Mahratta and Site | NSW Environment & Heritage

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Mahratta and Site

Item details

Name of item: Mahratta and Site
Other name/s: Heverlee
Type of item: Landscape
Group/Collection: Parks, Gardens and Trees
Category: Garden House
Location: Lat: -33.7270243427 Long: 151.1182533860
Primary address: 1526 Pacific Highway, Wahroonga, NSW 2074
Parish: Gordon
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Ku-Ring-Gai
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Metropolitan
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT291DP3312
LOT3012DP3312
LOT1 DP62488
LOT1 DP810712
LOT10 DP810712
LOT11 DP810712
LOT12 DP810712
LOT13 DP810712
LOT14 DP810712
LOT2 DP810712
LOT3 DP810712
LOT4 DP810712
LOT5 DP810712
LOT6 DP810712
LOT7 DP810712
LOT8 DP810712
LOT9 DP810712
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
1526 Pacific HighwayWahroongaKu-Ring-GaiGordonCumberlandPrimary Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
The School of PhilosophyCommunity Group 

Statement of significance:

Mahratta is a large, intact, 2 storey mansion erected in 1941 in an unusual style which combines Art Deco and Classical Georgian Revival elements. It is perhaps the largest and finest property of its type erected in wartime Sydney. The house replaced a substantial Federation period residence situated on an 8.6 acre site in Warrawee but retained and incorporated the majority of the earlier landscape elements including a sunken rose garden and outbuildings. It was built for T.A.Field, a notable figure in the retail and wholesale meat industry, by the architect Douglas Agnew.

The house is substantially intact exhibiting a high degree of face brick, bronze and wrought iron detailing externally and is characterised by a dramatic porte cochere on the south and an enclosed Pompeian Court on the north. Extended in 1964 by the addition of a west wing, the whole achieves a unity of style, form, texture and materials from the sensitively designed additions.

Internally the house retains a series of superb public spaces and rooms of fluid design and highly crafted materials. The oval staircase executed in marble and scagliola, the well proportioned ball room and elliptical dining room, finely detailed joinery and original fittings all combine to achieve a very rare and dramatic domestic interior from the period.

The property has historic associations and aesthetic values due to the involvement and advice of landscape designer Paul Sorensen in its garden. The open landscaped setting and mature plantings provide a fine setting and backdrop to the house. Red gravel driveways snaking through the open lawns reinforce the colour and texture of the house.

Occupation by the Westpac Banking Corporation since the 1960s, using the house as a Staff Training College has ensured a high level of maintenance to both the house and grounds. This has ensured that Mahratta has retained all of the essential characteristics of its cultural significance.

NB: separate statements of significance exist for the garage and chauffeur's quarters, gardener's cottage, tennis pavilion, laundry, sheds and greenhouses.(see Schweger Brooks, 1989 sections 5.2-5.5)

The open lawns and gardens to the north, east and south of the main house are an essential component in achieving a fine open setting for the house. To the west the Croquet Lawn and Rose Garden with their backdrop of dense mature trees and shrubs are a key component of the cultural and historic setting having survived almost intact from the original (Federation era) house.

The open areas to the west of the property are of little cultural significance to the main house, but contain a series of very large native trees. (Schweger Brooks, 1989).

Reasons for listing; cultural, architectural, landmark value, state significance Note: grounds, fence, outbuilding to Fox Valley Road & garage building (LEP, 1992).
Date significance updated: 07 Nov 13
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.

Description

Designer/Maker: Douglas S. Agnew (1940 house); Arthur Palin (original Federation House); Paul Sorensen (garden)
Builder/Maker: Norman Rigg Smith (builder, 1940 house); Paul Sorensen (garden)
Construction years: 1893-1941
Physical description: Site and garden:
The 1.6 hectare property is bounded on the east by the Pacific Highway and on the south by Fox Valley Road. A loop driveway off Fox Valley Road to the porte cochere of the house's southern side sweeps down to the southeast corner of the road with the Pacific Highway. Between house and highway is a tennis court with a pavilion on its western (facing the house) side and a path leads through shrubs and trees lining the eastern boundary.

Expansive lawns flank the house's south west, south and south east. To the south west is a lower terrace (formerly a croquet green) with a pergola to its north (sited mid-way along the house's western wing's faade) with two flights of steps above and below it. Below the croquet green is a terraced formal rose garden. In the far southwest of the property (in 1990) is a cottage. A side drive leads to this off the Fox Valley Road gate.

On the house's northern side is a formal courtyard formed by two wings. A high brick wall and moon gate lead from this into less and less formal garden areas. Northeast of the moon gate is a summer house. Another drive leads from the northeast corner of the house east to the Pacific Highway, around the north of the tennis court. North of the house are wide lawn areas and to the northwest a woodland area. Northwest of the house is a service area with two small sheds and west of that a mixed shrubbery, north of the rose garden.

