Geoffrey Syme's beach house at Mordialloc
Seaforth 1908.
The little farm had been part of the David Syme Estate. In 1908 it was valued for Probate at £1,700. David Syme had owned about seven hundred acres of land and farmlets between Mordialloc and Carrum – these were valued for Probate at £11,040 – but the Mordialloc land was probably chosen because of its position near the beach. It was not a fashionable place as once Mentone had been, but Annabella Syme had decided to build a beach house, primarily to provide beach holidays for her grandchildren. She chose to build it at Mordialloc. David Syme sometimes stayed at Seaforth during the last few years of his life, at least often enough for him to bother to have a desk to work at when he was there, so she probably regarded it as her own holiday house too.
Paper weight on David Syme's desk at Seaforth.
Geoffrey Syme must have bought Seaforth because he liked it and because it was within easy reach of The Age office. It was only an hour away from the city by car and there was a good railway service from Frankston via Mordialloc. He rather disapproved of his elder brother Herbert’s beach house on Fraser Island in the Gippsland lakes. Herbert was The Age’s Business Manager and its distance made him well out of reach. He spent the summer on the lakes and legend has it that the head engineer from The Age office went too, as the engineer on Herbert’s boat, the West Wind. Neither Herbert nor the engineer could be available quickly if there was a technical or mechanical problem at the office during the Christmas holidays. The little farm was at the corner of Beach Road and Bay Street in Mordialloc, where the original Mordialloc beach once began, just past the place where the low cliffs and rocky pools of the Parkdale foreshore used to be.
Mordialloc area

The Seaforth drive had iron gates with brick pillars, and the gates had to be unchained and the rusty gates pushed open so that one could drive along a drive that was really only two grey sandy tracks separated by a line of buffalo grass. It was not until the mid 1930’s that this drive was abandoned and a new wooden gate and short gravel drive made so that cars could enter from Bay Street.  The original drive was straight and was bordered by paddocks that were separated from it by ti-tree hedges At its end a circle of ti-trees grew at the bottom of the front lawn, and it was near these trees the sandy drive changed into the red-brown gravel drive that went up towards the house and encircled the big lawn.

Seaforth was built of red brick, with a roof of red terracotta tiles. The wide verandah across the front and two sides of the house had wooden boards that were stained a darkish red.  A row of bright blue hydrangeas grew on the flowerbeds that were on either side of the steps that led up to the verandah. The house lay at the top of a slight hill. It did not have a good view of the sea, except from the front verandah and the room at the top of the house. Even from there one could only see straight ahead, across the water to the distant hills of Mount Martha and Arthur’s Seat. The main shipping channel had already changed direction and the big ships were too far away to see. A line of old cedars blocked the view to the west, so Parkdale and Mentone were out of sight.

At some time, perhaps before Geoffrey Syme bought it, a few blocks of Seaforth’s land had been sold, so there was only a short frontage onto Rosella Road. An entrance was still there, a gate that led to the stables, but it was never used, except by the ‘night man’ who really did come at night with his horse and cart to collect the tins of sewerage from the two little buildings that housed Seaforth’s only lavatories. Nor were the stables used; the horses and carriages had gone, though the bridles and harness were there, hanging on the walls.  The bins in the storehouse beside the stables were now filled with bran and pollard for the poultry.

Seaforth more or less earned its upkeep from selling eggs and the chickens and ducks that were kept in the two big poultry runs, and from agisting racehorses in the paddocks near Beach Road. There were a number of racing stables close to Seaforth, and early in the morning one could hear the noise of the hooves of the horses that were ridden down Bay Street to the Mordialloc beach for their daily swim.

