A month ago now, my friend, Jenny, and I decided it was time to “get out of town”.
“I’ll pick you up at 11.30 on Saturday”, she said.
So at 11.30, true to her word, she knocked on my front door. This was the start of our day out – a perfect day, warm, sunny, blue sky and only an occasional breeze to stir the autumn leaves. Grabbing hat, sunglasses (and a jacket just in case) we piled into her car and pulled out of my street.
Chatting away I wondered if we should have turned right, but she kept going. I was pleased we were going the ‘other’ way! It wasn’t until we were about 5 minutes down the road that she laughed and admitted she didn’t know why she was driving this way. We were heading to Castlemaine in Central Victoria for lunch and to an old homestead where a small private Lalique exhibition was showing. No time limits so it didn’t really matter which way we drove.
I suggested we keep driving this way as I knew the back roads, and that it was better than driving on the highway – especially on a lovely day such as this. Jenny wondered how I knew all these back roads. Easy. No.1 Son frequents these roads when out training on his bike. I tend to know the odd names given to these roads by the local cycling fraternity – Snake Eye, Goose Neck and The Juvenile, to name a few. Over the years I have had to learn where to collect him when there’s a puncture, extreme weather or even a fall.
As we left the immediate environs of Bendigo the land became shockingly parched. I had not been down this way since springtime; summer had not been kind to the farmers here. Dams were nigh on empty, livestock wandered the paddocks searching for a green pick, the eucalyptus leaves hung limp and pale brown on the trees. Wildlife had come off second best whilst crossing roads to find water or feed – especially kangaroos.
However as we approached Harcourt, the colours changed to gold and green – with flashes of pinky-red. We were in apple country. Acres and acres of beautifully tended fruit trees line the roadsides in this renowned fruit growing area. In summer I come here to pick cherries and buy boxes of apricots and punnets of raspberries for jam. Before the Calder freeway to Melbourne bypassed Harcourt there were little shops on the roadside where you could by local honey and bags of fruit – gone now, all in the name of “progress”.
We decided to detour to the Oak Forest – an amazing 20 acre forest on the northern foothills of Mount Alexander. Originally planted in 1900 to provide raw material for the leather tanning industry, which of course no longer exists, it has been left to grow on its own. It is a stunning area of soft, green and gold “luxury” in the middle of the harsher grey-green Australian bush. On this day the sun shone through the golden leaves creating a mottled carpet to walk upon. Perfect spot for a picnic – and a long walk afterwards.
Rumbling tummies told us it was lunch time, so we stopped at the Skydancers Garden, halfway between Harcourt and Castlemaine. Skydancers is set in an extensive display garden, with garden centre, gift shop, and excellent cafe promoting local seasonal produce. But the highlight was the butterfly house. And it was the perfect day for butterfly “hunting” – shot only with cameras though. Camouflaged against “matching vegetation” it took some time for us to become accustomed to the conditions, and then actually SEE them! But worth waiting for. They were stunning – all manner of sizes, colours – and hiding places! What a peaceful place, and how at peace the butterflies seemed with us invading their space.It’s quite amazing how long it took us to do a 40 minute trip to Castlemaine – at least 3 hours – but there was no hurry. Our day was about having a change of scenery, after all. We rolled into town, after our yummy lunch, actually feeling like having a siesta, not traipsing through some old house. But in we went. I had been to Buda before with my family some years ago. But this time I actually saw it in a different light and took in a little more if its history – and a fascinating one at that.
Buda, originally know as Delhi Villa was built in 1861 for a Baptist Missionary, Rev. James Smith,who had worked in India. In 1863 he decided to return to his missionary work in India, selling the home to a retiring businessman, Mr Ernest Leviny, a Hungarian silversmith and jeweller. After working in Paris and London, he was attracted to the Victorian Goldfields in the 1850s. He became a successful watchmaker and jeweller in Castlemaine and in 1863 decided to retire, buying Delhi Villa and renaming it Buda after his home town of Budapest. Only two generations of the Leviny family lived in the home – over a period of 118 years. Ernest and his wife Bertha brought up 10 children in the house. They were a very creative family, and examples of their beautiful and varied work are found throughout the house and garden. In 1981 the last surviving daughter, Hilda, died at the age of 98.
Examples of Ernest Leviny’s exquisite silver creations are on display in the house, along with equally impressive works by other members of the family, including embroidery, glass work, paintings, metal and wood work. Buda is set in 1.2 hectares of mostly original established gardens. Naturally, when we visited, the summer had taken it’s toll. However the gardens and outbuildings are still evocative of the period, and I take my hat off to the people who run the property so we can have a small glimpse into the lives of its occupants.
And by the way, there was a small private Lalique exhibition in the house – which was absolutely beautiful – but was overshadowed somewhat by the history of the home and beautiful attractions of the area. A lovely day out always comes to an end, but we were ready to go home – along the “progressive” freeway – to Bendigo, reflecting on our day and already planning another. Soon!