You don’t always have to travel far from home in order to find interesting places. The other day we found a combination of both history and innovation in the area around the little town of Yarra Glen.
Yarra Glen is only about thirty kilometres from our home and is the doorway to the Yarra Valley wine and gastronomic area. The town only has a population of around 2,600. The first Europeans to settle here were the Ryrie brothers when they established the 43,000 acres (170 km2) Yering Run in 1837 after droving their cattle to the area from NSW. These brothers planted the first grape vines in the Yarra Valley in 1838 and produced their first wine in 1845. These types of agricultural activities persist to this day.
Our lunch was at the quaint Yarra Valley Dairy which offers a delightful experience of fine food and wine. The restaurant is housed in an old miking shed which is very rustic and an interesting place to taste some of the traditional local cow, sheep and goat cheeses. You certainly know that you at the right location because of the strong ‘essence of cow’ and ‘scent of silage’ that wafts across the landscape near the carpark. This smell is not as obvious once you are inside the dairy. Perhaps the walls keep it out, or maybe by the time you have walked across the carpark and into the corrugated iron building, you have become used to it and it not longer matters.
Just down the road at the junction of the Melba and Maroondah Highways, in the tiny town of Coldstream is the famous Coombe Cottage. Coldstream is very aptly named. On clear winter mornings it is one of the coldest places around Melbourne, with the temperature dropping below 0°C on several mornings each year. It’s cold enough to freeze the balls of a billiard table. The township originally developed around the railway station after the railway arrived in 1888. Dame Nellie bought her property in 1909. Apparently, she fell in love with the location on first sight but this was well before we had effective space heating, electric blankets and modern thermal underwear!
I have driven past Coombe Cottage on many occasions over the decades and have always wondered what lies behind its surrounding stone wall and high hedge. This is the original home of Dame Nellie Melba, the famous Australian Opera Singer from the early 1900’s. At that time, she was a superstar and perhaps the best known woman in the world. Her granddaughter lived in the cottage until she died a few years ago and the house has now been passed down through the family to Lord Vestey. The property has now become a commercialised operation so that it pays its way. The seven acres of garden are currently being renovated. It has an outstanding restaurant, hosts weddings and has many acres growing grapes and agisting cattle. A pre-booked tour of the garden is a must!.
Dame Nellie was born Helen Porter Mitchell and was the daughter of a famous builder David Mitchell. He built the Melbourne Exhibition Buildings. Dame Nellie assumed the name ‘Melba’ because she came from Melbourne. She is now honoured with the name of the highway that passes her cottage, the Peach Melba dessert, Melba toast and Melba sauce. Perhaps there is some linkage to her lifestyle and the fact that most of these things named after her are sweet items of food.
I was entranced by the history of the place. One of the misunderstanding that I had was that Dame Nellie received her Damehood because of her singing. In fact, she received it for personally raising over £100,000 in support of the war effort at the outbreak of WW1. Her status was certainly upgraded to a higher level later because of her singing but wasn’t the reason for her decoration. Her house still stands pretty much as it was when she was alive, especially her bedroom which has not been touched since she passed away in 1931.
At the other end of the time sale, the very contemporary Choclaterie in Yarra Glen is a destination where you can indulge a love of chocolate and ice cream. It is set with lovely views across the valley and the Melba Highway. They have free chocolate tastings, large viewing windows to watch talented European chocolatiers at work and the opportunity to buy over 250 different varieties of hand-crafted chocolates and ice creams.
The Choclaterie is currently hosting an exhibition of painted kangaroos. Forty acclaimed artists and Australian identities have donated their talents and painted life-sized kangaroos to form a ‘Hop for Hope’ exhibition. You can vote for your favourite roo via a gold coin donation and even bid for own kangaroo through an online auction. It’s all to raise funds for The Alannah and Madeline Foundation whose work keeps children safe from violence and bullying. I really liked the art, but I don’t know where I can put one of the kangaroos if I were to buy one. Perhaps I would have to put it in the back garden and hop over it every time I went outside.