Lake House

When returned serviceman Bruce Wall won Lake House in a ballot as part of the post-World War II soldier settlement scheme in Tasmania, it was on the condition that he knock the uninhabitable homestead down.

At the time, the austere Georgian mansion was being used as a barn. Its heavy cedar doors had all been removed, and possums and other wildlife had moved in.

Mr Wall ignored the demolition order.

Later, a leading member of Tasmania's National Trust, he set about quietly restoring the home in the evenings, after his day's farm work had ended.

Now, Lake House is about to get a major new lease of life as a luxury boutique country hotel thanks to its most recent owner, Irish-born aviation entrepreneur Rob Sherrard.

Lake House was built for Robert Corney, who came to Tasmania with his wife and seven children in 1821. Corney was a wealthy London shipowner and merchant but, like so many others, suffered heavy losses in the depression that followed the Napoleonic wars, and decided to invest his last 5000 pounds in a new life in Tasmania.

By 1828, notwithstanding serious financial losses resulting from attacks on his stock by bushrangers and Aborigines, Corney had built a log and weatherboard house, brick kitchen and dairy, granary, malt kiln, barn and other buildings on his land grant, Lake Farm, near Cressy. His grand home, Lake House, was completed in all its sandstone-rendered glory about 1830, the same year that Corney died.

Lake House is described as being of true classical villa design, possibly taken from an architect's pattern book. The simple two-storey main block is flanked by single-storey wings, where large dining and drawing rooms are located. Each bay is accentuated by being recessed and separated by pilaster piers.

One of the most recognisable features of Lake House is its timber porch of pure Greek Doric order.

Rob Sherrard TasmaniaLake House Sherrard Tasmania

The same Doric order in cedar makes a stylish fireplace surround inside.

The following description of Lake House's interior is from Clive Lucas and Ray Joyce's Australian Country Houses:

Inside has a cruciform hall with bold arches at the crossing. Originally the walls were painted in imitation of slabs of granite. At the back, a geometrical stair rises to the chamber floor above and descends to the offices in the basement. The transverse hall leads to the two wings, which are handsome single rooms with high ceilings and tall embrasured windows.

The joinery is all cedar, and the principal chimney-pieces are, like the porch, in the Greek Doric order. The room to the left of the front door was Robert Corney's library and has elegant flaxed and fitted bookcases balancing the chimney breast.

Lake House is situated on a bank right above the low-lying, meadow-flanked Macquarie River, which teems with trout and meanders through surrounding agricultural flats. The home was built with its back to this magnificent vista, although the lack of river outlook will be addressed as part of its makeover.

The property also fronts the Lake River, which claimed Robert Corney's life.

He and a servant were driving a team of bullocks to Launceston when the force of the current as they crossed the river swept the animals off their feet. Their cart was sent hurtling downstream but the servant was able to scramble to safety.

By the time assistance arrived from the nearby settlement of Perth, two of the four bullocks were still alive. But with no means to draw them out, and the banks being too steep to allow them to escape, they soon perished.

The body of Mr Corney was found floating a little further downstream about two hours after the accident occurred. A Launceston Advertiser account of the tragedy on 11 October 1830 noted: 'Thus has perished one of our most worthy, and most respectable, settlers; a good father and a tender husband, he has left behind him a large family, but we understand not wholly unprovided.'

The Corneys continued to farm Lake House for about thirty years before it was incorporated into the vast estate of nearby Connorville. For the next seventy years it was used as staff accommodation, and then as a barn.

Lake House was one of a number of Tasmanian properties acquired post-World War II to establish soldier settlement farms for returned servicemen, and it was then that Bruce Wall received an 800-acre farm and the dilapidated Lake House homestead.

Bruce Wall had a lifelong love of Tasmanian heritage, and he served on the state council of the National Trust continuously from 1961 to 1993. He formulated the National Trust Register in the north of the state, and oversaw the creation of the Register of the National Estate, which had a significant impact on the recognition and conservation of Australian heritage.

