18 December, 2016

'Lal Lal'

As outlined in my previous post, Archibald Fisken Jr arrived at the Port Phillip settlement with his family in April, 1840 at the age of eleven. By the time he was 17 his uncle - Peter Inglis - had placed Archibald in charge of running two of his estates; the 27,339 acre Warrenheip Run and the 18,313 acre Lal Lal Run. Between the two runs, they were estimated in 1849 as having the capacity to run 3,000 head of cattle and 2,000 head of sheep.
Archibald was said to be an accomplished horseman and according to his obituary, published in The Argus, 14th June, 1907 he was the first to drive a vehicle - presumably a horse and cart - through the dense forest then surrounding Mt Warrenheip. In the early days, Fisken lived in a slab hut and with the outbreak of the gold rush in 1851 found himself struggling to maintain his enormous estate as many of his employees abandoned their posts to try their luck at Ballarat and beyond.
He soon realised however, that a lucrative market for his stock had opened up in the form of the stream of diggers passing through his property on their way from Melbourne, Geelong and surrounds to the goldfields.
Archibald Fisken, 1892. Image held by the State Library of Victoria
His beef was particularly popular with the diggers. The stream of diggers may also have ensured that the tradition of breeding pigs at 'Warreneep' - probably begun in the 1830s by the Levitt brothers - was continued by Fisken. In 1856 The Star was advertising pigs of all sizes for sale on the property. Despite being short-handed, it was this windfall that came with the gold rush along with his continued hard work at increasing his stock holdings and improving productivity which enabled Fisken in a relatively short space of time to pay back the purchase price of both properties.
On the 4th January, 1859, having secured his position as a squatter, Archibald married Charlotte Emily Macnamara, the second daughter of a Sydney politician, by this time however, the carve up of the big estates had begun and 'Lal Lal' and 'Warreneep' were no exception. In 1859, blocks of 'Warrenheip' land were being offered for sale whilst two years earlier in 1857, 'Lal Lal' land was also thrown open for purchase.
It is also worth noting that when the sale of allotments was announced, there was a concerted public push which resulted in the land which included the spectacular Lal Lal Falls being set aside as a public reserve. In September, 1860 the petitioners were successful with 1,250 acres gazetted for public use, however in December, 1868, this was revoked with the reserved area reduced to only 200 acres. Nonetheless, the area remained popular with the public not only as a picnic spot but also with photographers and artists who continue to record images of the falls to the present day. In 1858 renowned landscape artist Eugene von Guerard sketched the falls  and in 1882 photographer Fred Kruger snapped his version of the scene.
Lal Lal Falls, 1866 by Archibald Vincent Smith. Image held by the
State Library of Victoria
In the mid 1860s a racecourse was established near the falls. So popular were the races that in 1886 a branch line from the Geelong-Ballarat Railway was constructed to convey racegoers to and from the track. The line operated for more than 50 years with the last race meeting held in 1938. Marcus Wong's Rail Geelong website shows a number of images of the Lal Lal branch line.
As closer settlement continued, in 1862, the Lal Lal run was divided in two, with the 'Lal Lal West' portion of the estate - the land to the west of the newly opened Geelong-Ballarat Railway line - passing to George Irwin and then to Mackay and sons the following year. That lease was eventually forfeited in 1872. The lease of the remaining land passed in 1865 to George S Morrow and was forfeited in 1870. This of course, excludes that land which had been purchased by Fisken and which extended to as much as 10,000 acres, a far cry from the 45,652 acres encompassed by both stations in 1849. Fisken's freehold land became known as the Lal Lal Estate. It was here that he built a homestead, one source suggesting that the old slab hut was incorporated within its walls.
Throughout his time in the district, Fisken came to be regarded as an expert in the field of cattle breeding, managing stock for Sir Samuel Wilson of 'Narmbool' and establishing stock and station agencies in both Ballarat and Melbourne. He served in various public offices including as a Justice of the Peace, was an elected councillor and the first president of Buninyong Shire as well as serving as returning officer first for the electoral district of North Grant, then for that of Ballarat East in the Victorian Legislative Assembly.
