Labassa and the Iron Houses – more free things to do in Melbourne

The National Trust has reciprocal arrangements with other heritage organisations around the world and on my first trip to Australia in 2011 I was advised to bring my membership card.

Phil and I visited The Polly Woodside, The Old Melbourne Gaol, Rippon Lea and Como House and Gardens. properties managed by the National Trust of Victoria.

Labassa was a short walk from where we were house sitting and had limited opening times (the third Sunday of each month). We turned up on the right day but, because it was Christmas week, it was closed. We did however manage to get a good look around the exterior.

The National Trust describes Labassa as

one of Victoria’s most lavish 19th Century mansions

yet the approach to the property is via a residential road and is surrounded by housing. The stunning house looks almost out of place. When it was built there was a long sweeping drive, now all this and the surrounding land is residential housing.

At one point this was built in the front garden. When the National Trust acquired Labassa it was demolished.

For a house that in the 60’s and 70’s was occupied by artists and  bohemians it is amazingly well preserved. The occupants knew they were living in a once beautiful house and did their best to preserve it. Those hippies eh, preserving a historic building while everything else got knocked down in the name of progress.

On the  2015 trip to Melbourne, I made it a priority to visit Labassa when it was open and booked us a slot as soon as I could. Unlike many properties we visited in 2011, when we were often the only guests there, this was busy. As in there were two groups touring the house at the same time. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is filmed here and at other National Trust properties and this has possibly created an interest in the houses. Good.

The tour started with a brief presentation. It was interesting, yet a bit too formal for my liking. The guide was extremely knowledgable. However. I was restless to get to see the house.

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There is still some evidence of the house having been converted to flats and of the hippy occupation.

Yet the grandeur of the building is still evident.

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If shabby. Which adds to its charm. A lovely place for a wedding.

I love to capture the old patterns. Still inspiring modern tiles yet the design influence of tiles from Morocco are clearly there. Victorian artists brought these back from their Grand Tour I think.

Labassa is worth a visit, so if you live in Melbourne and haven’t been, go. If you are visiting Melbourne, schedule it in. There is also a café there. In true National Trust tradition they did seem to have homemade cake which sadly I didn’t get to taste. Next time then…

The other National Trust property Phil and I visited were The Portable Iron Houses in South Melbourne. They are open on the first Sunday of each month (except January). Again this property was relatively busy, so perhaps the winter is the most likely time for visits to National Trust Properties, or they are marketing them better now.

I still remain baffled at the limited opening times of many of the properties in Victoria. If this were the case in England there would be outrage. Can you imagine if you could only visit Corfe Castle on the third Sunday of each month and Snowshill Manor on the first Sunday? There would be petitions to parliament and placard holding pensioners protesting in Trafalgar Square.

These iron houses are the original flat pack houses, ordered from a catalogue, to house the migrants moving to Victoria during the goldrush in 1851. Built in England and then shipped to Australia, each component was labelled and put in crates to be re assembled following the instructions that came with them. Just like Ikea furniture. But built to last.

The visit begins with a short film, giving the history of the iron houses and the families that lived in them. There are very few remaining, yet at one point there were over 100 in South Melbourne. Churches were also constructed this way.

Some of the rooms have been made over to represent what they would have looked like, but mostly the buildings have been kept as they were found, with peeling wallpaper and old wiring.

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As this property does not open until 1pm, the perfect plan is to have brunch in South Melbourne (avoid the hipster coffee shops with queues) and have a paleo breakfast or breakfast burger at Bunyip just across from the market. When you pay, please buy a suspended coffee. Sunday brunch in South Melbourne is the thing to do and the street cafes are packed. If this is too hipster for you, jump on the 96 tram from the city toward St Kilda and get off at Mart 96 for brunch there. The South Melbourne tram stop is five minutes walk from both the markets and the houses.

Take time to wander around the streets nearby the Iron Houses. I love the architecture, reflecting the history of this city.

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And stop off for supplies at the market before you head home.

So there you go,  two free days out in Melbourne. Don’t you just love this city?


Note: I regard my National Trust Membership as a charitable donation with a bonus of having access to beautiful and historically interesting properties for free.  It you are not a member the entrance to Labassa is $15 and $6 for the Iron Houses.









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