Mrs Treadwell in one of the Seaforth poultry yards.
Mrs Treadwell was in charge of the poultry at Seaforth. In fact she was in charge of everything, from the poultry and cows and garden to the housekeeping and the cooking when the family came to stay. She did, however, have Mr Robinson to help her in the garden.
Everyone caller her Tready. She was first employed in 1901, about the time the house was built by Annabella Syme, and she was kept on when Geoffrey Syme bought the property. Her importance was something of a mystery, for not only had Annabella Syme had left her a legacy of £20, on condition that she was employed by Geoffrey Syme at the time of Annabella’s death, but there was no Mr Treadwell and he was never mentioned. He may have been a distant relation of Annabella's. Several Treadwells imigrated to Australia in the 19th century and there are Treadwells in the family tree of Fanny Riley the wife of Thomas Garnett of Bingley. There was some sort of undertaking that Annabella Syme would be responsible for the education of Mrs Treadwell's daughter Mary who was born about 1896.  Though Tready was Church of England, Mary had been christened a Catholic.  Mary was to be brought up so she could earn her living as a secretary, which she did, going into the city every weekday, neatly dressed in a grey coat and skirt.

Mrs Treadwell 1940

Tready, was quite different. In the 1930’s she was short, stocky and red-faced with thin white hair drawn back into a bun. She always wore a bright blue cotton dress, usually half covered by a big white apron, and sometimes she added a grey woollen cardigan. Her fawn lisle stockings were slightly wrinkled, falling in little folds above her brown lace-up shoes. She was always dressed for work, whether it was in the kitchen, the poultry yards, or down in the paddock milking the cows. She smelt very clean, though her smell was rather too antiseptic because of the red carbolic soap she always used. Mary never wore casual clothes. She always looked as if she was about to go to work in town. She was musical and had been given a lot of music lessons. She preferred to play classical music.
However, in the evening, when Felicity Syme, her friends, and sometimes Veronica were staying at Seaforth, everyone would go into the big square hall, Mary would play the piano and everyone would sing. They sang songs that even then were old-fashioned. One began “A quiet little Quaker girl”, and another, Felicity’s favourite, was “Over the plains with the emu.”
Mary playing the piano.
The hall was the centre of the house. It had paneling around its walls and seven doors opened into it, It had a polished floor, partly covered by two large carpets that were sewn together. In one corner, beside the piano, was the little mahogany circular staircase that led up to the square attic room above the hall. Next to the staircase was a big dolls house painted dark green and white, and hanging above this was a large, very faded tapestry, vaguely French and pastoral, with a companion tapestry hanging opposite it. It all sounds unattractive, but it wasn’t. There was no dining room at Seaforth, but the only sitting room was a big one and the dining table was at its far end, near the window that looked onto Bay Street. Between the sitting room and the kitchen was a large wooden built-in dresser, with cupboards and shelves and a wooden slide that
Seaforth, ground floor.
opened into the kitchen. Food from the kitchen was passed
though the slide into the sitting room. Because the slide opening was big children liked to play in it, using it as a way of getting into the kitchen. The sitting room had a green carpet and the sofa, chairs and the cushions on the long window seat were covered with white cretonne patterned with blue hollyhocks. Violet Syme’s bedroom was beside one of the two bathrooms. It had white painted furniture, a double bed with brass ends and lilac patterned cretonne on the chair, sofa and the bed. Except for the room upstairs, it had the best view in the house.

The big room at the top of the circular staircase really did not have a very good view, even though there were windows on all four sides of it. They were small and rather high up, though there was one window one could climb through and sit outside on the roof.

This room had iron bars attached to the ceiling and on them hung white calico curtains that divided the room into four cubicles. No one knows why it was arranged this way. One theory was that it was intended as a bedroom for Annabella’s male grandchildren, and another that it was a staff bedroom. There was no form of plumbing, so whoever slept there must have found it necessary, though very difficult, to carry a pot down the narrow circular staircase.

