THE STORY OF MOORAMONG
Early History - the ‘Scottish squattocracy’
Mooramong, in the heart of Victoria’s
Western District, is a sheep station renowned for the production of fine wool. In the pioneering days the area was taken up in vast ‘runs’ and the little town of Skipton, which celebrated its 175th Anniversary in 2014, was established.
The property is part of the 15,000 hectare squatting run originally occupied in 1838 by the Scottish immigrant Alexander Anderson and his two partners. When the run known as Baangal
was divided in the 1860’s, Anderson took over the northern portion, which he named Mooramong.
Anderson was prominent in the development of the Skipton area, supporting the famous Skipton Sheep Shows and the Presbyterian
Church. His brother Henry Anderson for some years held the nearby Borriyalloak run.
By 1871 Anderson had sold off all but about a third of the run and had made sufficient money
to commission the Geelong architects Davidson & Henderson, who a few years earlier had designed Barwon Park, to draw up plans for a very well-proportioned timber house. Built in 1873, the house was surrounded
by a neat garden and hedges.
Anderson sold the property in 1889 and Mooramong passed into the hands of the Stoddart family. They were popular in the district and the football prowess of
the ‘Stoddart boys’ is still remembered. The youngsters were said to have played league football whilst still attending Geelong College. It is thought that this family added the Staff Wing to the homestead.
By 1908 Mooramong had been acquired by Robert Carstairs Bell and soon the Melbourne architects Smith and Ogg were engaged to extend the homestead, with the Bedroom Wing
being added in 1909.
Mackinnon ownership and horse racing – L K S Mackinnon Stakes
Mooramong was sold to W H Johnston
in 1920 and then again in 1926 to L K S Mackinnon, who bought the property for his son Donald, to present to him on his 21st birthday. Originally comprising 11,300 acres, the farm
was later reduced to just over 6,000 acres by Soldier Settlement acquisitions and to the present 3,800 acres upon its bequest to the National Trust in 1978, which was finalised in 1981.
John Scobie [D J S] Mackinnon was born in 1906. Donald’s mother Jessie was a member of the Simson family, who in in the mid 1800’s were owners of Trawalla Station near Beaufort and later
of Trawalla, a grand Italianate mansion in Toorak.
His father [L K S] was a senior partner in the Melbourne firm of solicitors, Blake and Riggall and a noted racehorse owner. The famous
sprinter Woorak was part of his stable, as was the 1914 Melbourne Cup winner, Kingsburgh.
Chairman of the Victoria Racing Club for twenty years, L K S was
so admired by his racing peers that the Melbourne Stakes, run at Flemington on Derby Day, was re-named the L K S Mackinnon Stakes. The Mackinnons lived in Domain Road, South Yarra and spent summers at their
family holiday house in Sorrento. They drove Rolls Royce vehicles with personalised number plates, relaxed in the Committee Box at Flemington Racecourse and schooled their son at Geelong Grammar, where he excelled at rowing.
It was usual for sons of ‘well-to-do’ families to complete their education at Oxford or Cambridge and Donald [or Scobie as he was called] was no exception to this rule. After finishing at Geelong Grammar he was enrolled
at Jesus College, Cambridge. A tall and talented oarsman, he was a very popular captain of the college’s first eight. Under his captaincy, the crew won carnivals in 1926, 1927 and 1928. The decoratively inscribed oars used by his winning
crews adorn the walls in the Library at Mooramong.
Along with the Mooramong property, for Donald’s 21st birthday his father also had delivered to Cambridge a Rolls Royce, for his use
whilst studying in England. Donald had a successful and enjoyable time at Cambridge. His academic career was relatively undistinguished, however he livened up his studies with frequent trips to London’s theatres and restaurants. Term holidays were spent
at the Mackinnon’s ancestral estate at Duisdale on the Isle of Skye, which L K S had inherited from two maiden aunts.
On his return to Australia, Donald took over Mooramong
and set about the more serious business of becoming a grazier.
Skipton meets Hollywood in London
In 1937 Donald [Scobie], then aged 32, returned to England for a rowing re-union that
was also centred around celebrations in advance of the coronation of King George VI. At that time Scobie was one of the most eligible bachelors in the Western District.
