'Noorilim-from wool to wine' is the biography of the pastoral property of Noorilim, on the floodplain of the Goulburn River 130km north of Melbourne. The property was created in 1840 when squatter Frederick Manton claimed 44,000 acres near the first Goulburn Aboriginal Protectorate. Relations between Europeans and the dispossessed Noorai-illum clan were strained, the conduct of Manton's men often being a cause.
Within a few years, Manton had sold out to the Plymouth Company, which dreamed of building a "new England" complete with landed gentry and labouring underclass. It was not to be, and the property passed to Joseph Raleigh, a general merchant, ship owner and pastoralist who ran sheep and established the first thoroughbred stud at Noorilim.
William Webster acquired Noorilim in 1854, securing the pre-emptive right in 1856 and dividing the run in 1858 but retaining both runs. At Noorilim, Webster made substantial improvements including a brick house, before selling the home run to Andrew Sinclair in 1858. Sinclair's mysterious death in 1860 put paid to plans to develop a vineyard on Noorilim; investors shifted instead to nearby Tahbilk.
The notoriously corrupt Hugh Glass was, briefly, the next owner. Forced to sell by his unravelling financial affairs, Noorilim passed to William Drayton Taylor who later sold to his son-in-law William Irving Winter.
Winter bought out local selectors, consolidating his freehold to 2,400 acres across both sides of the Goulburn River. In 1878, Winter commissioned James Gall to build a magnificent two storey Italianate mansion replete with Minton tiles and Ferguson & Urie glass, house water under pressure, gas lighting from gas manufactured on site and a pipe organ.
Winter ran Merino and Lincoln sheep studs, Devon cattle and a thoroughbred horse stud at Noorilim, practising the most progressive pasturage and fodder storage methods. In 1884, Winter, soon to be William Winter-Irving, entered parliament; he died in 1901.
Samuel Finlay purchased Noorilim in 1906; he ran sheep and a Shorthorn cattle stud. Then, from 1917 through 1929, Norman Falkiner owned Noorilim and restored the house and garden to their "original state". Falkiner ran a Shorthorn stud and later a Border Leicester sheep stud, but his passion was his famous thoroughbred stud and it was the birthplace of no less than three Melbourne Cup winners.
After Falkiner, the house was largely neglected as Noorilim passed to a succession of owners. These included Maurice Angliss (nephew of Sir William Angliss) and Gunvald Froiland (Norwegian resistance fighter, founder of Metalock in Australia, and owner of Murray Downs Station in the NT). An innovative pastoralist, Froiland introduced Brahma cattle to Noorilim but largely ignored the house and gardens.
In 1975, an unloved and overgrown Noorilim was purchased by Brian and Loel Thomson. Over the next 24 years, the Thomsons painstakingly restored the mansion to its former grandeur, reconstructed the formal garden, created an ornamental lake for irrigation and planted the first vineyards. With Bryan's heritage car collection and Loel's vast Australian costume collection, Noorilim became a hub for exhibitions, displays, car rallies, period costume parties and community fundraising events of all kinds.
In 1999, Noorilim was sold to Rodney and Carolyn Menzies, the property becoming "off limits" to the public for the next 20 years. The Menzies did further work in the garden, created a sealed road to the mansion and planted another 26.5 hectares of vineyards. Today, Noorilim is open for private tours, functions and events.Foreward to the book: 'Noorilim' From wool to wine by Jennifer O’Donnell