BAG History Group / Ashby House
The 2015 series of articles focussed on historic landmarks around the Blackwood district by The Blackwood Action Group history team.
"Wittunga garden donated to state by Ashby family"
Look out for the stately Ashby house on the corner of Shepherd Hill Road and Sherbourne Avenue as you come around the bend.
Wittunga was established by Edwin Ashby in 1902 when he moved to Blackwood with his family. Arriving from England in 1888, Ashby joined a cousin’s firm of land agents and later, as Saunders & Ashby, they developed much of Eden Hills.
The Local Heritage listed Ashby house was erected on its present site amidst virgin bush land with Shepherds Hill Road, at that time, being nothing more than a winding bush track. Built of local sandstone, a gabled extension was added on the north western corner in 1914 to accommodate Edwin Ashby's office.
An image of the homestead shows the walls covered with Virginia creeper, the house having no balcony and the name 'Wittunga' standing out on the front gate.
Wittunga’s garden began around the house in the formal English design, featuring a circular driveway and palm trees, as well as a rosary, herbaceous borders, trellises and arbors.
Ashby became increasingly fascinated by Australian native flora and was also a keen naturalist, collecting birds, shells, butterflies and insects. Together with his son Keith, they developed the property with extensive apple and pear orchards as well as the farming of cattle, sheep and pigs.
A bushfire in 1934 gutted the house and burnt part of Wittunga garden. ‘... The fire travelled between Blackwood and Belair on a five-mile front, and 450 fire-fighters could not check it until a change in the wind prevented further damage being done. Mr. Ashby had been waiting for it in his garden on the north side of the house, but the flames swept up on the west side... Before he had realised the seriousness of the position the fire had reached the house, which was soon in flames.'
'A number of fire extinguishers were on the property, but the fire fighters did not know how to use them, as there were no instructions ... the home ... was destroyed, his invalid wife being rescued from the burning building.' (Advertiser 10 March 1934)
The walls were still standing but the roof had caved in resulting in the house being rebuilt. This substantial residence of eight large rooms, most with attractive views over the garden, includes wooden floors, a grand hallway, fireplaces and other decorative features.
Following Edwin Ashby’s death in 1941, the property passed to his son, Keith who added to the garden and managed the property as a mixed farm.
In 1971 Keith Ashby and his family donated 14ha of Wittunga to the State as a Botanic Garden specialising in Australian and South African plants.
In 2004 the Ashby house became home to the Urban Diversity Unit of the Department of the Environment, Water and Natural Resources. Looking out over the Wittunga Botanic Garden and lake, what a wonderful resource the Ashby house could be if it was available to the community.
Our thanks to the Mitcham Heritage Research Centre and Beth Robertson for assisting with this article.