The Future of Millers Homestead

Millers homestead in the late 19th century. Photo courtesy of the Knox Historical Society.

‘Council committed to consult over future of Millers Homestead’

This is the title of a media release regarding an amendment passed at the July 23rd Knox Council meeting.

It begins, ‘Knox City Council is committed to ensuring that our community will have a say on the future of the iconic and much loved Millers Homestead in Boronia. This follows a recent decision by Council to declare this property as surplus to requirements, and to commence a process to potentially facilitate its sale.’

The message goes on to explain the proposed process of re-zoning and continues –

‘With Councillors having supported the proposed amendment, Council is now seeking authorisation from the Minister for Planning to prepare and exhibit the proposed planning scheme amendment for community input. If Council is authorised by the Minister, adjoining properties will be notified directly and a notice will go in the local paper.

Information on the proposed amendment will be available on Council’s website, at the Knox City Council Office and, at local libraries. Comments and submissions about the proposed amendment can be sent to Council by letter or e-mail during the exhibition period.’

Gully News writer Teresa Cannon explores Millers Homestead’s history in the following article…

 

Millers Homestead: a ‘typical gentleman’s country residence’

No doubt readers would have learnt that the heritage building, Millers Homestead in Boronia, currently owned by the Knox City Council, has been proposed for sale. We at the Gully News thought it appropriate to inform readers of the history of the homestead.

Millers Homestead was built in 1888. A year later, in the Visitor’s Guide to the Upper Yarra and Ferntree Gully Districts it was described as a house ‘situated on a crown of rising land’ with views of mountain and forest scenery. It was a residence ‘up to the requirements of anyone possessing a cultivated taste for beauty, convenience, snugness and true sanitary conditions’.

Constructed in the popular Italianate style of the time, it is an ornate building in brick with stucco rendering. With its French doors and bay windows, it deviates somewhat from the Italianate, and its veranda, although ornate, was possibly a concession to the Australian climate.

John Miller

Millers Homestead is named after its first owner, James J Miller. It was at times also known as ‘Melrose’. Around his home, Miller designed a large garden of flowering plants. Camellias of all colours filled the grounds with blossom, their species being of particular horticultural significance. In addition, there were numerous food producing trees such as lemons, chestnuts, figs and cherries.

Miller was a printer, a horse breeder and trainer. He also ran a sweepstakes. It seems too that he had an entrepreneurial spirit in his endeavour to attract visitors to the Dandenongs and particularly to his homestead. People came to see his horses and his garden. To increase the numbers he introduced a private coach service to transport visitors. And each year he organised a huge Christmas fireworks display.

Miller was also important in local politics. He was the first President of the Shire of Ferntree Gully, a role he held from 1889 to 1892. In that capacity he chose the lyrebird to be the Shire’s emblem.

In 1891, the Guide to the Upper Yarra District (as referred to above) described Millers Homestead as a ‘typical gentleman’s country residence’. But while the homestead my have been considered a gentleman’s residence, Miller, in the eyes of some, may not have always behaved as such. History records him as being frank and opinionated. On at least one occasion, a letter Miller penned was deemed unreadable due to its impolite nature. Maybe he had good reason to be outspoken. His letter apparently expressed his ire about huge increases in council rates!

In the late 1890s, Miller’s sweepstakes were declared illegal. This placed him in financial hardship and he lost ownership of the homestead and its gardens. Subsequently, the property had several different owners until 1976 when it came into the ownership of the Knox City Council. The homestead and its surrounding gardens were restored in the 1980s and the property was hired out for events such as weddings.

Today the homestead stands, serene and majestic, behind its bluestone and iron fence. Its chimneys rise clearly, backgrounded by the sky. Settled and slightly higher than the nearby properties, the homestead still gazes towards Mt Dandenong and the surrounding hills. Huge deciduous trees rest in their winter nakedness while aged gums complement them extending their leafy branches. A windmill stands sedate and alone. Agapanthus leaves drip over garden boundaries onto pleasantly shaped lawns. Outside, the path to the entrance is lined with lavender. And deep within the greenery a camellia gently exposes its blood red blossom.

Teresa Cannon

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