The scientific and medical supplies tycoons who spent more than $40m on a magnificent Hawthorn mansion are considering ways to open the historic icon to the public.
For decades, the illustrious Invergowrie has been hidden behind tall fences and gates by privacy-conscious corporates including former Australia Post boss Ahmed Fahour and Globe International skate company co-founder and former champion skateboarder Peter Hill.
In July, Trajan Scientific and Medical founders Stephen and Anjelica Tomisich were revealed as the buyers behind Melbourne’s biggest sale this year, paying $40.5m for the 1850-built landmark that predates Victoria.
And the pair are already looking for ways to reconnect “part of where Melbourne started” with the wider community.
Mr Tomisich said the heritage home was full of historic features from bluestones marked with the broad arrow head of convict labourers to a canoe tree in the garden, which Indigenous Australians used the bark from to make canoes to navigate the Yarra River.
“It really is such a rare example of an intact home that predates Victoria and even the gold rush,” he said.
“There’s a rumour there was a tunnel that was built to lead to Invergowrie during World War II, but I haven’t found any sign of that – though I’m looking for it.”
A Latin creed emblazoned in the home’s dining room by original occupant, Sir James Palmer, even has some worthy advice for Victorians today, translating to “he conquers who endures”.
“You can just imagine all the wars and plagues this property has survived through,” Mr Tomisich said.
“It was still here at the end of the Spanish flu. And it is incredibly important for people to grasp that concept.
“You can get bogged down into a view that there’s no way out, and there’s no future. But there always is.”
Despite Sir James’ knighthood, there are also historic symbols of Irish independence in the house, unexpected given they were banned by Queen Victoria when it was built.
“I’m now talking with the Hawthorn Historical Society and we are starting a bit of social media to create digital accessibility,” Mr Tomisich said.
“Soon, I’m planning to start a website as a virtual presence for the physical site.”
The group has already lauded his efforts online, with the Society stating on its social media this week: “Invergowrie. it’s been a long time since the public has been able to see images of this wonderful piece of Hawthorn’s History. So it is great to have the new owner of one of Hawthorn’s oldest houses sharing its many beautiful features.”
Mr Tomisich is estimating it will take 18-24 months to finalise many of his plans, though those attached to historical societies may be able to access it sooner.
“We will provide increasing access, starting with people with historical connections,” Mr Tomisich said.
They may also participate in Open Gardens events.
Some of the 2000 former students of the Invergowrie Homecraft Hostel run from the property might be invited back for a visit, while he’s also looking at ways to reconnect the home with the Invergowrie Foundation established by the McPherson family when they sold it in 1992.
“And both the chief executive and the chair have never been to Invergowrie, so we might host some of their meetings – and possibly reach out to some of the remaining past students,” he said.
The Invergowrie Foundation still helps educate women and girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – subjects close to the heart of the medical and science entrepreneurs.
He said while they were considering leaving their own mark on some parts of the home, they would be taking their time to live in it for a while first and any changes made would be “pretty cautious”.
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