We set the alarm for 8:30am so that we didn’t have to hurry before our 11am appointment at Home Hill. I bought most of the washing inside, minus the singlets and a pair of thick hiking socks.
We went back to Penguin to the dump point before heading along the highway back to Devonport. We had checked Google maps to find out where the entrance was so, although it was tricky because of the traffic, we didn’t have to worry too much. We were 15 minutes early so wandered about the garden and took some photos.
Home Hill is simply amazing. Our tour guide was Derek, and we were joined for the tour by Wanda and Shane. It went for one and a half hours and was just fascinating.
There is simply no way to be brief about this visit, so here goes.
Home Hill was the name of the property for Tasmania’s only Prime Minister, Mr Joseph Lyons. He is also the only man to have been the Prime Minister and Premier of his state at the same time. He was married to Dame Enid Lyons, and they had 12 children – good catholic family.
Joe Lyons died in 1939, the first Prime Minister to die in office – a massive heart attack, but Enid, 42 years old, continued to live at the property until her passing in 1981 – only forty years ago.
The house was bought by Joe Lyons and gifted to his fiancée, Enid, as a combined engagement/wedding gift. The land at the time of purchase consisted of nine acres in total, five acres of which were an established apple orchard. Enid and Joe were married in April 1915 at Wynyard. Before their marriage Enid was a schoolteacher.
Dame Enid (nee Burnell) was born in Edith Creek, a very tiny village south of Smithton, and Joe Lyons was born in Stanley. He was seventeen years older than Enid when he met her before her 18th birthday, but it was supposedly love at first site for both of them, and Enid is said to have loved him until the day she died.
Enid was responsible for selecting the design of the home and for supervising the construction and was engaged to Joe at that time. Joe spent much of his time with parliamentary duties which is why it devolved to Enid.
The home chosen was a seven room Federation-style weatherboard. The house was founded on a bluestone base that was built with materials quarried from the property. The total contract price was agreed at 425 pounds.
The family moved in during September 1916 just six weeks before the birth of their first son, Desmond.
Built in 1916, the new home would need to accommodate the newly married couple, his father Michael, and his three younger siblings. The arrangement didn’t last for very long. Michael had had a nervous breakdown after losing all the family’s worldly goods, and Derek did not know why his two sisters joined them in this house as they had previously been in charge of their own abodes.
The house was, however, the heart of the Lyons family life although politics meant that the parents and children were often separated. Apparently, the brother and his wife were often living there in charge of the children when the parents were away, and the older children were at boarding school.
In 1923, with Joe frequently away from home, the house was sold to Carl and Eveline Jensen and the family made arrangements to relocate to Hobart. This period of time was not a happy one for the family with the passing of ten-month-old Garnett. It was a time of measles, chicken pox, and whooping cough which all the children contracted, but Garnet also contracted pneumonia and was unable to cope.
About the same time Joe was involved in a serious road accident in Perth which left him with permanent injuries, He would limp for the rest of his life, and the driver of the vehicle died two weeks after the accident from injuries he sustained.
In 1928 it was discovered that the Jensen family were interested in moving to Hobart so a property swap was made and the Lyons family returned to Home Hill.
Joe was elected to Federal Parliament in 1929 and the family went through a period of great upheaval and travel. In 1930 the family moved to Melbourne for ten months, and over the next nine years they all divided their time between Home Hill, Melbourne and Canberra, but there were many journeys overseas.
While Joe was serving as Premier of Tasmania and Prime Minister of Australia the more striking room in the property (dubbed the ‘Wedgewood Room’ after the design of the wallpaper) was repurposed as a dedicated office.
It was in this room on 25 March 1936 that Joe took the first interstate phone call to Tasmania via a new submarine cable across Bass Strait.
Over the years the home underwent significant changes as the size of the family grew and so their priorities changed. In 1935 major alterations were made that included a larger kitchen and dining area, and the addition of a dormitory and bedrooms in new ‘wings’ on either side of the original house.
After Joe’s death in 1939 Enid suffered from ‘nervous exhaustion’ and spent some time in hospital. Enid was left 344 pounds from her husband’s estate. In the absence of any parliamentary pension the government under caretaker drafted legislation to provide an annuity of 500 pounds for her seven dependent children through to the age of sixteen and another 500 pounds for her own care. Enid accepted for the children but declined the annuity for herself.
