Wednesday, March 17, 2010


from w
After visiting Serendip Wildlife Sanctuary Peceli and I drove into the grounds of nearby Pirra as I wanted to take a couple of photos of the two storey brick mansion, built in an eclectic Victorian style of the 1880s. It has had other names, Serendip and Windimerer after the road where it is located at the back of Lara town about 20 k from our place in East Geelong.

The original owner was George Fairbairn and the Fairbairn family purchased it in 1863, they owned the property until 1907. The property was 1239 acres and was used as a sheep station. The main building has two storeys has twenty rooms and was built between 1880 - 1882. The house was designed by Alexander Davidson and company.

In 1907 the government took it over and Pirra became the Lara Inebriates Institution, which was closed down in 1930. During this time a building to the west of the single storey 1969 building was constructed in 1907. This building was the inebriates dormitory. Wow, what a story those walls could tell and what a sad situation.

The McDonald family purchased Pirra in 1938. The property was used to grow crop and farm sheep. Between 1946 - 1948 the states tobacco company leased the dormitory.
The Mendelsohn Family were at Pirra between 1948 - 1959. During this time Pirra was called Serendip, and it was proclaimed a sanctuary by the State Government. The Pelaco Factory leased the former dormitory building from 1948 to 1958.

In 1959 the Government bought Pirra and Department of Fisheries and Wildlife took control of the 622 acres which later became Serendip Sanctuary.

However in 1961 Pirra became the Pirra Girls Home until 1983, an Australian Government run Children's Home as an extension of Winlaten in Melbourne. The facility was run by the Family Welfare Division of the Social Welfare Department and accommodated female wards of the state aged from 10 - 14 years who had come under State wardship for being "in moral danger" or for "lapsing nor (being) likely to lapse into a life of vice and crime". What a sad place it must have been for the girls away from their homes, or was it?

Then another shift - and this time I knew at least two of the residents. It became an arts centre in 1983 and I was told it was given to the Geelong arts community, but others say not so. Geoff D’Ombrain lived there – a composer and retired lecturer of music, and each year an Australian poet, Keith Harrison, who lectured in the USA came to stay. We invited Keith several times to take poetry workshops with the Geelong Writers and I found him to be the best teacher of poetry that I have known. Occasionally poetry readings etc. were held at Pirra but it was absolutely under-used as a resource place for the arty kind of people of Geelong.

In 2006 it changed again and Geoff moved to somewhere near Ballarat and Keith I think to Canberra. At that time I was told it was a place for people with disabilities, such as head injuries. What a strange history the house has!

Today Pirra is apparently vacant. We yarned with two gardeners, I think they were. They said there’ll be a Food and Wine Festival on Sunday 28th March there, but the building is really owned by a Geelong businessman - or is it the State Government? Pirra is advertised on the internet as for lease for someone interested to maybe turn it into a restaurant or bed and breakfast, etc. I would love it to be available for church retreats, artist retreats, what with the wildlife sanctuary right next door and behind it – a wonderful place for rest and recreation. Okay, dream on. There'd a lot of money involved to take out the lease!

One of the gentlemen in the garden invited me to have a look inside the mansion but Peceli was going to play golf later, so that will have to wait for another time. I'd like to stay overnight there, on a dark and stormy night. Hmmm.

Through all the changing scenes of life....
- - if walls could speak.

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Blogger Penny said...

Hope all is well with those in Fiji. I was interested in your piece on the house, so many different names and uses.
I think John is going mad trying to fill in all the forms and it is in the lap of some one not us if we get the pension and then I wonder if it is worth it.Trouble is after the drought we still owe a huge amount of money and there are 3 families to maintain on the farm so if we can not draw from it,it would be a help.
I just have to remember not to spend too much, not that we do any way but books are probably going to become a luxury.

10:51 PM  
Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

I'd never got out to Pirra before and didn't realize what a history it had - alcoholics, girls as wards of state, and recently people with head injuries, and in between farmers.
Good luck with your paperwork and do persist because you surely are deserving. People on the land are the salt of the earth, not like the paper shufflers in city offices.

11:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I was interested in your blog on "Pirra" in Larra. Were did you get your information on pirra? I was one of the children placed at Pirra in the early 70s, I was not wayward I was an orphan as were many of the girls. It was not a nice place to be. Miss Nacy McDonald who was matron (and had been born in the house).She ran the home with an old fashion attitude and an iron fist. You miss the history were the house was used during the war for injured soldiers. as to those with head injuies, in the 1990s they were from road traffic accidents.
To me pirra was a nightmare, if those walls could talk, the 60s and 70s were not a good place to be. and it was not connected to winlaton - you only got sent there if you mucked up. I was sent 3 times and returned for punishment, but there was no general connection between them except they were both government run just like a 100 other government run homes. If you wish to hear more contact me at . cheers Debbie

2:25 AM  
Blogger gabbi said...

Hi I'm an old pirra girl I was placed there at the age of 12 after spending the first 12yrs of my life in a convent. I notice how you said that it "accommodated female wards of the state aged from 10 - 14 years who had come under State wardship for being "in moral danger" or for "lapsing nor (being) likely to lapse into a life of vice and crime". Well the only danger I was exposed to was the torture that I suffered at the hands of the nuns. Most of the children in these institutions were put there for reasons of poverty or losing one or both parents, Most of us were not apt to fall into a life of crime, this is a very bad description and if any did fall into a life of crime it was the result of the institutions themselves. We were beaten raped tortured starved locked up treated worse than animals by the system itself. Many of these children are now dead, many still suffer from the psychological and physical scars from thier experiences in these places. I hear of so many people who have researched these institutions but yet never interviewed the residents themselves to find out the true horrors that took place behind these walls. I don't understand why we are described in such a way when it couldn't be further from the truth. If you would like to hear from some of the children that spent time at pirra you can contact me at or ph 0419320677. Thankyou, and we don't bite

4:48 AM  
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11:11 PM  

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