This garden more than any other, shows its designer Paul Sorensen's ability to combine exotic and native trees into a cohesive design. His usual range of exotic plants is very evident: Himalayan cedars (Cedrus deodara), maples, English oak (Quercus robur), tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera), sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua). To these he added other conifers such as dawn redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) and Araucaria species as well as exotic broadleaf trees common in Sydney: Jacaranda mimosifolia and Cape chestnut (Calodendron capensis). With this considerable mix is a range of native trees, mostly from the moister coastal rainforest zones, the leaves of which are mostly in rich glossy greens which blend with, complement and add to the richness of foliage so evident in the garden.

These native trees include the Queensland firewheel tree (Stenocarpus sinuatus), gap axe/ coogara/coogera or rose tamarind (Arytera divaricata), Queensland nut (Macadamia integrifolia), lily pilly (Syzygium luehmannii), lemon scented gum (Corymbia citriodora), lacebark (Brachychiton discolor) and Illawarra flame tree (B.acerifolius). Two other rare trees in the garden are the rose apple (Syzygium jambos) and a karaka or New Zealand laurel (Corynocarpus laevigatus), both along the eastern Pacific Highway frontage. A diverse range of shrubs also adorn the southern and eastern borders of the property, including tree gardenia (G.thunbergii), Camellia japonica cv.s, Gordonia axillaris and others (Stuart Read, pers.comm., 10/12/2009; with additions, 3/10/2012)

It is difficult to know which trees were planted by Sorensen as there appears to have been a considerable garden here before he began. He carried out extensive tree surgery to many of the old trees and trained wisteria (W.sinensis) from tangled heaps into more manageable plants. The understorey was completely cleared out and, after fumigation to kill oxalis and onion weed infestations, was replanted with the present shrubbery.

The great variety of trees is used to delineate and articulate the spaces around the house and to provide a dense tree cover around the two street boundaries so that from within the garden you are not conscious of the heavy traffic on the highway outside. Belts of trees are under-planted with azaleas (Rhododendron indicum cv.s), rhododendrons, magnolias and other shrubs. The sinuous red gravel drive with its carefully detailed brick edging, annual beds and standard roses divides the lawn as it sweeps towards the house where each side of the porte-cochere is marked by a dawn redwood tree (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). Sorensen included a clipped yew hedge (Taxus baccata) against the front wall of the house but most of this is now (1990) missing.

On sunken terraces to the south-west of the house are a rose garden and a lawn used for putting and croquet. These two elements are separated by a tall hedge, mostly made up of native vegetation, whilst the stair linking them is canopied over by a remarkable weeping Himalayan cedar (Cedrus deodara 'Pendula').

The rose garden is very formal in its layout and quite a departure from Paul Sorensen's usual style, although he had previously designed such a garden at Rannock, Blayney and was later to design another at Fernhill, Mulgoa. All the roses were chosen by Sorensen and carefully located on a drawing, although when it came to the central bed the drawing is noted 'The best white available', leaving the choice somewhat open.

Above the rose garden Sorensen indulged in his practice of (re-)using pieces of old buildings in gardens by positioning an elaborately carved coat of arms from an unknown Victorian style sandstone building. The placing (beside a set of steps at the southern end of the rose garden) appears to be rather arbitrary.

Altogether the garden at Mahratta is eminently suitable for its purpose and the 4 gardeners who tend it (in 1990) are justifiably proud of the standard of care they provide (Ratcliffe, 1990, 95-6, amended and added to by Stuart Read, 10/12/2009).

House:
A very fine two storey Art Deco influenced interwar house of red face brick with a hipped tiled roof. The exterior emphasises the streamlined and circle-based aspects of the style with circular windows, circular motifs in steel window grilles, horizontal string courses and panels of small ceramic tiles, rounded brick corners, circular chimneys and piers of unusual specially moulded curved face bricks (National Trust of Australia (NSW)).

The interior contains many original fittings and finishes demonstrating a high level of 1940s craftmanship. A sweeping staircase has a curved balustrade made of scagliola. Curved glazed doors slide into curved recesses (National Trust of Australia (NSW)).

Original Art Deco bathrooms and ball room, stone fireplaces, timber panelling in some rooms (Friends of Mahratta, 2014).
Date condition updated:29 Nov 16
Modifications and dates: 1895-7 Yaamba built on 6 acre site on corner (in the north of the lot - north of today's Mahratta house and garden), tastefully laid out as flower and vegetable garden and orchard, asphalt tennis court.

