Dalkeith stands strong in the thick of pastoral life

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Any of you who might have taken a right from Nepean Highway into Bruce Rd on your way to Safety Beach from Mornington will have passed it. The high fence that seems to stretch on for ever. The Tudor-style home of note majestically rising from behind. 

Dalkeith didn’t always look like it does today, the resplendent property going through several reincarnations before landing in its current glorious form. With Edna Walling, who was one of Australia’s greatest garden designers and constructed Dame Nellie Melba’s grounds among other surrounds, Dalkeith has been a private residence and was also bequeathed to three hospitals — the Royal Melbourne, The Alfred and St Vincent’s in 1974.  But let’s go back way before then . . .

Robert Watson came to Mount Martha in 1876 and purchased 1214ha between Beach and Point Nepean roads. Building Melrose off Lempriere Ave in Mount Martha in 1879 — it was demolished in 1982 — he had been searching the world for “health and a place of residence” with “peace of scenery”. He found it on the Peninsula and ended up selling 526ha of the Dalkeith property in 1888 for development while keeping pastoral holdings. In 1880, Dalkeith is recorded as having a house with four rooms on it but the building was even smaller in 1873 with possibly only two rooms. It was then owned by James B. Stout. 

Some think Dalkeith House must have been built in two stages, but it is only in the late 1930s that William Vale, who was reportedly a giant of a man, commissioned the final stage of the house and probably built it into what we see today. He acquired the property in 1901 and owned land on both sides of the highway. The house then stood on 303ha; he also owned St James Park, which covered 216ha. He left the property to his daughter, Phyllis, and her husband, Herbert Jackson, who renamed it Jackson Hill, where they trained horses, including Helion, who won the 1955 Australian Cup — later known as the Melbourne Cup.

The Vale family name extends right back to the 1850s to book-seller and land speculator W.M.K. Vale. This, plus the architectural importance of Dalkeith House, makes the property something very special. The grounds of Dalkeith today include a tennis court, swimming pool, an orchard and a horse paddock, and over the years Dalkeith House has been used as a bed and breakfast and a wedding reception venue. This former pastoral part of the Peninsula where cattle and sheep still roam carries a wealth of trial and tribulation from a past world where our farming forefathers and mothers made their mark. 

Its listing for sale last February means we will wait to witness how this chameleon may yet change again. Hopefully she’ll stand strong with her multiple bedrooms, exposed beams and stone fireplaces intact well into the future.

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