On 4th January 2021, the day after the birthday tea, I interviewed Andrew Gilmour about his memories of Lake View and its restoration. Andrew’s family has lived in Chiltern for seven generations so he has much wisdom to share. He believes that his grandparents, who owned the mill next to Lake View, actually bought the house when the Richardsons left town.
‘At the clearing sale, my grandmother bought the drawing room tea set and tray and the famous new patent lamp that he refers to so many times in the book – she bought both of them…The lamp Mum loaned to some people in the town who didn’t have the electricity on and it never came back.’ Andrew remembers that he played with the tea set in his playhouse with his sister as a child, not knowing it belonged to the family of a famous writer. His grandparents’ bed was up at Lake View for a long time till he took it back.
When asked if there were any memories of Doctor Richardson around the town, when he was growing up, Andrew remarked:
‘The only recollection from my childhood would have been about the doctor who went mad – nobody said he had syphilis – and that he was interested in Spiritualism and in vaccinations. You can imagine, amongst ignorant miners and uneducated people, they thought he was the doctor from hell! And nobody would go near him. It was a tragic situation. But I always love to think of – when von Mueller would come on one of his country tours – the two of them would sit up all night in Lake View – and the doctor played the piano and von Mueller played the flute and I’ve often thought – what an oasis it must’ve been for both of them…It must’ve been a great high point in both of their lives. To find a likeminded person. There would have been hardly anybody, except my grandparents, that they had much in common with – I think that’s a lovely story.’
According to Andrew, there was a big divide between the closing down of the mines and the Great War. ‘I grew up in a hopeless town full of hopeless defeated poor people’ he says.
But, perhaps the only benefit of the poverty of the town for that period was that so little was changed because people didn’t have the money to do anything with their houses. He doesn’t remember anybody mentioning HHR when he was a child and doesn’t think that her books were easily available, perhaps due to the Tall Poppy syndrome.
Andrew is fairly certain that the idea of having the birthday party for HHR originally came from local priest, Father John Stockdale: ‘It was he who always had the cake made…He would come across from Beechworth with the birthday cake and he had a magnificent Baccarat candelabra with candles on it and he would put that on the piano and in the very early days he would play and I seem to remember, sing (because he had quite a good voice) some of her music.’
By the time Father Stockdale left, it was an established tradition. The house had a manager who organised the birthday tea and the event was on everybody’s calendar.
‘It has always been delightful, you know, after the celebrations of Christmas and New Year which can be a bit formal and so forth. Just to sit out under the trees with likeminded people and talk and people share their food and their drinks and it’s absolutely charming.’
Andrew says that a garden designer named Ellis Stones planned the garden but it didn’t match the period of the house: ‘He’s made a charming garden but it’s not a strictly period garden but he did some good things like planting the mulberry tree for example, they were obligatory in houses of that age and a couple of other things like that but it’s not the sort of garden that would have been planted when the house was first built.’
He is full of praise for the local people who have devotedly looked after Lake View for so many years, saying that ‘the auxiliary ladies have been absolutely marvellous’. The members of the committee over the years have been strong minded ladies and they keep the money they raise and pay for things as they come up. ‘I don’t know what would’ve happened to the house if it hadn’t been for them.’