1902 subdivision of lot - Yammba and garden separated from southern (majority) of site.
1903-4 Robertson & Marks designed 18-room brick house for Ms Beckx, called Heverlee, with out-offices, brick stables, grounds of four acres, planted with choice trees, shrubs, flowers, orchard, vine walk, kitchen garden and English grass paddock, brick stabling.

c1912: Gerald Allen purchased two allotments to the west of the property (understood to be Lots 29 and 30 of Brown's Estate subdivision of 1896. He also purchased two allotments fronting Ada Avenue, to the west of Heverlee (Lots 23 and 24 of the Brown's Estate)(ibid, 2011, 12). This amounted to an additional 8.5 acres. He spent thousands beautifying the grounds, erecting garages, a head gardener's home, and other structural improvements. Allen renamed it 'Mahratta', and under the direction of architect Arthur Palin, made extensions and upgraded the substantial Federation home. The mansion was noted for its cedar staircase and copper ceiling in the billiard room.

1925 Allen commissioned garden designer Paul Sorensen to (re-)lay out its then 8 hectare garden (i.e. Heverlee's pre-existing garden). His design created two levels divided by a (retained, from Heverlee) graceful stone balustrade wall with steps leading from upper level down to sunken rose garden, croquet court and extensive lawns. Exotic trees were planted.

1939 - twelve acre estate was sold.
1939-44 - T.A.Field initiated substantial changes. Beckx' Federation era house was demolished in 1940 and a large two storey house, designed by Douglas Agnew, was built the following year." Other features, which were probably (previously) initiated by Gerald Allen, such as the garage and chauffeur's quarters, tennis court, croquet lawn, sunken rose garden and sunken garden on the northern side, were retained. The major landscape element initiated by Field was the partially-enclosed Pompeian Court on the northern side of the house." A shed on the eastern side of the sunken garden was removed, presumably to enable construction of the moon gate on the northern side of the Pompeian Court

On its completion Field brought Sorensen back to extend and complement his design of the garden. The curving red gravel driveway was built and he oversaw planting the front lawn and two dawn redwoods and two red Japanese maples that frame the entrance to the porte cochere. The wide garden (bed)s facing the house were filled with colourful shrubs set against a backdrop of trees planted to blend in with the exotics elsewhere. The walled courtyard at the back (north) of the house leds out through a moon gate to lawns shaded by two Himalayan cedars and on to the Refectory Courtyard to the left (west). To the right (east) the tennis court was framed with luxuriant plantings of Rhapis palms and rhododendrons between it and the house and a long garden bed of azaleas and camellias on the eastern (Pacific Highway) boundary.

1946 T.A.Field's son bought Yaama's 2 acres back, re-adding it to Mahratta's estate site. Lot B containing 1 acre 2 roods and 11.25 perches from the owners of the adjacent property Yaamba. This meant that the curtilage of Mahratta was extended on its northern side which gave a more open setting and extended the views to and from the Moon Gate

1960+ used as bank training centre by Westpac - modifications made to accommodate this.
1964 Western three-storey wing added for additional bank trainee accommodation.
Sorensen was retained to 'redesign and develop the grounds to a very high standard', 'supplement the existing garden layout.' He planted a range of exotic and native trees in lawn areas and introduced shrubberies to the periphery of the property.

1991 Ku-Ring-Gai Municipal Council received 1915m2 of land as a section 94 contribution from development to the west of Mahratta, which formed part of Allen's 1912 purchases. The western section of land purchased by Ross Field in 1946 formed part of this. Council in 2011 made a new pocket park on Mahratta's northern edge, named 'Curtilage Park'.
Current use: private primary school, day care centre, community group headquarters
Former use: Aboriginal land, farm / timber getting, residence, Bank executive training facility

History

Historical notes: Governor Darling made a 640 acre (259ha) 1838 grant to emancipated convict, Thomas Hyndes. Hyndes had been in possession of the land since 1830, working it with convict labour and supplying timber to the colony. In 1840 he sold the land and in 1854 it was again sold, to John Brown, timber merchant. Brown bought it to cut as much timber off the land as possible (Ratliffe, 1990, 95-6).

The 8.5acre property of the Bank of NSW was part of John Brown's 640 acres which he purchased from the first pioneer of the district, Thomas Hyndes. This land extended from Pearce's Corner, Wahroonga, fronting Lane Cove Road to a short distance beyond its junction with Fox Valley Road and extending to the boundary of the Lane Cove River. Brown aspired to own a squire mile of land. This was a magnificent forest area then. Brown cleared land for an orchard and felling forest trees for timber. His expanding interests led to the name 'The Squire'. The names of Brown's sons and daughters have been perpetuated in the names of Lucinda, Ada and Roland Avenues, Wahroonga, in the vicinity.