There were many pre-coronation parties
being held in London and it was at one of these that Scobie met Claire Adams, a Canadian born actress and famous Hollywood silent movie star. In 1937 she was in England to sing on BBC Radio.
Prior to this Claire had enjoyed a stellar film career, spanning approximately 50 films, many of them “action movies” which involved doing her own stunt work on horses and with some featuring the original Rin-Tin-Tin.
Born in 1894, she was briefly a child actress, then a nurse in the Great War. In 1919 Claire won a beauty and talent competition that took her from Winnipeg to America.
retiring from film work in 1928, the year “talkies” were introduced, Claire married a very wealthy film producer, Benjamin Hampton, many years her senior. Widowed in 1932, Claire forged a successful
singing career giving concerts in Hollywood which then, fortuitously as it turned out, took her back to England where she had earlier completed her education.
It was at a party in Mayfair where Claire and Scobie’s eyes ‘met across a crowded
room’, as the saying goes and Claire reputedly said to one of her friends – “That is the man I am going to marry”.
The two fell in love and three weeks later on the 1st of April 1937
they were indeed wed, at Christ Church of England, Mayfair. The event was recorded in the social pages of newspapers and magazines in Britain, America and Australia.
He was thirty-two and she was forty-three,
although their Marriage Certificate, a copy of which is on display at Mooramong, shows that Claire somehow “lost” more than a decade when this document was signed. Regardless, they made a most attractive couple
and following their wedding celebrations, embarked on a year-long honeymoon touring Scotland, Europe and America.
Claire always had a movie camera with her, as well as stills cameras. Throughout their lives
together, both she and Scobie delighted in taking footage of their exploits, much of which is featured in the wonderful DVD, ‘Mooramong - Private Hollywood’.
to Art Deco
In March 1938, the Mackinnons arrived in Australia, also bringing with them their Bentley convertible, which is shown in film on this DVD being transferred from a ship
to the docks in Sydney. The Mackinnons continued on to Melbourne and Donald introduced Claire to her new home, Mooramong.
Claire almost immediately set about re-modelling the Victorian era homestead into
a building much more familiar to her in style, something that was at that time straight out of contemporary Hollywood.
The well-known Melbourne architect Marcus Martin was engaged to modernise the homestead
and work swiftly began to alter it into the house one sees today, exceptional in its location and unique to Australia.
Mantelpieces, ceiling roses and other intricate details from the Victorian era were
removed and replaced by the clean, uninterrupted lines and features of the Art Deco period, with the emblematic green colour from this era featuring in the wall-to-wall carpet, blinds and many other furnishings.
weatherboards on the exterior were rendered over, the swimming pool and its cabana were built and the beautiful walled garden created. The pool, reputedly hand dug by 16 – 18 men and 9 feet deep at one end, was the largest in Victoria at the time and
it was also heated, by a coke-fired boiler. Central heating had been installed, also fuelled by coke and the huge original cast iron boiler still remains in a bunker at Mooramong, a testament to engineering ingenuity from another age.
Mr and Mrs Mackinnon entertained lavishly and soon, a visit to Mooramong became one of the favourite pastimes within Western District and Melbourne social circles. The deep green bar in the Mooramong ‘Games Room’
was reputedly modelled on one that was on the Queen Mary. There was initial reluctance amongst the locals with regard to the introduction of ‘cocktail hour’ at the homestead, but it was not very long before this tradition was enthusiastically
Diamonds, Rolls Royces and Philanthropy
The Mackinnon’s had very full and happy lives together at Mooramong, where they farmed, entertained and became very
generous benefactors to many worthy causes, including the Skipton Hospital and the localprimary school, the Melbourne University Veterinary School and the Lort Smith Animal Hospital, together with many others.
Mrs Mackinnon was always a glamorous figure, wearing beautiful clothes, furs and jewels. She was the very best customer of Georges, often ordering new season’s fashions in every colour available. And she
never sent anything back!
She was also a most loyal customer of both Hardy’s and Kozminky’s jewellers. Her diamond collection was quite famous and after her death in 1978, the
sale of her jewellery realised a quarter of a million dollars at auction in Melbourne.
