near the house.

This really fascinated me, a tree that grew on one side of a burnt stump. One side is alive and growing, the other burnt and dead.

Closeup of tree and stump.

As I like old buildings and love the TV program ‘Grand Designs especially when someone restores a ruin of some sort I was in my element visiting Marble Hill. Hopefully I’ll get to see it completely rebuilt! And I will admit I am nerdy enough about old buildings that I bought the book the history of Marble Hill, hence all the historic information I’m passing on!