History of Miegunyah

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Barrambin

Miegunyah was built on land first inhabited by the Turrbal people. Known as Barrambin by the Turrbal, it was a hilly area covered with she-oak trees in close proximity to the Brisbane River and Breakfast Creek. Barrambin was an established Aboriginal camping ground and food-gathering place. To the Europeans, who first arrived in 1823, it became known as Bowen Hills. 

In 1857, local businessman George Raff was granted 4 acres, 1 rood, 21 perches of this land. By the 1860s the Turrbal had been driven from Barrambin to campgrounds at Breakfast Creek. In 1875, Raff subdivided the land, selling 2 acres to successful ironmonger William Perry.

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The Perry Era

William Perry was born in Sydney in 1835, the son of a Sydney land speculator. He moved to Brisbane in 1860 with two of his brothers, George and Frederick William, with the intention of establishing an ironmongery business. Messrs Perry Brothers Limited set up shop in Queen Street and the business flourished. At this time, the Australian colonies were enjoying the ‘first long boom’, which lasted from the 1860s to 1890. In 1862 William married Annie Harcourt of Sydney. Over the years Annie bore seven children, but sadly, two died in early childhood.

In 1871, William Perry and his family moved to Bowen Hills. Set high on the hillside with views over the Brisbane River, Perry’s rambling property Folkestone shared the top of the hill with two other large homes: Cintra, which was owned by pastoralist Boyd Morehead, and Montpelier, owned by architect and MP James Cowlishaw. William was described by a contemporary as ‘one of the most reputable, worthy and wealthy citizens in Brisbane’. As well as managing Perry Brothers successful ironmongery business, he also accumulated land, so that eventually he had quite sizeable holdings throughout the Brisbane area, including the present Perry Park, which was used as the family cow and horse paddock.

 

Around 1885, William Perry began building a home on a portion of the land he had purchased in 1875, which was down the slope from his residence Folkestone. In the early 1880s, Brisbane was undergoing major expansion and a building boom fuelled by British capital and a large influx of assisted migrants from Britain. William Perry’s house was built at the height of this boom and was completed by 1886. The house was for his son William Herbert (known as Herbert) and new wife Leila (née Markwell). They had married in September 1885. On 10 August 1886 their first son was born at the house they named Miegunyah. Another son born in 1888 completed the family.

 

Miegunyah was designed with the needs and tastes of the wealthy nineteenth-century colonial family in mind. The use of brick piers, rather than timber stumps, and cast-iron lace on the verandah balustrades, fringes and posts are evidence that this was a better class of residence.  Servants were essential to the efficient management of the home during the nineteenth century. Miegunyah’s design included accommodation for one or two servants in a wing attached to the rear of the house that also housed the kitchen and laundry. The Perrys employed a cook-laundress and general maid while they lived at Miegunyah. Leila enjoyed giving afternoon tea parties, ‘at homes’ and soirees. Leila’s presence is still discernible at Miegunyah, where she once used her engagement ring to inscribe into the drawing room french window ‘Leila Perry 1898’. She was also a practical person, interested in cooking, woodcarving and carpentry which she undertook in her workroom beneath the house. 

 

Herbert, who had joined the family business after he completed his schooling, rose through the ranks of Perry Brothers to chairman, overseeing the building of the company’s new premises in 1913. The Perry era at Miegunyah came to an end in the early 1920s. In 1922 Herbert Perry died aged fifty; Leila had predeceased him in 1920.

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Horse and wagon with driver and footman outside Miegunyah, Brisbane, 1886. Photographic print, black and white, 1886, no. 41592, Brisbane, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

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The Menzies Era

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The Menzies family at Miegunyah

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World War II

Later in 1943, when the war in the Pacific was in full swing, Miegunyah was requisitioned by the Australian government to serve as a safe house for members of ‘Z’ Special Unit who, in September 1943, took part in a secret mission behind enemy lines known as Operation Jaywick. These men entered Japanese occupied Singapore Harbour in the seemingly harmless coastal fishing vessel, the ‘Krait’, and sank some 39,000 tonnes of Japanese shipping. 

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Group portrait after the completion of Operation Jaywick, ‘Z’ Special Unit, Australian Services. Black and white glass copy negative, taken 1943, Australian War Memorial, 045424. (Note the iron verandah lace and honeycomb screening behind the men.)