In the 1930’s and 1940’s it was simply an empty playroom, made slightly interesting by the fact that one could get out of one of its windows onto the roof and by the Japanese armour that lay in a corner of the room. It was real armour for a very small soldier, complete in every detail, including a helmet, and it would now be a valuable museum piece, if anyone knew what had happened to it.
Seaforth was a very cheerful house with a special clean and rather salty smell. It was lit by gas until the late 1930’s and all the bath water and water for the kitchen was heated by gas. The lavatories were two little houses in the grounds, one, reserved for Geoffrey and Violet Syme and for adult visitors, had a white bear-skin rug on the floor and lay about twenty yards from the front verandah, and the other, which was used by everyone else, just had bare boards on the floor and lay between the stables and the fowl yards. At night everyone used the pots under their beds.

Until electricity was connected, probably in the late 1930’s, having a bath was a rather frightening affair for a child. Each bath had a large grey cylinder beside it and at the bottom of the cylinder was a little tap to turn on the gas so that one could light the gas jet. The cylinder made strange rumbling sounds and the water that came out of the pipe into the bath was very hot. There are pleasanter memories of the gaslights that were in each room and gave perfectly adequate light. When the gas was turned off, the flame died down slowly until there were only a few red sparks left within the glass globes.

Until electricity was put on there was no refrigerator at Seaforth. There was a wooden ice-box in the scullery and once a week a man would come up the path from Bay Street, carrying a big lump of ice of wrapped in sacking to put in the top of the ice chest. It was not far for him to walk, though he had to go up the hill and along a path through a thicket of ti-trees.

All the cooking was done in a coal-fired range. Tready was a marvelous cook and the food tasted different and often nicer than the Blythswood food. It was not elaborate; meat cakes and sausages, and mashed potatoes and peas that were yellowish because she did not use bicarbonate of soda.  A favourite pudding was grated raw apple, and occasionally she made the rainbow cakes that were her specialty.

Seaforth was charming in a simple way. No one would miss the hens and ducks in the grey, sandy fowl yards at the back of the house, or the turkeys that roamed between the house and the lavatory near the fowl yard. Nor would one want to remember Tready cutting off the heads of chickens, then sitting and plucking them.

There are happier memories of Tready milking the cows in the little cow byre in the lower paddock, and when, draped in green netting, she emptied the beehives and pulled out the honeycomb.

Seaforth had a rather sad end. Tready retired about 1941, no one replaced her, then a couple of years after Geoffrey Syme’s death, probably in 1945 or 1946, one of his trustees bought it. There was an attempt to modernize it. A cocktail bar was built, another room was added on a side verandah, and some furniture was replaced. The new dark leather chairs did not suit the house The place lost all its old-fashioned charm, and the property was sold again in February, 1952.

PENDLESIDE - Geoffrey Syme's farm at Woori Yallock.
Pendleside was the name Geoffrey Syme gave to the land he bought from his father’s Estate when David Syme’s farming properties were divided after his death. His wife Violet Syme chose the name Pendleside because she was born in Clitheroe in Lancashire, just below Pendle Hill. Pendle Hill, supposedly haunted by witches, is big and bare and crouches like a lion over the countryside. The many wooded hills around Woori Yallock bear little resemblance to it, but that was the name she wanted for the farm. This farm, Pendleside, was at the Warburton end of David Syme’s properties, at the eastern end of Killara.

Geoffrey Syme at his first house at Pendleside. It was an old cottage from Killara.

David Syme had big land holdings in the Yarra Valley, as well as land near Macedon and Mellool, in New South Wales, on the Murray, near Murray Downs.  He had bought Mellool in 1905. His principal farm, Killara, which was bought from David Mitchell, was first called Steele’s Flat. He continued to buy land in the Yarra Valley, Dalry in the late 1880’s and Tarrawarra about 1893. Both of these were originally part of the Yering land.

Getting his stock and produce to the market was not a problem for David Syme: he had used his influence to get the railway built between Lilydale and Warburton. The railway was opened in 1901, and went through Killara and what was later to become Pendleside. There was a station at Killara, though not at Pendleside. He had more land at Yarra Junction and 1908 this land was valued for Probate at £1,944. He had another 644 acres at Big Pat’s Creek which was valued at £1,793.

