Did you know Australia has castles, just like Europe? While they may not be as old and historic, there are a few stately homes in Oz which can have “castle” status applied to them. The following post is about Overnewton Castle in Melbourne, which opens to the public once a month for tours and High Tea.
Unlike the UK and Europe where castles are ten a penny, they’re not really a thing in Oz.
This is because the traditional custodians of Australia are nomads. They left little sign of their presence upon the land beyond their permanent art.
So, you don’t really expect to find structures older than 150 years, when castles weren’t exactly in fashion.
However there are exceptions, such as Overnewton Castle, northwest of Melbourne.
This historic stately home is 170 years old. Although it is a private home, members of the public are able to explore it for themselves, from time to time.
Overnewton Castle in Victoria
When I first heard there was a ‘castle’ in Melbourne’s north-west, I knew I had to check it out for myself.
Further investigation shows that Overnewton Castle opens monthly for High and Devonshire Teas and tours.
Tea and historic structures are two of my favourite things in the world, so I was quick to book in.
Turns out the building was built by a Scotsman and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the Scottish know how to make a decent castle.
When you see Overnewton in the flesh, it appears grand enough to qualify for ‘castle’ status so I let it slide this one time, despite the distinct absence of a moat.
In any case, this is what it’s like to visit Overnewton Castle in Melbourne, for a poke around its rooms and a High Tea.
Taking a tour of Overnewton Castle
I didn’t really see any point in driving all the way out to Keilor, if we weren’t going to tour Overnewton Castle.
The tour (which costs $15 pp) is of high value.
You get to walk through parts of the house not normally open to the public and learn firsthand about the estate’s history.
The tour of Overnewton Castle is conducted by members of the Norton family (who now own the property) and we had Emma, the youngest daughter, leading us around on this particular occasion.
The tour begins as we walk through the rooms downstairs, including the once ‘master’ bedroom of the original colonial homestead (quite small in comparison to those of today!).
From there, we move to the drawing room for the Victorian ladies and the Billiard room for the men, which now serves as a chapel.
We are then taken into the private quarters of the home, including Emma’s father’s bedroom, library and her own bedroom, which she’d slept in as a teen.
Filled with antique furniture, Emma said she appreciaes it a lot more now than she had previously.
While we all remark that it would have been something to grow up in a room as grand as it, she said that she’d been in a permanent sulk at the time. This is due to not being allowed to put posters of Duran Duran on her bedroom walls, like her peers.
The history of Overnewton Castle
In its 170 years of existence, Overnewton has been home to three families – the Taylors, the Carrs and the Nortons.
The Taylor’s Tenure
After arriving in Australia from his native Scotland, William James Taylor buys 13,000 acres of farm land west of Keilor.
In 1849, he builds a single story bluestone homestead, consisting of six rooms, on a gentle slope which looks out over the countryside.
The building will house both him, his young wife Helen and the 12 children they would go on to have together. They married when he was 31 and she 16, but reports say they were and remain very much in love.
For the Scotsman, it is a case of right place, right time.
It is boom time in this part of Victoria, with the Goldrush in full swing. Keilor is placed right between Melbourne and famous Goldfields towns like Bendigo and Ballarat. The area benefits greatly from this positioning.
Travellers often stop in the township on their way through to the Goldfields, leading to the construction of a new bridge, hotel and schools in the area.
Taylor himself invests heavily in farming, holding multiple properties.
He is inspired by a trip to his native country of Scotland in the late 1850’s and arrives back in Australia, determined to build the home of his dreams.
He adds a two storey wing, containing some 35 rooms – 7 bedrooms, libraries, a drawing room, kitchens and servant’s quarters, along with a Dairy & Butcher Shop and the private Billiard room.
This is where he and his pals can sit, play games, smoke cigars and gossip. During the tour, Emma said she would’ve loved to have been a fly on the wall for some of these conversations – I feel inclined to agree!
Taylor’s luck runs out shortly before he passes away. A drought hits the Australian farming industry hard and he loses much of his land.
He dies in 1903, six months before his heartbroken wife Helen follows suit.
The Nortons step in
The property remains in the Taylor family until 1959, when it is sold to the Carrs.
This is the first instance where the home is used for wedding receptions, a tradition that continues to this day.
The Carrs raise their children on the property until it is bought by Dr Norton in 1975.
He moves his family onto the estate and makes changes to the house. For a spell, it even serves as a private practice for him and his wife, who was also a doctor.
Dr Norton still lives on the estate to this day. We didn’t meet him, although after learning about him, I would have quite liked to.
An avid antique collector, he has an eye for furniture and knick knacks, which fill the rooms and halls of the estate.
He still gives regular tours of the property and even dresses up as a pirate sometime, as a homage to his love of boats and sailing.
He seems quite a character – truth be told, I was more interested in finding out more about him than William Taylor!
Overnewton Castle’s Challenge
A house as old as Overnewton has done well to survive for as long as it has – it has seem some changes, such as the introduction of telephones, electricity and heating. It’s impressive for a property of this size to remain intact after Melbourne’s boom and scramble for land.
Our tour guide Emma helps manage the property and tells us that it takes a lot of money and maintenance to keep the house in one piece.
She is currently battling with local bees, who have placed their hives in many of the chimneys.
They have a tendency to swarm – usually when the estate has been booked for a wedding, as life would go.
There are so many of them that their honey had filled the walls of the house and is leaking through cracks in the rooms of the top storey!
She joked about finding a way to bottle it and sell, but stresses that it is just one of the ongoing issues that the estate faces, if it is to continue to survive.
High tea at Overnewton Castle
After the tour is completed, you can hang around the castle for a High or Devonshire tea.
I will say the tea is a bit basic for the price, which is $60 pp.
Patrons are given three-tiers of treats, with sandwiches (three sorts, we had eggs, chicken and ham), savoury items (tarts and pies) and cakes with macarons, alongside three sweet and savoury scones.
While it is more than enough food, there isn’t really anything special about it. It’s all pretty standard fair.
Alongside that, you’re given the option of coffee or tea.
The tea is standard, brewed from a teabag. I really do think High Teas should offer a choice of tea made from tea leaves, but then again – I am a tea fanatic.
On the flip side, the glass of champagne offered is included in the price, I can’t fault the service and the setting is what really makes the event.
We are told proceeds go back into funding the maintenance of the house and I am completely okay with that.
I think these old stately homes deserve to be taken care of and I can’t imagine it comes cheap. When you take all of this into the equation, the price seems fair.
So, in conclusion – come for the experience, rather than the high tea itself. I think if I were to return, I’d opt for the Devonshire as it is a much cheaper price and the scones are really nice.
When to Visit Overnewton Castle
I think we were bang on the money, visiting when we did, which was early October. The spring blossoms were starting to disappear, but many other flowers were blooming, along with the ivy that adorned the castle.
If I were to pick another time to visit Overnewton Castle, I’d head there in the autumn months (March-May). The leaves adorning the castle apparently turn red and that would surely be quite a sight to see.
Overnewton Castle holds regular events beyond weddings and high teas – everything from “kids days”, to film screenings.
Check out their events page for more details.
How to get to Overnewton Castle
Keilor is a bit of a pain to get to via public transport and so it’s easiest to drive straight there. It takes around half an hour from the city, ten minutes less if you take the Citylink.
There’s plenty of parking onsite.
Other Things to do in Melbourne and Beyond
Looking for some other things to do during your time in Melbourne? Here are a few posts for extra perusal.
All prices are in $AUD.