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Post-War Years

After the war, Miegunyah was sold to Edwin Hayes who converted the house to flats. After the 1930s depression and six years of war, Brisbane was suffering a serious housing shortage. Converting Miegunyah into flats involved substantial changes to the interior of the building. New kitchens and bathrooms were added, along with stairs that provided access to the eastern verandah; new doors were cut, and plasterboard walls and ceilings were added to a number of rooms. The front of the stable building was knocked out and a lean-to roof added to provide garage accommodation. 

In 1966, twenty years after it had been converted to flats, Miegunyah, now named Beverley Wood, faced a serious threat to its survival — it was slated for demolition. However, the Queensland Women’s Historical Association (QWHA) had spotted it. QWHA members wanted to purchase a heritage property of their own to house their growing collection and host regular meetings. President Martha Young put out a call to members for donations in the Christmas 1966 edition of the newsletter. The QWHA succeeded in raising the amount required for the deposit and, in June 1967, Beverley Wood became the property of the QWHA.

CONSERVATION

In 1978 Miegunyah was listed on the Register of the National Estate. In 1979, the QWHA received a grant through the National Estate Program for heritage architects Richard Allom to propose a conservation plan. Funds were then sought to carry out restoration work to enable the house to function efficiently as a house museum and home for the QWHA, and also be displayed to the public as a significant and carefully conserved part of Australia’s architectural heritage. 

 

Since that time, the QWHA has restored Miegunyah to its 1880s appearance as much as possible. Over the years funds have been received from a bequest from Miss Hilda Chandler (allowing the project to begin), the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments and the Brisbane City Council; the QWHA has contributed a percentage of funds also. The result is a house which conserves its 1886 features, yet is a living part of Brisbane's heritage. If it were possible for Herbert and Leila Perry to once again walk through the front door of Miegunyah, they would immediately recognise their home.

 

In 1992, when heritage legislation was introduced in Queensland, Miegunyah was listed on the state register. It is classified ‘A’ by the National Trust and its grounds are protected by a Brisbane City Council Vegetation Preservation Order.

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Miegunyah Today

Here is a half-acre of Brisbane as it was in the last years of Queen Victoria’s reign and the early years of the twentieth century. Miegunyah is typical of the larger houses built in Brisbane in the 1880s, of which it is a particularly well-preserved and fine example. Typically, it has a main entrance door and hall in the centre of the front elevation. The roof is of corrugated galvanised iron with symmetrical form at the front and with uneven hipped projections to the rear with an internal valley between them. 

The exterior of the house bears its original colour scheme. A broad verandah runs around the front and two sides of the house, with a curved iron roof, and with a projecting pedimented porch to the front door. The verandah is richly decorated with cast iron balustrades, filigree columns and friezes. The name of the maker, Smith Forrester & Co., Brisbane, is noticeable on the exterior surface at the base.

 

Particularly unusual in Brisbane houses of the period is the honeycomb brickwork in the base wall under the outer edge of the veranda. A photograph of the house in 1886 shows that two different colours of brick were used, producing a striking column effect. Most of the original cedar joinery remains, although mostly covered by many layers of paint. The flooring is of pine, its quality denoted by its almost knotless state.
 
Much of the furniture and artefacts have been donated to the QWHA and many pieces have a link with notable people or events of early Queensland. The wine chest and sideboard in the dining room were owned by Colonel Grey, first Usher of the Black Rod in Queensland’s Parliament. The wine chest went with him to the Battle of Waterloo.

A glimpse of the kitchen and laundry will show you how uncomfortable life could be for the housewife and servants in the late nineteenth century. Very important pieces of equipment were the wood fuelled stove for heating flat irons and the pottery water cooler.

The stable building at the rear of the driveway was restored in 1982. Using photographs dating from 1886, the facade has been returned to its initial appearance, including the mustard coloured exterior walls. It now serves as the caretaker's accommodation.

In the grounds are hitching posts that once were in Charlotte Street. The converted gas light at the foot of the entrance stairs is from Constitution Hill in London. A second lamp stands as a memorial to Martha Young, president of the QWHA for 12 years, whose drive, enthusiasm and leadership greatly contributed to the purchase of Miegunyah.

The house was sold in 1926 to Marie Menzies, wife of dentist Dr Andrew R. Menzies. Around 1927, soon after the Menzies moved in, Miegunyah was connected to sewerage. The family of six took advantage of this development by adding a bathroom extension to the eastern verandah and a toilet in the laundry. The family hosted a number of social events at Miegunyah, including a wedding reception for daughter Peggy in 1935. In April 1943, Dr Menzies died aged sixty-one, and Miegunyah entered a new phase in its history.​