Thursday , September 23 2021
Breaking News
Home / Environment / How Brisbane’s first ‘party house’ can help heritage stay relevant

How Brisbane’s first ‘party house’ can help heritage stay relevant

Newstead House became Brisbane’s original society party house when the Harris family owned it, when extravagant society parties dominating the early colony’s social life were a weekly event 50 years before F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote his Roaring ’20s novel The Great Gatsby.

Newstead House has for years been run by a Board of Trustees. It now has a new chair, former senator Claire Moore who has pushed for the first significant investment of funds from the Queensland government.

Jen Garcia is Newstead House’s long-serving program manager.

She is asking the questions Newstead House’s Board of Trustees are asking as the chipped paintwork, water damage and timber rots begin to emerge in Brisbane’s old lady of the river.

“Heritage is not necessarily front and centre for people,” Ms Garcia said.

“I think the refurbishment of this place sends a message to Brisbane and Queensland people that heritage is of value.

“Because, as you know, there have been lots of stories out there and I think this project will have a big impact.

“We have to make heritage relevant in a modern world.”

Inside Brisbane’s Newstead House before the renovation program where 5000 pieces are now being carefully stored away began last month.

Inside Brisbane’s Newstead House before the renovation program where 5000 pieces are now being carefully stored away began last month.Credit:Newstead House.

Ms Garcia said the new approach – in addition to the in-house theatre and jazz shows – which link school children and casually interested visitors to Newstead House should show Newstead House’s “sense of place” in Brisbane.

“We have to engage with new audiences,” Ms Garcia said.

“We have to act more as a stewardship; we must ask: ‘How do we make heritage relevant for young people?’”

She gives the analogy of enjoying heritage as similar to enjoying traditional jazz.

It is considered something that is enjoyed by people of a certain vintage, she suggests.

The big issue is making more young people aware of Brisbane’s heritage and how to make it relevant to them?

“When we bring young people here they really love it, they really do.

Heritage is not everybody’s cup of tea, she admits.

But more people should be encouraged to walk up from the river and the gardens to look through the house when Newstead House reopens in her revitalised splendour in about 18 months time.

“They don’t necessarily really need to take in the dates,” Ms Garcia says.

“They just need to be here and to see, and to feel.”

Brisbane’s heritage protection has been questioned harshly in the past five years with fires at Woolloongabba’s Broadway Hotel, the struggle to save Kangaroo Point’s Lamb House and the embarrassment of the demolition of Linden Lea at Toowong merely the tip of the iceberg.

Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon has subsequently announced a review of Queensland’s heritage protection laws and will report on changes before Christmas.

Heritage Minister Meaghan Scanlan (right) with local MP and Education Minister Grace Grace on the veranda of Newstead House as it begins a $5 million restoration.

Heritage Minister Meaghan Scanlan (right) with local MP and Education Minister Grace Grace on the veranda of Newstead House as it begins a $5 million restoration.

Newstead House has its own Facebook page with 2900 followers and, despite COVID-19, the management is trying to lure people back to the gardens and then back to the tours when the home reopens.

There were recent Father’s Day events and jazz days, all echoing the original glory days when Newstead House was the jewel in the centre of Brisbane.

Those glory days included a time when one previous owner had three Galapagos tortoises, Tom Dick and Harry (later renamed Harriet when her correct gender was realised), gifted to him in England by biologist Charles Darwin.

Originally, the three tortoises – part of Darwin’s research into his theories of evolution – were bought to Brisbane by Wickham.

Harriet lived for 175 years and died at Australia Zoo at Beerwah in 2006.

Harriet the tortoise lived in Brisbane’s Botanical Gardens until she spent her final years at Australia Zoo, where she is pictured with a young Bindi Irwin in 2006.

Harriet the tortoise lived in Brisbane’s Botanical Gardens until she spent her final years at Australia Zoo, where she is pictured with a young Bindi Irwin in 2006.Credit:Facebook Australia Zoo

The glory days continued when the Harris family owned Newstead House.

“The Harris family had an entertainment budget of over 20,000 pounds,” Ms Garcia said.

“That equates to around $1.3 million each year. They were known for their extravagant parties. There was champagne flowing. People wanted to be seen here. There was music, there was entertainment.

“There were letters written back to England where they described the carry-on in the parks.

“The Harris’ used to set up tents on their land for their guests who travelled here.”

“That is why we are so excited with the $5 million for the restoration.”

“It’s a really significant building on so many different levels; the social history, the built environment and what it shows of Brisbane’s evolution as a town, and then a city.”

Brisbane’s heritage-listed Newstead House which is undergoing a $5.5 million renovation has hosted millionaires, celebrities and even rare Galapagos Island turtles.

Brisbane’s heritage-listed Newstead House which is undergoing a $5.5 million renovation has hosted millionaires, celebrities and even rare Galapagos Island turtles.

Perhaps as COVID-19 sees more and more films being written, produced and created in Queensland, there could a film of extravagant parties, Newstead House’s Galapagos tortoises, spies and submarines.

It’s all part of Newstead House’s heritage. It depends on how it is told.

Timber, paint and plaster works will be restored and Newstead House’s original Welsh slate roof will be replaced during the 18-month restoration.

The home will be closed, but the gardens will be open.

About admin

Check Also

Smoke smothers Sydney from planned burns in ‘favourable conditions’

Smoke from hazard reduction burns settled over Sydney on Thursday afternoon, leading to poor air …