Iconic estate has checkered history

Iconic estate has checkered history

Property
One of the most beautiful homesteads in Western Australia, Buckland Estate, at Irishtown is a landmark for agricultural history.

One of the most beautiful homesteads in Western Australia, Buckland Estate, at Irishtown is a landmark for agricultural history.

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The iconic homestead was built from 1836 to 1876, with the first construction commenced by Mr Pratt and was completed by his son-in-law James Dempster, who married his daughter Anne Ellen.

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JUST six years after the European settlement of Western Australian land, a merchant named Charles Pratt selected the best farmland he could find of 8000 acres, which came to be Buckland Estate at Irishtown.

It boasts one of the most stunning homesteads in the State and even Australia.

The iconic homestead was built from 1836 to 1876, with the first construction commenced by Mr Pratt and was completed by his son-in-law James Dempster, who married his daughter Anne Ellen.

Now owned by Russell Percival, Buckland Estate is home to a trove of stories which are all entwined within the character of the homestead and property.

"I bought the property in 2018 - I was living in Bali and wanted to buy a stone building," Mr Percival said.

"I just wanted something a bit unusual with lots of character."

After exhausting all the possibilities of character buildings to purchase in Perth, he ventured to a region he had never been to before in search of an old building for his next project, which was in the Wheatbelt.

Buckland Estate was a bit run down when Mr Percival acquired it, particularly the exterior, but his diverse professional background proved to serve him well.

While the homestead serves as the private residence for owner Russell Percival, the property also makes a stunning wedding venue and is in high demand.

While the homestead serves as the private residence for owner Russell Percival, the property also makes a stunning wedding venue and is in high demand.

Renovating and restoring homes has always been one of his passions, as from his mid-20s he had already begun purchasing and renovating homes.

"Around Perth I have probably renovated 20-30 houses," Mr Percival said.

Over the years he ran his own kitchen renovation business and having a degree in design enabled him to have expertise in the renovating process from start to finish.

While it was never his intention to make an income from the homestead, after living there for some time and seeing the beauty of the property, Mr Percival decided to turn it into a wedding venue.

Hence why most of the restorations have been based on the property's presentation, such as fixing walls, painting, renovating the cottages to provide accommodation for guests (the homestead is the private residence), as well as presenting the garden beautifully with reticulation and stone walls.

The stone was sourced from the property and nearby farms, matching the stone that the homestead was made from.

Mr Percival also hired local tradespeople.

Large rooms and hallways add to the homestead's grandeur.

Large rooms and hallways add to the homestead's grandeur.

The sense of community within the house, highlighted with the use of local stone and craftsmanship, reflects its connection to the region, locals and agriculture.

"So many people who visit here have some sort of family or past event connection with the property and they all have interesting stories and little details of the days gone by," Mr Percival said.

"The original design was amazing for the times and especially when materials such as brick cement and modern fixings were not available."

He said some of the key design features include the house's balance and symmetry, large windows and doors which make the house very light during the day and helps with its grand appearance,

All the windows and doorways have bevelled walls leading out which add to the look, feel and light without making the rooms just square boxes.

All the rooms are spacious with large hallways and have easy access and there are large verandahs, a beautiful courtyard and a romantic balcony.

The granary is one of Mr Percival's next projects, which he said could be used for wedding ceremonies or an art/yoga studio.

The granary is one of Mr Percival's next projects, which he said could be used for wedding ceremonies or an art/yoga studio.

"The overall design and layout is perfect for this style of building and no additions, changes or demolition of any part is required," Mr Percival said.

While he had renovated old character houses before, such a historic house was a first for Mr Percival.

"For the first part it was quite a big shock moving from Bali to the Wheatbelt, but I have really enjoyed it," he said.

"And the COVID-19 pandemic has forced me to stay home and do a lot of projects around the property.

"Everyday the scenery and views change, so it is quite spectacular."

A larger project on the agenda includes restoring the old heritage granary, which could be repurposed for a myriad of uses, such as wedding ceremonies, or even an art/yoga studio.

The homestead is full of beautiful rooms and stunning details with the rear courtyard being a particular favourite of Mr Percival, which has European/French ambience.

"Buckland Estate has been host to many characters over the years," he said.

Built by Charles Pratt and James Dempster over 1836 to 1876, the house stands out for its outstanding craftsmanship and innovative design for its day.

Built by Charles Pratt and James Dempster over 1836 to 1876, the house stands out for its outstanding craftsmanship and innovative design for its day.

In the early period of the homestead, several other buildings operated on the property including a school from 1868 to 1876, which was considered one of the best bush schools in Australia at the time.

The Dempster family went on to become one of the most respected farming families in the colony.

James Dempster died in 1890 at age 80, of which an elaborate funeral service was held and two years later his son William died.

Edward left behind his wife Maud (nee Sweeting), then aged 32 and six children including a three-month-old baby.

As William had no will, she was only entitled to a small allowance until her eldest son became of age.

Despite having no farming knowledge, Maud was determined to support her children.

She sent her brother, Charles Sweeting, to agriculture school who then taught her when he returned and they ran the property for several years until he left for South Australia.

Maud was a commendable farmer in her day and was regarded as one of the best growers in WA, being awarded numerous prizes and awards in local and State shows for champion cattle.

She was also known for being a strict but astute businesswoman, as well as for her sheep breeding and quality crops and under her eye Buckland prospered.

 The character in all the buildings is within the details. Pictured is the granary.

The character in all the buildings is within the details. Pictured is the granary.

The property was operated under Maud's command until she retired in 1913 and son Fred Dempster took over and soon after sold it.

In the same year Buckland Estate was purchased by a wealthy man, Samuel Peter McKay, who ran the property with Aboriginal servants and chauffeurs.

Under his ownership the property again became a prominent location for the social scene.

He built a horse racecourse and the Buckland Balls became popular among the numerous charity events.

A highlight was in 1915 when the then premier Sir John Forrest visited.

This roaring era came to an end when Samuel McKay was struck with illness, had an amputation and became a recluse until he died in 1923.

The property changed hands several times, including being purchased by John Garland and his son John Stuart (grandfather and father of real estate specialist John Garland, of Garland International).

It was later sold to Victorian farmer Angus McIntosh and the property remained in the McIntosh family for the next 50 years.

The McIntosh family endured some of the hardest times Buckland endured, going through the Great Depression and trying to work the farmland that had deteriorated after many successive fodder crops.

Angus's son Sinclair became a pioneer in soil erosion control in the late 1940s and he eventually improved the pastures.

The greatest challenge that Buckland Estate faced was the Meckering earthquake of 1968, also while owned by the McIntosh family.

The earthquake damaged or destroyed most of the outbuildings, however the homestead proved resilient except for two damaged chimneys.

In 1982 the property was purchased by Anthony David and Penelope Mary Motion, of England.

They decorated the house and filled it with antiques and art, as well as opening it to the public and even hosting car museums.

In 2000 prominent WA horse racing figure Tony Marwick purchased the property and held it for 18 years until it was bought by Mr Percival in 2018.

It is Mr Percival's vision to restore Buckland Estate to its former glory, enhance its historic significance and make it more accessible to the public.

The story Iconic estate has checkered history first appeared on Farm Weekly.

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