In 1943, after Joe’s death, Enid Lyons was the first woman elected to the House of Representatives and the first woman to serve in federal cabinet. She served as the Vice President of the Executive Council in Menzies Government from 1949 to 1951. She retired from parliament after three terms but remained involved in public life as a board member of the ABC, and as a social commentator. She wrote several books.
In the 1950s the last major changes were brought on by the children leaving the nest, and the reduced need for bedroom space allowed for a dedicated pantry, library and relaxation room.
Dame Enid was remarkably hands on through all the alterations and very money wise. She absolutely loved wallpaper and was a perfectionist in everything she did. There is an anecdote from some of her children, who arrived to visit her when she was in her seventies and found her in one of the bathrooms putting wallpaper on the roof.
She also bought wallpaper for her bedroom (she never went back to the room she shared with Joe after he passed away, and the National Trust has set it up as it was when it was Joe’s office) and had made the bed coverings, lamp shades etc in a pale pink. However, when the wallpaper arrived it was too green, so she put it up on the walls and then proceeded to paint the very green areas in a pale pink. (Photos of that one)
She also chose an extremely expensive wallpaper for her library and contracted the hanging out to a professional. After the first day’s work when she realised that the contractor had made no effort to line the pattern up but had hung it wherever, she tore up the contract, pulled the wallpaper from where it had been hung (kept it though) and proceeded to hang it herself.
As it was very expensive, she had only ordered what she thought she would need for the job so by the time she got to the last area of the room (the side of the chimney area furthest away from the door) she ran out of rolls. She then proceeded to pull pieces from the paper she had removed and created a feather effect for the last bit so that no unsightly joins could be found.
She made her own clothes (even those that she wore to prominent political events) and the ones we saw were beautifully crafted and very stylish.
This paragon of virtue and perfection was deficient in two areas – she could not drive a car properly, and her cooking was atrocious. When they were having dinner parties the catering was always handed off to the professionals.
Between 1939 and 1940 Dame Enid recorded a weekly twenty-minute spot for the Macquarie Network Radio. She was well travelled and entertaining.
To guarantee that her home would be lovingly maintained and remain connected to the community, Enid arranged a division of responsibilities between the Devonport City Council and the National Trust of Tasmania.
The property and grounds were purchased by the City Council which performs maintenance and upkeep, while the National Trust was made responsible for the contents of the home and the operation of the house museum.
The youngest of her children, Janice (a very feisty lady like her mother), only died last year on Boxing Day. Prior to this she was living in a home and one of Enid’s grandchildren – Janice’s nephew, Chris – was taking care of the disposal of her property.
Chris is very involved in the on-going operation of Home Hill and has many stories to tell about its history. He is also taking it upon himself to persuade other family members to provide the National Trust with any items of interest still in the family’s possession. On one visit to Home Hill Janice discovered her porridge bowl was placed on display in a cabinet in the library. She turned to Chris and said, “Are you giving all my things away?”
The property remains open to the public for guided tours ($10 for pensioners) and for community events.
We then left Home Hill and went to Mersey Bluff Lighthouse, which sits at the mouth of the Mersey River. It was automated and de-manned in 1920. In 1929 four vertical red stripes were added making it a very distinctive lighthouse.
A beacon, which disappeared in 1883, originally stood on the bluff. After its disappearance, and following complaints from mariners, an obelisk was placed there in late 1884.
Work on the lighthouse started in 1888 and was completed in May 1889.
In 1978, after several conversions to gas and then hydroelectricity, it was further converted to all electric operation.
The lighthouse is 122 feet tall (37.2 metres) but it is not open to the public.
It was extremely windy up on the bluff, so it wasn’t long before we had taken our photos and headed off to Bluff Park to have lunch and then see the statue of ‘Spirit of the Sea’ – King Neptune.
It was still fairly early by our standards, so we decided to head to the Tasmanian Arboretum at Euganana, only 12 kilometres south of Devonport. However, when we arrived, we realised that we could not do it justice in the time we had so we have decided to head back there early tomorrow and do it properly.
We came back to the van, via Turner’s Beach and the Berry Patch, folded the clothes taken off the line this morning, had our afternoon cuppa, Russ had his SCAN, and I downloaded the photos taken today. We had lamb shanks and mashed potatoes for tea, did the dishes, and I have finished my diary entries ready for printing and sending tomorrow.