Having ignored the order to demolish it, Mr Wall tended to the many restoration and maintenance needs of Lake House. In 1963 it was named Mercury newspaper and National Trust 'House of the Year'.

Brendan Jordan now manages the Lake House farm, and his father, Cedric, worked it before him. They remember Mr Wall as a true gentleman, always willing to help others out.

He never married or had children though, and Lake House seems to have lacked a female touch. The gardens remain undeveloped; there wasn't even a driveway to the home until recently, it just sat in the paddock with the livestock. And despite his care, the bathrooms and kitchen remained extremely dated and there was a great deal of other work needed inside and out of the home.

Lake House Tasmania

When Lake House was auctioned in 2004, many of the bidders were there for the prime farming land, with its generous water rights from the Lake River, and not the least bit interested in what was by now a derelict and foreboding homestead once again.

Rob Sherrard was keen on both; so keen, in fact, to purchase a fine historic Tasmanian property that he acquired Egleston at Campbell Town two weeks before the Lake House auction, just to make sure he didn't miss out, and ended up with them both.

Rob Sherrard is probably best known for co-founding Australia's Virgin Blue airline. He and a mate, Brett Godfrey, first discussed the idea of establishing a new, low-price Australian airline over a few beers in a British pub during the 1993 Ashes series. Godfrey had just started working for Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic, having previously worked for a Melbourne aviation company with Sherrard.

Their idea was put to Virgin, but it went nowhere. When the pair caught up again in the late nineties, Godfrey had escalated through the Virgin ranks and was well known to Sir Richard Branson. So they put the idea to him directly, and the rest is history.

Virgin Blue took off in 2000 with two aircraft and just one route, Brisbane to Sydney. It was the most successful start-up aviation company in history, with a load factor of 78 per cent in its first hundred days, and it now operates 2200 flights a week to twenty-two Australian destinations.

Mr Sherrard got out of the business in 2005 to focus on his young family and many other pursuits, of which Lake House is just one.

Extensive planning has gone into the Lake House rejuvenation, and the concept of a luxury hotel has evolved over time. Under the guidance of Launceston heritage architect David Denman, the interior will be fully restored to an ultra-high standard, and luxury bathroom facilities added to each of the ten bedrooms.

An amazing extension will ensure that Lake House, at long last, takes advantage of its river outlook. Two new conservatory wings will extend out the back of the home in similar shape and form to the existing single-storey bays. These will form a morning terrace and an afternoon terrace, with a courtyard in between. The glass for the windows has been sourced from a seventeenth-century conservatory in France.

A new portico will also be added to the austere back of the house, and the kitchen will never be the same again as it undergoes a conversion fit for the very best chef Lake House can find, so that the food here will be an experience in itself.

The shearing shed will be transformed into a function centre, and there'll be the sort of activities that befit a fine country estate such as this—including trout fishing, clay-pigeon shooting and, for the revheads, an opportunity to inspect Mr Sherrard's rather impressive personal collection.

Just a few of its pieces include a 1922 Delage Roadster (with fighter-jet engine), the Monaro that Peter Brock raced in his last win at Bathurst, a SauberMercedes C9 Le Mans car, and a few small planes and boats for good measure.

The gardens will be completely developed, and other improvements also being considered include adding a lake and a small chapel to the property.

One of the most exciting plans is removing the paint on Lake House's façade. No one can remember Lake House before its white coat of paint, yet underneath it is brick with a sandstone render. The paint has given the homestead a more severe appearance, and it is time for the walls to breathe. A sample of the original render was sent to Melbourne to ensure a new batch was mixed up in exactly the same proportions as the old.

It is expected that Lake House will start taking guests about April 2009, heralding an exhilarating new era for this stunning homestead that nearly didn't survive.

Rob Sherrard Tasmania
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