NESTLED under towering Norfolk and Bunya pine trees on the banks of the Mary River is a significant piece of Maryborough’s history.
Woodstock, the 160-year-old home now belonging to Maryborough businessman Rollo Nicholson, does not stand out as a grand manor when placed beside some of the other majestic mansions in the area.
Difficult to see from the river or its Lennox Street frontage, the home and surrounding gardens do, however, have an impressive history and its future looks bright.
Mr Nicholson said Woodstock was built in the mid-1850s by Mr J.E. Brown, a pioneer of commerce who was not interested in attending civic events but instead focused his attention to education and horticulture. Much of Maryborough State High School owes its beginnings to Mr Brown’s benevolence. He also built the Wharf Street building now occupied by the Maryborough Military and Colonial Museum.
Mr Brown’s home was once the centre of Maryborough’s social life and notable guests including the Earl of Normanby, Governor of Queensland 1871 – 1874 and his son, Lord Henry Phipps, slept between its walls.
Fraser Coast architect Marian Graham said the home was constructed using the ball room of another local mansion and it still had a formal dining room that was almost subterranean.
Over the years, Woodstock has been renovated numerous times in styles that haven’t been always been sympathetic to the original era but as architect Marian Graham points out, every renovation is part of its heritage.
When asked how long he had owned the home, Mr Nicholson’s replies: “Too long – my plans have been on the drawing board too long.”
About two years ago, his controversial plans to turn the historic home into nine units and a house was met with opposition from a few people who insisted such a development would destroy the significant piece of Maryborough’s heritage.
Mr Nicholson won the battle and his redevelopment is expected to be complete a year from now.
“It is not heritage-listed,” he said. “None of the outside walls are original and a lot of the original timber has rotted away.”
Indeed, the transformation promises to return the property to a “centre of social life” as it was in its heyday.
Mr Nicholson said a front section of the home would be demolished to make way for a new living room overlooking the river.
There will be a swimming pool in the back yard, between the home and the river where tennis courts used to be, and an entertainment section that he expects will be a popular meeting point for residents to socialise around the barbecue and games room.
Turning back the clock
IF YOU turned back the clock 160 years while driving along Lennox Street, you would be driving through the wide entrance gates of Woodstock Estate.
The massive block of land belonging to Englishman J.E. Brown, one of Maryborough’s pioneers of commerce, stretched from the riverbank to John Street.
On it, in the mid-1850s, he built a cottage, the front gates of which were erected where Lennox Street now crosses the grounds.
A story in a 1941 edition of The Steering Wheel and Society and Home magazine, tells of Mr Brown adding a large living and reception rooms to his home after his marriage to Miss M. Portus.
It goes on to say the home was constructed of specially selected timbers including cedar.
In one wing was a billiard room that housed the first billiard table in the Wide Bay district, which attracted a lot of interest.
There was also a large reception room with the floor specially sprung for dancing.
The main section of the house included a large drawing-room, dining and children’s dining rooms, bedrooms and guest suites. Beneath this was a special cellar stocked with wines of rare vintage. Latticed verandas separated the staff quarters, pantries and huge kitchens.
The grounds of Woodstock were about 38 acres, of which 18 acres were used for grazing horses, ponies and cows.
Woodstock was the centre of social life, dating back to the mid-1800s with notable guests including the Earl of Normanby, Governor of Queensland 1871 – 1874 and his son, Lord Henry Phipps. Government officials were frequent guests of Mr Brown, who often put his yacht at their disposal for trips to Fraser Island.
Mr Brown was recognised for his love of horticulture.
A Sydney botanist, when importing trees and shrubs to Australia, sent choice specimens to Mr Brown and as a result, his property was filled with hibiscus shrubs, Bunya and Norfolk Island pines, jacarandas, magnolia and poinciana trees plus a cork tree from Spain. There were patches of maize, Lucerne, sorghum, banana palms and a vegetable garden. In the fields were plums, Bauple nuts and ornamental shade trees. Native companions (brolgas), emus and wallabies roamed freely.
Possession of the Woodstock property remained in the Brown family until 1911 when the extension of Lennox Street cut the grounds in halves.
Present owner Rollo Nicholson said a front section of the home was also removed when Lennox Street was built.
In the 1940s, what remained of old Woodstock home and about two acres of garden was returned to the possession of the family – Mr A. H. T. Brown, a grandson of the pioneer.
The property later passed to the family of Maryborough’s Dr Tom Dunn and more recently, businessman Rollo Nicholson.
Originally published in the Fraser Coast Chronicle, June 2011.