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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Beleura House and Garden

On Friday 21st September we went with our Probus Club to Beleura House at Mornington. It is an Italianate villa, built in 1963 for James Butchart a wealthy pastoralist. The property was owned by a variety of business, government and society luminaries until it was bought by George Tallis in 1916. Tallis was, at that time, a theatrical entrepreneur. He was was Chariman of J.C. Williamson's from 1913 to 1931. The house was used as by the Tallis family as their seaside residence. Sir George Tallis died in 1948 and the house passed to his youngest son, John in 1950. He is described as a gentleman composer of music, musician, historian and gardener. John renovated the house in the 1950s and increased its Italianate feel by adding statues and other ornamentation to the building. Although some might describe John Tallis as a reculse, a more accurate description would be a shy, solitary man who was interested in pursuing his artistic and cultural pursuits and maintaining his relationships with his friends. The decoration of the house supports this perspective of Tallis.


The house has an intimate feel, it is not on the grand scale of Como or Rippon Lea. There are no grand rooms designed for the lavish entertaining of large numbers of people, rather the rooms are on a smaller scale appropriate for entertaining relatively small groups of friends and acquaintances. The decoration of the house gives some indication of the types of guests invited to Beleura. In one of the rooms there is a picture of Norman Lindsay, who was a family friend. In another room is a framed letter from Nelly Melba, recommending a New York interior designer. Another set of rooms were set aside for Melba's use when she visited.

Most walls are adorned with art - paintings and sculpture. The painting styles are varied with some fairly buttoned up 18th century pieces and in other rooms nudes. The ceilings of the entrance hall, main dining room and drawing room are covered by frescos, with liberal displays of flesh. John apparently complained to the painter of the excessive nudity in the frescos and the painter had his revenge, depicting John in his gardening clothes. The photograph at right displays - in wide angle - the main dining room. Part of the ceiling fresco can be seen.

John considered it wasteful to warm the whole house in the wintertime, as there were generally only two people living in it most of the time - John and his (male) housekeeper. So, he built two flats external to t
he house, one for himself and the other for the house keeper. He rarely left the property, as it contained all he required. He, or maybe his housekeeper, ordered by phone his requirements from Myer - he was a substantial shareholder.

The house is set in 20 acres of beautiful gardens. The garden follows the same pattern as the house. There is only one large section, the formal garden in front of the house, as illustrated at left. Most of the garden consists of relatively small "rooms" each following particular themes. The themed garden rooms include: the Italian Walk, the Hansel and Gretel garden, the Roman Ruin "Folly", the fruit and vegetable garden and the Japanese garden with a temple structure overlooking a lake, illustrated at right.

The garden is undergoing constant renovation and new areas are being added so the House and Garden will repay regular future visits.

John Tallis died in 1996 and bequeathed the House and Garden to the people of Victoria. He set up a trust to assist with the maintenance of the house. As well the trust provides scholarships for young musicians.

Regular concerts are held in the Melba room in a building near the main house.

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