I may have just found my new favourite place. After years of concealment Coombe is welcoming the public to peek behind its haphazard hedges. The estate was once home to opera darling Dame Nellie Melba, considered the most famous woman on Earth at the summit of her fame. Taking that fact combined with her celebrity cohorts, style nous and penchant for art and fancy cars, it wouldn’t be hyperbole to deem Melba the Beyonce of her era. Her descendants, the oft-titled Vestey family, now seek to protect and propagate her legacy.
So what’s behind the hedged fence? It’s like one of my favourite childhood novels “The Secret Garden” on a far grander scale. Acres of gardens complete with epic elms and oaks and landscaped by Royal Botanic Gardens designer William Guilfoyle were planted over 100 years ago. There’s a kitchen garden burgeoning with heirloom beets, chamomile and kale, a croquet lawn that I’m itching to try out and a spiral staircase leading to a rooftop with rolling views across the Yarra Valley. A gazebo is soon to be rebuilt here on the roof as it once was. The interior of Melba’s own heritage pastel-painted cottage is still off limits, but you may be able to play voyeur and peep through the windows. A wander through the grounds reveals secret tunnels, gifts from royalty and an all encompassing sense of escapism.
The former “motor house” (essentially a garage for the wealthy) has been converted into an art gallery complete with works by Arthur Streeton and antique travelling trunks, a cellar door for the associated Coombe Farm’s wines (must sip their sparkling Blanc de Blancs) and a restaurant for a spot of afternoon tea after a garden tour. In a stroke of genius they also serve Peach Melba inspired bellinis.
Upping the old Hollywood glamour stakes is the presence of the state’s oldest working swimming pool. Rumour has it Charlie Chaplin once swam here during one of Melba’s no-doubt Gatsby-esque soirées. I like to imagine he was fully clothed, mustachioed and bowler-hatted at the time. Rather than setting the estate up as a musty museum, the Vestey family have set the scene for the place to be utilised for such grand parties, along with theatre and opera in the near future. There is so much life here. My only question now is how does one go about stealing Coombe in-house custodian Daniel Johnson’s job?
Go behind the hedges of Coombe – The Melba Estate at 673-675 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream.