A historic homestead in south-east South Australia has been brought back to its former Victorian-era glory by owners Wendy and Gary Kilsby.
Lowan homestead is a piece of living history, but there was a time this landmark could’ve been considered beyond repair. Located in South Australia’s Kalangadoo, about 400 kilometres south-east of Adelaide and a half-hour drive from Mt Gambier, the property was built in 1868 by English architect William Allen Crouch, a pioneer in the area and one of the locality’s earliest settlers. He designed several homes in the region and built Lowan from red clay bricks made on the property. The township of Allendale East, about 20km from Mt Gambier, was named in Crouch’s honour. Lowan, which comes from the Aboriginal word for malleefowl, was his own residence, where he held many grand parties befitting the home.
When Wendy Kilsby first arrived in 2008, the home that was once a grand and iconic fixture in the local area was outdated and worn and in dire need of attention. Wendy moved from Adelaide, where she was working as a nurse, to live with her second husband, Gary, who had been living in the house since 1956. His grandparents bought the property in 1940, and not only are the Kilsbys the home’s longest owners, but Gary is its longest resident.
“It was very rundown,” Wendy says. “We had to strip all the wallpapers and start afresh, plaster the walls, then put new wallpaper lining in. We had to completely overhaul the house, so we gutted it.”
Renovating a home with such historical significance meant a sensitive approach was required, so Wendy had an interior designer help her source appropriate wallpapers from England and garnered much of her inspiration from the grand estates in England and Scotland. The restoration was a sizeable feat indeed as the two-storey mansion has 22 rooms in total, including eight bedrooms upstairs, three of which feature grand fireplaces, a French provincial-style kitchen, a large bathroom on the ground floor, which Wendy says was once a room where ladies did needlework, a cigar room turned library, as well as a cellar downstairs, still with the hooks that were used to hang meat. The old service area, which was demolished and which once housed the kitchen, laundry and servants’ quarters, has been rebuilt and is now where the conservatory, kitchen and laundry are located.
It took a good three years for the historic homestead renovation to conclude then Wendy had to furnish the entire house. “There was no useable furniture in the home,” she says. “I had my daughter and some friends in Adelaide help me source antiques and bits and pieces, such as the brass knobs for the doors.”
While it’s been updated and brought into the 21st century, the historic home still maintains its Victorian roots, with features such as the original Baltic pine flooring kept intact as well as the lovely bay windows, which let in an abundance of light and are dressed in Wendy’s favourite pieces in the home: silk curtains.
“The valance on the bay window in the living room is original and belonged to Mr Crouch,” Wendy says. “I found it folded up in the wardrobe upstairs and thought, ‘Oh my gosh!’ Our interior designer, Christine Rogers, took it to Adelaide to get a new backing put on it and we had to send to France for some replacement pieces. No drycleaner would touch it. It’s quite special.” The windows themselves speak to the era as Wendy noticed similarities when she visited the historic former convict settlement of Port Arthur in Tasmania. “I was fascinated when I went to Port Arthur and noticed that all the windows and the way the walls were built are exactly the same as here,” she says. “There were a lot of similarities.”
The garden needed considerable work too. “When we had the builders here, we did a big clean-up of the outside and filled up seven large bins,” Wendy says. When it came to replanting, the Kilsbys were faced with even more challenges. “Because the trees and root systems were so old, I wasn’t able to dig a hole in the ground to plant anything,” Wendy explains. “So I had to build raised garden beds. The rocks that I used were found on the property and were previously used to create a path to an old gardener’s cottage, which Gary doesn’t remember being there as a child. They were all covered in periwinkle [weed], so we had to dig them all out by hand.”
Once the restorations on both the house and garden were completed, people began approaching the Kilsbys asking to see the property, so to celebrate Lowan’s 150th anniversary in 2018, the couple held a fundraiser for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, a non-profit that provides integral emergency medical services for people in the bush. “A lot of people didn’t know about the house,” Wendy says. “It was always hidden by trees and a hedge, so when we started renovating, we removed some of the old vegetation and finally people could see the home from the road. People started showing lots of interest, so we decided to do a fundraiser with tours.”
Wendy was partly given the idea for the fundraiser by Judith Gribble, the great-granddaughter of William Allen Crouch. “She came to the house prior and hadn’t seen it for 16 years,” Wendy says. “At that time, she was very disappointed with the house and the tired state it was in. But this time, as she walked through, she had tears in her eyes and she looked up at the sky and said, ‘What do you think, Great-Grandpa, aren’t you proud of your house?’ She had even written a book [William Allen Crouch, JP: Mount Gambier Pioneer, 2011, Peacock Publications], which had a verse in it about how tired the house is. She has since released another edition with all these photos of the restored home.”
The Kilsbys also have Hereford cattle and White Suffolk, Dohne and Corriedale sheep, which they breed for meat, with a shearing shed on-site for the sheep. Gary keeps 2500 sheep and 800 cows spread out across his five properties in the area.
While Wendy and Gary have certainly been kept busy with the house, garden and farming life, they now wish to slow down and take a well-deserved trip to places such as France, England and Scotland — where much of the inspiration for this grand Australian country home originated.
Photography by Ross Williams
Styling by Bronte Camilleri