Building on the past
News, Profile | 7th May 2016
Stairs in the original area of the home.
“There are also three cats who live here, although visitors tend not to see them,” Eslake says. It is easy to see why the cats might choose to keep a low profile when boisterous Beatrice and her older playmate Barnaby (named after the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce) are on the loose.
Eslake, his US-born wife Linda Arenella and their children Caroline, 14, and Jonathan, 8, moved from Melbourne to the modernised colonial manor house at Acton at the end of 2014.
For Eslake, it was a homecoming after more than 30 years away from Tasmania working as an economics adviser for the likes of the Commonwealth Treasury in Canberra, former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett and ANZ Bank.
Among the artworks that cover the walls are landscapes by Tasmanian artists, which Eslake accumulated during his years away to remind him of home. There are also knick-knacks gathered during their travels abroad.
The family bought Acton House in 2013 and engaged architect firm Circa Morris-Nunn to convert it into a practical family home. An original 1820s barn on the 6.6ha property, which had half caved in during a storm, was demolished after a negotiation with Heritage Tasmania. “Heritage had to be persuaded [to allow the barn demolition] but they were not unreasonable or obstructive, I have no complaints,” Eslake says.
The barn’s original materials were retained and incorporated into the new extensions of the home. Massive timber columns and beams, all cut by convicts using an adze or pit sawn, are central to the design of the kitchen and living area. One of the beams is 18m long. The barn’s original stone was used to build the two new wings and features as a striking wall in the kitchen.
Eslake and Arenella are full of praise for their builders at Bennett Construction, who also partnered with Circa Morris- Nunn on the Islington redevelopment at South Hobart, and the work of stonemason Edrei Stanton, who stayed true to the original convict workmanship. “It was an outstanding achievement by everyone to complete the project within a tight time frame, which was dictated by the sale of our house in Melbourne,” Eslake says. Construction took about a year.
Acton House was built in the 1830s by William Rumney, who owned much of the land between Lauderdale and Cambridge.
Downstairs, the cellar and convict quarters tell stories of the house’s early history.
Massive timber columns and beams, all cut by convicts using an adze or pit sawn, are central to the design of the kitchen and living area.
A fireplace suggests Rumney may have been more enlightened than others in his treatment of convicts. And on a cellar wall is an indignant scrawl by one of his granddaughters, aged 14, describing how she had been banished downstairs.
“Her older sister wanted to entertain a young gentleman, whom she subsequently married,” Eslake says.
A quirky feature of the home is a hidden library, accessed via a revolving bookcase door off the formal lounge in the original part of the house. The library snug was built on the site of what was a servants’ kitchen, which burnt down in the early 1900s.
“We love to retreat to the library when the kids are being raucous,” Eslake says. On that note, the children have their own wing, including light and spacious bedrooms with built-in desks.
The children’s wing is not connected to the house’s wi-fi, which is designed to limit the use of devices in the evening.
Having given their architects free rein to a large extent, Eslake and Arenella are thrilled with the outcome.
“We wanted to create something that enhanced and fitted in with what had been there for almost 180 years,” Eslake says.
“Now what we have is a very clever blend of old and new.” And a home, Eslake adds, they “would never have been able to afford on the mainland”.