Scobie loved cars and the Mackinnons always had a Rolls Royce or a Bentley in their garage. Such was
his allegiance to Rolls Royce, that Scobie had one converted into a ‘ute’ for working on the property.
It was used for carting around hay, lambs and the many dogs that Claire adopted. She was renowned for rescuing
numerous abandoned puppies and dogs from Lort Smith, including a blind spaniel that made its home on the couch. Claire in particular was extremely fond of all animals and the Mackinnon bequest to the National Trust in 1981 enabled the 800 acre Mackinnon
Nature Reserve at Mooramong to be created, as well as ensuring the preservation of the homestead and its beautiful gardens.
World War Two
Conflict and Compassion
This western district sheep station worked with the community to grow and develop resilience, through fighting fire, establishing reserves, revegetation, hosting breeding
programs and participating in the war effort. Claire Mackinnon sang at many benefit concerts, working tirelessly for the Comforts Fund and numerous garden parties were held at Mooramong to raise funds during WWII.
Following the outbreak of World War Two, rationing of materials and fuel brought significant changes to life at Mooramong. During annual shearing, Scobie harnessed draught horses into the old wool wagon and carted huge stacks
of bales into Skipton in order to save petrol.
Conflagration at Skipton
One event of great significance to Mooramong
and in the lives of the Mackinnons during this war period was a catastrophic bushfire that swept through the property in January 1944, following the careless lighting of a campfire by two young drovers.
Many buildings were
lost in this tragic event, which also claimed a number of lives in the Skipton and surrounding area. However the Mooramong Homestead was saved, due in no small part to Claire’s determination and her own tremendous efforts at dousing
flames and embers with a bucket and mop, while kitchen staff ran small hoses onto hedges - ways that are incomparable to the fire-fighting methods of today.
Soldier Settlement at Mooramong
After World War II, approximately half of the then existing Mooramong farmland was acquired under the Soldier Settlement and Rural Finance Commission Scheme. The scheme was established between 1946 and 1959 and was administered
by the State Government to assist returning soldiers and other members of Australia’s armed forces. One important remnant from the scheme remains within the Mooramong estate - a Soldier Settler’s Hut, which is located in the horse paddock south
of the homestead precinct, on the track towards the Shearing Shed and Shearer’s Quarters.
Soldiers were able to purchase or lease the blocks of land to start farming activities and visitors to Mooramong can explore
a typical Soldier Settler’s Hut from the 1940’s/50’s post-war era, in order to gain an appreciation of the spartan life returning soldiers and their families experienced whilst establishing a farming enterprise.
Soldier Settlement schemes were administered in Australia by the state governments for the benefit of returned servicemen after both World Wars, although it should be noted that WWI aboriginal servicemen were denied access to the scheme and
only a tiny number nationally we're given land after WWII.
Life in peacetime, Endowments and Bequests
Eventually the war was over, new fences
and buildings including the Wool Shed and Shearer’s Quarters were constructed and Mooramong returned to normal. Claire and Scobie resumed their active social life, attending horse races and parties in Melbourne, but still spending a
lot of time at Mooramong, where Scobie continued to participate in the day to day running of the property and Claire oversaw care of the very colourful gardens. The Mackinnons also travelled overseas extensively and collected many mementos
of their journeys to other parts of the world.
In peacetime as in wartime, the Mackinnons supported their district’s activities and endowed a fund enabling the older students from the Skipton Primary School
to have an interstate trip each year. The Year 2 students attend an overnight camp at Mooramong each year, with the youngsters and their teachers having a wonderful time looking for bandicoots and possums whilst exploring the property after
Claire and Donald never had children of their own, but they became godparents to many. Children were always at Mooramong, as shown by the footage contained in ‘Mooramong - Private
Hollywood’. Their outstanding generosity in life continued after their deaths, with many charitable bequests, the most important of which was to entrust ownership of the property to the National Trust of Australia (Victoria).
