Have you ever watched “The Dr Blake Murder Mysteries” on ABC starring Craig McLachlin? The less charitable amongst us may suggest that it’s a bit forced and the acting a bit camp. But to me the star of the show is the house that serves as Dr Blake’s surgery and residence in the series.
The house, located in Crown Road, Ivanhoe (with the area specifically known to the local’s as “Fairy Hills”) is the former home of artist Napier Waller and is now owned by Banyule Council.
Napier Waller’s house in Crown Rd, Ivanhoe
There’s a number of things to recommend this house – firstly there is the location. It sits on a large site at the confluence of the Darebin Creek and Yarra River, a special place in the Melbourne geographical scene.
The driveway at the front of the house is neat and ordered whereas out the back where the terrain is steeper, nature has been less tamed and there are several mature river red gums and other native vegetation. There is a large space running down to the creek.
Then there is the original owner of the house – Napier Waller. He was an influential multi-media artist of the 1920’s and 1930’s with many public commissions, including the Hall of Memory at the War Memorial in Canberra. There are also many public buildings in Melbourne that display his work, including the upstairs dining room at Grossi-Florentino in Bourke Street.
There are other buildings in Melbourne that he has decorated including Newspaper House at 247 Collins St, Melbourne. Blink and you’ll miss it but the façade was reclad in the Art Deco Style in 1933 – the actual building itself dates back to 1884.
Newspaper House, Collins St, Melbourne.
Napier Waller, born at Penshurst, enlisted while he was living in Hawthorn, and served as a Private, later Bombardier (corporal) in the Australian Army during World War One. He lost his right arm on the Western Front defending the allies. A natural right hander – he had to train himself to create with his left hand which makes his artistic work all the more remarkable.
Portrait of Christian Waller with her Airedale Terriers painted by Napier Waller. She clearly loved her dogs to the point she made her hair style similar to their wooly coats.
Napier and Christian lived in the house for some fifty years.
Then there is the house itself. According to the Banyule Heritage Places Study (1985), a building permit was sought by a local builder, Philip Millsom to erect a concrete residence in September 1922. As no architect was named it is assumed that the house was designed and constructed by Millsom in conjunction with the Wallers. The house is largely as originally designed, although there have been two ground floor extensions in the form of a guest room and a separate studio.
So what’s so special about the house itself? There is the palette of materials that gives it that hand made rustic look – lots of timber and stucco. It resonates with the Arts and Craft movement – buildings that were not mass produced and appear individualistic. There are also hints of the Californian Bungalow style typical of the period, with the roof extending over the front verandah. While it is a large house it addresses the street in a polite way, and there is a split-level that follows the slope of the block towards the river, so it has been built to adequately and comfortably sit on the site, without dominating.
Internally there is a large hall with a massive fireplace that speaks of winter warmth and the coziness and security that a fire can offer.
Main living area of the house
It may not speak to the tastes of modern homes built today – it has limited natural light and dark internal finishes. But is certainly has the individual character reflective of an artist that has been preserved.
Tours of the house can be arranged through Banyule Council.
The house is on the Victorian Heritage Register and is of State Significance, and is on the Register of the National Estate.