BAG History Group / Birralee
Birralee c1900 image
The 2015 series of articles focussed on historic landmarks around the Blackwood district by The Blackwood Action Group history team.
"Historic property with intriguing past"
The grand Victorian home, Birralee in Sheoak Road, Belair was built in 1897 by Dr Thomas Kinley Hamilton.
The two storey Italianate revival style home, with a three storey tower was originally named Willa Willa. (It is recorded that Willa Willa is an Aboriginal name for part of Brownhill Creek).
Totalling some 40 acres adjacent to Belair National Park, the estate overlooked the Adelaide Plains and extended down to Brownhill Creek and west to James Road and Old Belair Road. The following year Dr. Hamilton donated the land at 35 Sheoak Road (being the highest available piece of his property) to the Anglican Church to enable the building of the Church of the Holy Innocents.
On Dr. Hamilton's death the estate was advertised for sale as 'Magnificent Estate at Belair. Willa Willa ... 17 large, lofty rooms, servants offices, all modern conveniences including electric light, hot and cold water, spacious balconies and verandas ... a glorious panorama, 50 acres of land ... delightful garden, orchard, vegetable garden, large grazing paddock, excellent water supply, exceptional stable and motor accommodation ... Special cash price £4,000 or the owner will entertain an exchange for city property ...' (Register 7 Sept 1918)
The property was bought by architect, W. V. (Gil) Culley, and then divided with the stables being converted to an asymmetric Tudor bungalow attaching the name Willa Willa to this house. The balance of the estate was bought by William Burford in 1922 and he renamed the main house Birralee. Following Burford's death in 1925, various members of his descendants continued living at Birralee.
In 1942, Army officers, arrived at Scotch College in Torrens Park to inspect the college and its facilities to determine its suitability as an American army hospital.
When the Government requisitioned Scotch College the school was forced to relocate and found the two adjacent houses at Belair, Birralee and Brierley Lodge, to be suitable. These in turn were requisitioned from their respective owners.
Four large marquees with wooden floors were erected on the drives and front lawns of the properties as classrooms. The arrival of 176 students, including 66 boarders, and 14 resident staff, "put a great strain on the water supply, the plumbing and the septic tanks". Within a few weeks of the school's move to Belair, the tide of war turned and the American military hospital never eventuated but was replaced by RAAF Embarkation Depot No. 4.
After the war and the school's return to Torrens Park, the Burfords were offered Birralee again, but declined because of the major changes which had been made to render the place suitable for a school - some of which, like the ablution block attached to the base of the tower, were really quite disfiguring.
In 1944 the Government acquired Birralee refitting it as a Repatriation and Tuberculosis (TB) Sanatorium. After the decline of TB, Birralee was used as a nursing home until 1978 when it became a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre named St Anthony’s.
Today this notable landmark Birralee property is once again a private home and part of the Local Heritage Register as it displays aesthetic merit, design characteristics or construction techniques of significance to the local area and is associated with a notable personality or event.
Our thanks to the Mitcham Heritage Research Centre and Coromandel Valley & Districts National Trust for assisting with this article.