Words and Pictures by Jill Fraser
Bluestead grew as a vision held by all who contributed to its conception and evolution – family, friends, gardeners and professional landscapers. The chief architect has been my brother, Don Fraser who dreamed the dream, laid the current foundation and devised the framework upon which others have built.
‘Bluestead’ is a bluestone homestead sitting atop a ridge perfectly positioned in the centre of 10 acres of fertile land, where the fall of a hill pauses momentarily before sliding gently down to the Little Yarra River below. The view, which takes in Mounts Ben Cairn, Victoria and Donna Buang, is spectacular. The garden, which occupies around three acres, is one minute breathtakingly alive with colour, activity and sound, the next, serene, still and contemplative.
Asked to jot down a few words that would capture the picture, about which I was struggling to do justice, Don wrote: “My garden is a mirror image of my soul – a place of peace surrounding me. It touches me every day when I look out upon the tranquil and ever-changing scene overlooking my beautiful valley and its majestic mountains. “My garden is a unique element of the set that dresses the stage of my life.”
Don’s relationship with ‘Bluestead’ began in 1983. “The children were teenagers and Rosemary (his first wife) and I wanted a change. I didn’t think anyone could build what we were envisaging so we were looking for land,” he said. They were living in Templestowe at the time and seeking to make a tree change. Their first home, which Don had won through a slogan writing/general knowledge competition at a Sydney Home Show, had been in the Blue Mountains, NSW and they were missing the distinct and unique qualities of a regional lifestyle.
“It’s the space and lifestyle. There’s an authenticity and warmth in the people that’s hard to find in the suburbs,” he said. Don is a typical Cancerian. Creativity and a deep love of, and need for, a solid and aesthetically pleasing home base are dominant characteristics. His work has centred around advertising and marketing with stints in radio, on camera in television, record production and as a restaurateur.
His career trajectory, which was unplanned and unmapped, led him to shift from Sydney to Melbourne courtesy of CSR Building Materials, with whom he was working, initially in sales and then promotions, in the mid-60s. An almost innate aversion of boredom has frequently seen him juggling two, sometimes three, jobs at a time.
His CV reflects his energy, an insatiable hunger for variety and contempt for inactivity. He has worked with Bert Newton, the late Frank Wilson, Bruce Mansfield, the late Don Lane, Rosemary Margan and Harry Beitzel (“Harry always did the right thing by me”) among others. He formulated and fronted the 3AK Beach Broadcasts, produced and recorded a Golden Guitar winning group and solo artist at the Tamworth Country Music Festival, penned the lyrics for a number of songs including an Australia Day Council commissioned song to rally a then apathetic nation, The Australia Day Song, recorded by the late Leonard Teale (this achieved a Gold Record), established and ran the Branding Iron restaurant in Little Bourke Street, orchestrated the marketing campaign for Kaiser Aetna Jennings’ massive 2000 acre development north of Perth, which he named Ocean Reef, won a New Faces commercial presentation contest and.. on and on.
His new venture Tell Me a Story Video Productions, produces professionally packaged DVDs of interviews with families, friends and/or individuals wanting to preserve treasured memories. (http://www.tellmeastory.com.au/) As he says: “Everyone has a story and sadly the oldies won’t be with us forever and video ensures that their memories are preserved and honoured.” Don’s home is his haven. Far from the madding crowd is his ideal. Feeling drawn to make a move to the Yarra Valley with its legendary diverse beauty and relative proximity to town was a natural step.
Chuckling Don recalls the local real estate agent trying to sum him up. “He kept insisting, you don’t want land you want a house, as he proceeded to take us to several god-awful, modern atrocities – faux country-style places. “I argued, I want land, maybe 20 acres and told him I had a vision of hills, a view, a rise in the middle of the property where we could build an individually-styled home and lots of trees.”
They weren’t getting anywhere and Don, who doesn’t count patience as one of his virtues, was about to pull the plug when suddenly there it was. “I looked down the hill to the outline of ‘Bluestead’, which I could see nestled into the landscape and out over this amazing vista and said, is that for sale?” The rest, as they say, is history.
Although it was nothing like it is today the potential of the red gum and bluestone building and bare bones of a garden layout was obvious. The alter rail delineating the pit, the soundproof confessional doors in the main bedroom, the leadlight front door and surrounds (“you can’t get leadlight in those subtle colours anymore”), the interior handmade bricks and circular window that hailed from a winery in the lounge room, were the icing on the cake.
The vendor was an owner-builder and the time, thought, care and love he had put into the process was clear. He could only manage to lay 18 bluestone bricks a day and engaged scant help from professionals. An engineer designed the roof and exposed beam ceiling, which features massive bolts. Don worked solidly for three years on the original shell, titillating, securing, stabilising and blocking gaps.
He then built a sophisticated recording studio onto the south side of the house and fashioned a model train room before turning his attention to the garden. It was not an organic process. Every aspect of the garden design was conceived and planned strategically.
He explained, “I had no overall plan, creating each section as a ‘room’ that possessed a distinct mood before I moved onto the next one” and admits to being, “hopeless with plant names”. When pressed he muttered “weeping willows, peppercorns, weeping cherries, conifers…” breathing hard in exasperation. Themed colour is important to Donald.
“Pink was the original theme but Vicki (his wife) has been a strong influence in changing that. What I object to is having different hues together, such as a blue pink with a yellow pink,” he said with a note of disdain. Vicki has contributed a great deal to the interior and exterior. After Don and Rosemary divorced he lived alone for seven years and the house developed quite a masculine tone. Vicki softened it and added her love of annuals to the garden.
Ten years ago Don and Vicki decided to sell and move closer to family, friends and inner city shopping. At the eleventh hour, literally during the auction, Don changed his mind and took the property off the market. Why would he never want to leave ‘Bluestead’?
“Every night when I was still working in town and driving home I would get to a certain spot in the road where I could look down at ‘Bluestead’ and see the mountains and the valley in the distance and all the drama of the day would just wash away,” he said. “Sometimes I walk down the back garden near the pond and sit and look at the vista. I can’t hear or see anything except what nature has created and I become part of the whole scene.”