The homestead at Pendleside being built.
David Syme's homestead at Killara. Herbert Syme moved into this house.
When David Syme died much of his land was divided up, or, more often, bought from his Estate by his sons.  Herbert got Killara, Francis got Dalry, Lucie was allowed to live at Tarrawarra, which remained part of the David Syme Estate, Oswald got Bolobek*, the land near Macedon, Arthur must have got some of the Yering land near Lilydale, where he lived, and Mellool remained part of the David Syme Estate until 1920's.
The homestead at Mellool.
Mellool, near Murray Downs in N.S.W.
Geoffrey Syme's first house at Pendleside was very small; it seems to have been begun about 1911. It was designed by one of his friends, Bill Godfrey, an architect who was given to building city houses with rather dark panelling. He put a lot of paneling into Pendleside. It must have been habitable quite soon, because the photograph of another friend Billy Williams sitting on the front steps is marked 1911.
Billy Williams (who became a County Court Judge).
Violet Syme did not like country life very much. She was frightened of animals. So much so that there is a joke photograph of her, where she seems to be sitting side-saddle on one of her husband’s Dexter Kerry bulls. This was probably his champion bull Cowbridge Knight, and she was terrified of it. She would not have gone near it.
Violet Syme sitting on a bull.
Geoffrey Syme used the prefix Pendle for some of his Dexter Kerry cattle. Pendle Pilot, Pendle Mayor and Pendle Denham, Pendle Beauty, Oakbridge Beatrice, Pendle Lass, Midget, Blackberry and Doris were all shown in 1913. His imported champion Cowbridge Knight was shown in 1914, 1916, 1917 and in 1919. He gave the names of his 3rd and 4th daughters to Pendle Joan and Pendle Felicity. Both heifers were shown at the Royal Agricultural Society Show in 1914, the year Felicity was born. Pendle Tom Thumb and Pendle Punch, Pendle Fay, Pendle Peggy and Pendle Witch were shown in 1917 and Pendle King and the imported Oakbridge Beatrice 2nd  were shown in 1919.  He kept a board covered with a mass of their prize ribbons in his study at Blythswood. There seems to be no record of the date when the herd was dispersed. By the late 1930’s Herefords rather than Dexter Kerries grazed on the flats at Pendleside.
Medals won by his Dexter Kerry cattle.
Geoffrey Syme’s interest in Dorset Horn sheep probably began about 1907, when his father bought a flock of ten rams and twenty eight ewes from South Australia. They had belonged to Norman Brookman and were descendants of Dorset Horns bred by T. J. Hooper of Frampton, near Dorchester in England. The flock went to Mellool and Geoffrey Syme bought these sheep, the No. 1 and No. 2 Mellool flocks, from the Mellool Irrigation Company in 1913. Geoffrey Syme’s flock became the No. I Dorset Horn flock. He used the prefix Pendleton and he also used the prefix Pendleside.
Pendleside about 1913.
The house was enlarged a little in 1913. The house was enlarged again and modernized in 1923 when his eldest daughter Mardie married Geoffrey Haggard and they went to live there.
Plans of the interior of Pendleside c. 1939.
Part of the Pendleside property, 1939.
*Footnote.  In July 1869 David Syme applied for a lease on 20 acres of Crown land at Mount Macedon. By 1872 he had bought this allotment and two others and owned 57 and one quarter acres, for which he had paid 18/6 per acre. Probably with the help of his father-in-law, he built a small house, Rosenheim, which he sold to the Government in 1885. In 1870 he paid rates on 35 acres and he later increased his landholding to 60 acres. The Shire records for 1882-1883 shows he paid rates on 286 acres, and by 1884-1885 he had added another 39 and a half acres to his holdings. At the time of his death in 1908 his Estate, or perhaps his widow, probably owned about 1662 acres in the Shire of Gisburne. The preliminary list prepared for his Probate does not record this land or its value.


Copyright © 2012 Dr Veronica Condon. All rights reserved.