Drusilla

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Have you ever been down a proverbial rabbit hole? When you’ve followed one point of interest to another, and then another… and before you know it, you’re somewhere wholly unexpected? Following my nose has taken me many (mostly interesting and slightly mysterious) places. Yesterday was the culmination of a long ‘rabbit hole’ adventure, whereby I visited Drusilla – a curious gothic folly in the heart of Macedon in Victoria.

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I first discovered Drusilla after watching Guillermo del Toro’s movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. This spooky  (but fairly unsuccessful) film featured a bizarre gothic residence – upon further research, I discovered it was actually a thinly-disguised Drusilla mansion located in Macedon. More research led me to discover Drusilla’s unique past. In the 1880’s Polish-American emigres the Weigels (a family who grew wealthy from a famous pattern-making business based in Richmond) built the original Drusilla mansion. The Weigels designed its original opulent formal sunken gardens (including mature, massive looming oaks and a formal lake) and large mansion – which subsequently burned down in the 1920’s.

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Industrialists the Grimwades (made wealthy from importing chemicals) went on to build another mansion onsite in the 1930’s, a true folly with a curious curved reading room presenting a pastiche of styles – mostly recognisable as Queen Anne. They renovated the Weigel’s original garden layout, some elements of which are still broadly insitu today. After the Grimwades passed away, the Marist Brothers purchased the property in 1945 – using it variously as a novitiate training centre and retreat until 2003 when it was sold to a private enterprise.

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Drusilla called out to me to be explored and unearthed. It was only during these holidays that I had the time to attempt doing so – and I scratched around Macedon calling person after person until I managed to gain permission to visit the site itself. Excited and apprehensive, I headed up the Calder Highway with my friend S for a true girl’s own adventure. What would we discover?

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Upon arriving at Drusilla, we found a quiet and lonely mansion in good repair – the landscape was well-maintained, although the more decorative elements of its sunken gardens and grottoes were overgrown and neglected. Still and quiet, the drizzle came down as we turned up the collars our raincoats and tentatively made our way around the mansion and gardens. Drusilla‘s huge dark windows seemed pregnant with possibility of being observed at a distance, something I felt keenly aware of. All was quiet, except for the occasional fluttering of birds across the lawns and lake.

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Compellingly, Drusilla is currently used to house an extensive taxidermy collection of rare exotic beasts. A gothic folly holding a collection of dangerous – yet stilled – animals is something you don’t often have the chance to experience. Macedon itself is known for its quaint, queer energy and as home to reclusive – yet formidable – captains of industry. It is close to Woodend – famous for its own mysterious apocryphal tale ‘Picnic At Hanging Rock’. Some places simply have an energy that is hard to dismiss.

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When you match the faint murmurings of European emigres and their burned ghost mansions, industrialists with penchant for curved libraries, generations of isolated Marist Brothers and fallen gardens replete with lonely Madonnas – you’ve a heady mix of recent history colliding with the unknowable indigenous nature of Australia.

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Drusilla presents us with a story of monied European emigres making their homes in a far-off colony – one which was far from hospitable or easily navigable. If Macedon feels distant now – imagine how coolly removed it would have been in the 1880’s. The sheer bloody-mindedness of creating majestic formal gardens in – almost literally – the middle of nowhere hints at an overwhelming desire to overcome the landscape and reclaim it in some way. Drusilla is a temporal, in-between place that has facilitated its various owners fantasies, allowing them to step outside of their worlds and create their own special follies. Follies of lost Europe, of lost history, of newly-found religions or freshly-conquered nature.

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We sincerely thank the current owner of Drusilla for the privilege and opportunity to visit this magnetic residence and garden.

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2 thoughts

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your words and images of your visit to this property. There are some stunning properties in the Macedon region that capture times and dreams past and it looks as though you were very lucky to gain access to this one. Macedon is renowned for its open-garden days but I can’t ever remember seeing Drusilla advertised. It is quite special. I was intrigued by your reference to Joan Lindsay – nee àBeckett Weigall – noting the spelling of the surname differs slightly from that of the original owners. Upon checking, it would appear that the families were unrelated as Joan’s paternal side had been ensconced in Elsternwick since the 1860s. Her family connections, however, did intersect with the Grimwades and she wrote of spending holidays in the Macedon area when she was young. I suspect the ‘energy’ of the region you mention influenced her art and writing. If ever visiting Adelaide, may I also recommend to you a visit to Martindale Hall, two hours’ drive north in Mintaro, as another stunning example of creating something extraordinary “in the middle of nowhere”.

    • I drive past this property every day, and it so beckons me to call in and pay a visit, and to photograph its most beautiful form, its stunning gates and tall chimneys and wonder filled garden and bridges.

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