Mooramong - a Living Museum
The Mooramong homestead is a fascinating example of Art Deco remodelling and refurbishment, with all of its stylish overhead lighting,
the many very long windows and the green colour evident in carpet, blinds, bathroom fittings and crockery etc.
As the Mackinnons had no children, or other relatives to which the property and its contents could be passed,
it remains intact with the many pieces of fine furniture and artwork collected during a lifetime of travel by Claire and Scobie. There is also a large collection of knickknacks throughout the house, many featuring the animals Claire so loved, including specially
made “dog booties”,for outside canine romps.
A Steinway pianogracesthe music room, along with a Wire Recorder and microphone. Claire had wanted a white piano
but this request was denied and the first Steinway that arrived was sent back, reportedly because the tone was not quite right. The replacement instrument is a rarity in that this piano is made of Walnut. It was hand crafted in Hamburg, Germany
and is dated 31st August, 1938.
The Wire Recorder is a highly unusual piece of equipment to have in a private home, due to its great expense. These were usually only found in
radio studios, but Claire used it to record her own singing. Remnants of these recordings, some under the tutelage of her father Stanley Adams, feature on ‘Mooramong
- Private Hollywood’
Other interesting features within the homestead include the Film Projector Cupboard with its original equipment, Scobie’s impressive desk and the original papers
in his Study [complete with gun cabinets] and Claire’s desk which is set up as a stage when opened. Thegrand table in the Dining Roomwouldseat 26 when fully extended towards both ends.
The full genealogy of the Mackinnon
clan back to the 600’s appears on one wall of the Library, in a large hand-written document embellished with the Mackinnon tartan, opposite the rowing oars from Cambridge.
In addition to the green
‘Queen Mary’ bar with its highlight thin red stripe, there is a very early remote controlled television, with a 10 metre lead to allow viewing anywhere in the Games Room, including from a Grant Featherston chair.
The main kitchen features a huge oil-fired AGA stove and the adjoining ante-room has a fascinating array of cooking equipment and gizmos from the 40’s through to the 70’s.
at Mooramong including the chauffer’s hut, the stables and tack room, dairy, laundry and meat house can also be viewed by visitors, along with some of the old farm machinery and the extraordinary cast iron water boiler in the bunker,
a testament to engineering ingenuity from another age.
Nearby is a tennis court built in the 1930’s and the site of the old orchard and vegetable gardens, with a more recent drip-irrigated orchard planted within a
The Mackinnon Nature Reserve
The creation of this Reserve formed part of the bequest to the National Trust and it is the home of many species of native
birds and animals, including the endangered brolga and Eastern Barred bandicoot. A partnership with Zoos Victoria will soon see a trial of Maremma dogs bonded to a flock of sheep and also
acting as guardian dogs for the bandicoots, against predation by foxes and other feral animals.
This is also one of the largest reserves in Victoria actively devoted to the protection of native grasslands and much of the
area has had sheep excluded from it since 1988.
Recent works funded by the Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority have redeveloped a major causeway bordering the reserve, which will enable retention
and release of water via sluice gates, from within the main Horseshoe Swamp wetland area. Completion of the project in April 2015 will now enable control of this most important of resources, in periods of both drought and flood.
There are two walled gardens at Mooramong. The inner pool garden formed part of the major changes made in 1938 when the swimming pool was dug and the cabana
(changing rooms) built. This area reflects the Californian style garden of the 1930’s and it was the scene of many garden parties and ‘comfort’ parties during WWII. The flowers planted were bright and colourful, such as dahlias and gladioli.
The enormous bay tree is a remnant from pre-1938 when the outer walled garden was Victorian, with a hedge and grass walks between cottage style flower beds.
The gardens today reflect a mix
of older trees and shrubs, colourful flowering plants and salt tolerant species which cope well with the bore water that Mooramong is reliant upon during periods of low rainfall.
As requested in their Wills, Claire and Scobie’s ashes are buried together in the walled garden, beneath a beautiful flowering peach tree. Theirs is a remarkable love story, now part of the district’s folklore and worthy of being recounted in
one of those motion pictures that they both enjoyed so much.
Donald John Scobie MACKINNON died in 1974, aged 68.
Claire Adams MACKINNON died in 1978, aged 84.