In 1873 however, he took up residence in East Melbourne, leaving the running of 'Lal Lal' to his son, Archibald James which enabled him to pursue his business interests in other areas.  Archibald Fisken died at East Melbourne in 1907 at the age of 77.
Whilst it is reported that the estate remained in the hands of the Inglis/Fisken family through six generations, it would seem from contemporary newspaper reports that the estate for a time passed out of family ownership. On 14th January, 1888 it was stated in the Bacchus Marsh Express that Mr Thomas Bent, M.L.A. had made arrangements to purchase the estate.
As well as being a politician (and eventually Premier of Victoria) Bent was also a land speculator. He did not take over the running of the estate, instead installing a tenant before placing it back on the market within months. On 29th March, 6,000 acres including the homestead was put up for auction. Whilst around 600 acres sold, about 5,000 acres, including the homestead did not and the following month, the remaining land was advertised for lease (Ballarat Star, 29th May, 1888).
Within a few years however, the property must have passed back to the Fiskens, as from the early 1890s Archibald James Fisken was once again indicated as the property owner in various newspaper reports. Unlike his father however, he remained on the property where continued to run the estate until his death at the age of 56, in 1923 after an extended illness. It was he who in 1911 built the 16-room Edwardian homestead which stands on the property today, overlooking an ornamental lake which was formed by damming the Lal Lal Creek. The extensive garden was established around the same time, however some buildings - such as the stables - date back to 1858.
Lal Lal homestead, built in 1911 by AJ Fisken. Image taken from the
Federation-House site on Wikispace
Like his father, Archibald James was involved in local affairs, serving as councillor and president of Buninyong Shire. He also took a keen interest in cricket, fielding a Lal Lal Estate team which competed against other local sides. At the time of his death, Archibald's estate was valued at £19,000 with personal property valued at £7535. His beneficiaries were his widow Beatrice May (neĆ© Wanliss) and his only son Archibald Clyde Wanliss "Clyde" Fisken.
The stables at 'Lal Lal', 1968. Image from the JT Collins collection, LaTrobe
Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria
Schooled at Ballarat and then Geelong Grammar, Clyde served in the British armed forces during the First World War and was awarded the Military Cross for bravery before returning to 'Lal Lal' to run the estate. In 1923, upon the death of his father, the property passed to Clyde and the following year he married Elspeth Anne Cameron, the daughter of a prominent wool broker at Ross in Tasmania,.
Like his father and grandfather before him, Clyde was elected to the Buninyong Shire Council and also served as president on a number of occasions. From 1934 - 1937 he served a term as the member for the federal seat of Ballarat before taking up a position as the founding chairman of the Australian Meat Board. Throughout the remainder of his life, Clyde served in a number of prominent public roles, but always maintained his interest in 'Lal Lal'. He died on 20th June, 1970, survived by his wife Elspeth, son Archibald John (known as John) and three daughters.
Archibald Clyde Wanliss Fisken. Image held by the
National Library of Australia
The estate of course, passed to John who by that time was married with a family of his own. His wife was Patricia Irene Falkiner of New South Wales whom he had married at St John's Church, Toorak in Melbourne on 3rd May, 1951. The event was reported in The Argus the following day, accompanied by a photo - to use the stereotype - of the happy couple. Their engagement the previous year was also noted in the society pages of The Argus (1st December, 1950).
Their family grew to include two sons and two daughters and it was their second son Geoff who took over the running of the estate after John's death on 8th August, 1989. Geoff Fisken was the final member of the family to own 'Lal Lal' where he lived with his wife and three children and it was he, who in 2014 sold the property to Tianyu Wool Industries, a Chinese wool company. At that time, the property extended to 2,000 hectares - or just under 5,000 acres. The company - headed by Mr Quingnan Wen - spent $2.54 million renovating the homestead and is developing the property as an example of world's best practise in farming techniques.
Today, the homestead is available for hire as a reception venue.

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