Raeshaws at Fulham – Gippsland

Raeshaw at Fulham has a long history of providing hospitality. In the 1940’s it was an RAAF base, in the 50’s it was a migrant holding centre and today the home has been lovingly restored and continues to welcome guests and family with open arms. The attractive home built by the Bothwick family in the 1920’s displays the Arts and Crafts style popular in the day and tends to leave a lasting impression with those who visit.

Raeshaw sits on the windswept plains in Fulham, a few minutes from Sale (Gippsland Victoria) and was the site of the West Sale Migrant Holding Centre. Raeshaw has a fascinating and important history and today, the property is owned by Anne and Michael Gimpole who make sure that the ‘welcome with open arms’ policy is retained. People regularly drop in to Raeshaw and every February the Gimpole’s open the doors for a reunion. Anyone who has had anything to do with Raeshaw is invited to come along. Over 200 people have been known to attend.

Anne and Michael always loved Raeshaw, but the first negotiations to buy fell through. A few years later Raeshaw came on the market again and this time they made sure that the charming home with a fascinating history would be theirs. “I can still remember where I was the time I found out it was on the market. I absolutely love it. When I go into a couple of rooms in particular I can’t help but smile. The light is just right,” said Anne.

Deep windowsills and diamond pointed windows are examples of the period features that remain intact. Dense timbers including Oregon ceilings and Baltic pine line the floors and walls. Many of the original features of the house were retained and the restoration included an extension that became the main dining room for a restaurant.

When Anne and Michael arrived at Raeshaw there was virtually no garden and just a broken old tennis court. But with a series of renovation projects already under their belts Anne and Michael tackled the project head on and have created a wonderful family home.

When the property was operating as a migrant centre it resembled a small village with the infrastructure to match. “I think there is more underground drainage here than in the whole of Sale,” said Michael. At one stage there were about 700 people living at the centre. The residents were mainly women and children; the dependants of breadwinners working in the essential industries of Gippsland. There was a school, medical centre, kitchen and the main house was the home for the camp director. The concrete foundations of the centre’s main buildings are still there scattered over the front paddocks. Parts of the old maids quarters, a bullet hole in an interior wall and the discovery of a safe (it was empty) were some of the treasures unearthed during the restorations. “We found a machine gun post, and in the middle of the veggie patch is an underground room.” The room, Michael says, always draws a lengthy conversation. The Gardens A majestic Oak tree in the centre of the garden also needed a bit of TLC when the couple arrived at Raeshaw. As the story goes the tree sprouted from an Acorn collected by a soldier upon his return from WW1 in 1918. “When we arrived the Oak tree’s branches were touching the ground.” One of the first jobs was to dig around the edge of the canopy and drip water and food into it. The vision for the garden was to make it child friendly to accommodate grandchildren, and to be a pleasure for everyone to meander through and enjoy its diversity. A Cypress hedge maze and a checkerboard dance floor under the Oak Tree are some of the eclectic items throughout the garden. “…if I can’t eat it I’m not interested.” For Michael everything leads to the vegetable garden. “I’d rather leave the ornamental garden beds to the care of Anne and Jen Macguire, the gardener. If I can’t eat it I’m not interested. I get so excited about the first corn or pea crop,” he said. His passion for having a productive garden began as a small child in Salzburg, Austria. “We relied on the food we grew. During the war we were allocated a plot and I have been growing and collecting vegetables for more than 65 years.” Michael’s passion for growing vegetables has become an ‘extreme’ hobby and the family rarely need to buy produce. Seedlings are planted according to the seasons and the beds are arranged in an orderly fashion to sooth Michael’s need for symmetry. Even the onions are planted along a string line. Frosty mornings and high winds are common challenges on the open plains in Fulham. Some of the trees in the orchard have a slight lean that attests to this. “Most things will grow here. I do experiment a lot.” Michael has discovered that Desiree potatoes do particularly well in the unique conditions at Fulham. 

The vegetable garden is positioned over the former RAAF parade grounds. With the compacted gravel soil too difficult to cultivate, Michael built a series of raised beds. Each year the beds are topped up with homemade compost made from manure and scraps. Broadbeans are grown and dug back into the earth as green manure and a worm farm creates liquid fertiliser. Jen Macguire spends a day a week helping out in the garden and said that everything is done on a big scale. Not just hundreds but thousands of onions are planted at one time. Eggs are collected from free range chooks while berry canes, a citrus grove, plums, pears, nectarines, cumquats and nectarines round out a well stocked pantry throughout the year. The citrus grove had its own challenges.

Planted alongside a Cypress windrow many told Michael that they would starve of nutrients but the trees, now laden with plump fruit, proved them wrong. “In the first year they all nearly died but now in the middle of winter you can have all the fruit you want.” Anne and Michael are passionate about knowing the sourceof the produce they consume. “Without really knowing it I think we have become slow food people. We want to source produce within a 50km radius and work on traceability. Anne, a retired mental health nurse is keen to pursue a more self-sufficient lifestyle and is planning to open a restaurant at Raeshaw with her daughter Donna Everett. “We try to be as organic as possible. We want to pick vegetables fresh from the garden and adapt the menu to what is available. If we can’t grow it on the property we will want to be able to trace where it comes from.”

 More information about the history of Raeshaw can be found in Ann Synan’s book ‘We Came With Nothing: Story of the West Sale Migrant Holding Centre’, published by Lookups Research.

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