The Mornington Peninsula is home to some diversely beautiful Victorian heritage-listed properties. Walter Burley Griffin’s Gumnuts Cottage circa 1920 was built as an early holiday house on Olivers Hill, while Westerfield, built by Sir Russell Grimwade in 1924 on 45ha, stands proudly in Robinsons Rd in Frankston South.
Sir Russell was an extremely interesting man. He purchased Westerfield in 1920 as a rural retreat when it became popular for Melbourne’s prominent families to buy holiday houses on the Peninsula. The house was designed by ‘in vogue’ Melbourne architect Harold Desbrowe-Annear, who was at the forefront of the arts and craft movement, and still retains many original features. It has no corridors, unusually shaped rooms, and the floors, skirtings, architraves, doors and built-in furniture pieces are all constructed from stained timber. There is also a water tank built inside a timber tower rising from the centre of the roof.
The grounds around this property are what really astound. Sir Russell had a thirst for knowledge and a wide range of interests, including carpentry, photography, forestry and arboriculture. He was also a motoring fanatic and was the first to drive from Melbourne to Adelaide. He loved botanical literature and campaigned assiduously for the preservation of forests, and it is here at Westerfield that we see his love of plants and natives really come into play. There’s a eucalypt paddock, a long formal garden with flowerbeds and a lily pond, and the subjects of many of Sir Russell’s original plantings, including a crab apple tree, roses, lilacs, and lemon, apple and pear trees, still stand today. The bushland around the magnificent house at the end of the long driveway is also considered to be an important wildlife corridor.
Westerfield is historically noteworthy because of its connection to Sir Russell, who was active in some of Australia’s biggest business undertakings, including the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. At the beginning of World War ll and with the help of the Federal Government, Sir Russell obtained seeds from England and cultivated crops of foxgloves, poppies, deadly nightshade, colchicum and henbane in South Frankston to replenish supplies, which had been cut off. The poppies grown at Westerfield filled all of Australia’s morphine requirements until after the war.
Sir Russell also belonged to the advisory committee for the botanic gardens. The Westerfield estate now encompasses 14ha.