Don and the Burke’s Backyard team visited the historic home of Dr. Les Norton and his family. Only 15 minutes from the centre of Melbourne, the house is an amazing blend of Scottish baronial and Australian colonial architecture.
William Taylor was born in Overnewton, a small town outside Glasgow, in Scotland. In 1849 he purchased 13,000 acres of land around Keilor in Victoria, and built a colonial homestead which he named ‘Overnewton’ after his home town. After a trip to Scotland in 1855, William transformed the colonial style homestead into a Scottish baronial castle by adding a two-storey medieval wing.
The extension is complete with a chapel (brought out from Scotland in prefabricated form), stucco walls, steeply pitched roofs, scalloped shingles and a turret in the manner of Balmoral Castle. Buildings at the rear of the house include a bluestone dairy and butcher’s shop, lamp house, stables and coach house, boot and cleaning room, hay lofts and shearing sheds.
The Norton family bought the run-down property in 1975. At that time part of the building was being used for wedding receptions, but the ‘castle’ part was sadly neglected. Les said that people who came to the auction thought the house was at “the pulling down stage”. The guttering had rusted away, rainwater ran down mouldy inside walls and the wallpaper was hanging off.
The family started renovating the house, one room at a time. The original part of the house was retained as a wedding venue, and a magnificent glass domed ballroom added. To Les, the restoration was a labour of love. He said that when people who saw the house before it was renovated come back to see it now, they’re amazed at the transformation.
The garden was also restored with the help of a landscape architect, who used a 1922 film of a wedding in the garden as a guide. Today visitors will see a beautiful, formal garden with sloping lawns interspersed with beds of camellias, roses, azaleas, windflowers, lavender and annuals. Many of the plantings date back to the mid-1800s, including an olive grove planted in 1840 and an old oak tree thought to have been planted in 1849 when the house was built. A Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), which covers the front of the building, turns a spectacular, fiery red in autumn.
The house and garden are open to the public all year round for weddings and tours (adults $13.50, concession $12, family ticket $30). Bookings are essential, phone (03) 9336 7511.
Overnewton Castle is featured in the May 2002 edition of the Burke’s Backyard Magazine, available at newsagents and supermarkets for $4.95.