No real subdivision was effected until 1893, when Francis Gerard purchased 'The Foxground Estate' from John Brown. This land at the corner of Fox Valley Road and Lane Cove Road (Pacific Highway), Wahroonga was known as 'Brown's Paddock' (Thorne, 1968, 53-7).

After Brown died it took about eleven years for the resolution of his estate's administration to be finalised, but in the meantime three parcels of what had been his land were sold off by estate trustees. The second of these sales took place on 30 January 1893 when pastoralists' agent Francis Gerard purchased 6 acres (2.43 hectares) at the intersection of The Lane Cove Road (Pacific Highway) and Government Road (Fox Valley Road).3 However, he did not keep the land for very long, for the following April it was sold to Michael Campbell Langtree and his wife Adelaide.4 Gerard made
a handsome and quick profit, having paid (Pounds)7.50 for the land and receiving (Pounds)9.00 in return.' (Taylor Brammer et al, 2011, 9).

Michael Langtree, who was born in Victoria, was described as a civil engineer and pastoralist. Adelaide Langtree was born in Forbes. They were married in March 1881 at Warrendine.' During the 1880s the couple was living on the Florida Station near Cobar" and by 1890 Michael Langtree was a partner in the firm of Rothwell and Langtree, railway contractors, which owned a sawmill located outside Rockhampton.' At the time the couple purchased the land from Francis Gerard they were living at Hunter's Hill' (ibid, 2011, 9).

The Langtrees built a house on the northern side of the property, which was given the name Yaamba. It may have been completed as early as 1895 but was certainly standing by 1897. The location of the house to one side of the property suggests that future subdivision was a consideration. However, they did not live there for long, and by 1900 Yaamba was home to tenants, B Leslie and family." Two years later the land was subdivided and Yaamba was offered for sale by
auction on 11 September 1902, on account of the Langtrees having to leave Sydney. The house was described as a
"well appointed and finished Family Residence ...substantially constructed of brick on stone foundation, tiled roof, with verandahs and balconies, and contains hall, drawing-room, dining-room, study, 5 bedrooms, dressing-room, schoolroom, bathroom, servants' hall, 2 pantries, lavatory, servants' room, and laundry ... At the rear, and built of brick with iron roof, are Stables with one stall, coachhouse, man's room, loft, feedroom, workshop, &c ...
The grounds, comprising an area in all of six acres, have been tastefully laid out as flower and vegetable garden and orchard, asphalt tennis court ...The house presents an attractive appearance, and has been artistically decorated internally and externally.""

The title to the larger allotment, bounded by Lane Cove Road and what was then termed Parish Road (now Fox Valley Road), was conveyed by the Langtrees to Miss Constance Maria Elizabeth Beckx on 18 September 1902. The land contained 4 acres (1.62 hectares)." On 29 October 1902 the smaller allotment to the north, which included Yaamba, came into the possession of William Milford Alderson." Around the following May both allotments were brought under the provisions of the Real Property Act." by 1903 (ibid, 2011, 11-12).

Mahratta:
Constance Maria Elizabeth Beckx (died 1936) had been secretary of the Melbourne District Nursing Association for a number of years until resigning in 1897." She subsequently moved to Sydney and after acquiring the land at Warrawee (Harvey, 2013, 99 note that she bought a four acre lot on the corner of Fox Valley Road and the Lane Cove Road in 1903) commissioned the prominent architectural firm of Robertson & Marks to design a house for her. It was completed by 1904 and given the name Heverlee." The house was evidently well-appointed and conformed to the latest architectural fashions, being "substantially constructed of brick, tuck pointed, stone facings, and stone foundations, tiled roof, and contains Mosaic tiled verandah, tiled entrance hall, tiled lounge vestibute hall - with handsome blackwood staircase - 3 large reception rooms - with artistically carved blackwood doors, blackwood and rosewood floors and fittings - 3 corresponding bedrooms, 2 dressing rooms, 3 other bedrooms, tiled bathroom, hot water service, large linen press, silver and china closets, tiled kitchen, servants' hall, and staircase, bathroom, housemaid's pantry, dairy, laundry, and dry properly equipped cellar, etc...The grounds, which comprise an area of four acres, have been planted with choice trees, shrubs, flowers, etc., now well grown, bearing orchard, vine walk, kitchen garden and English grass paddock... Commodious brick stabling with all modern convenience (source: Sands Sydney and suburban directory, 1904 edition. Heverlee is a town in Belgium and was possibly where Constance Beckx' family originated)(ibid, 2011, 10). Harvey, 2013, 101 note Beckx's Heverlee had 18 rooms, kitchen and out-offices, with a tiled roof).

However, Constance Beckx only occupied Heverlee for about two years, after which the house was tenanted by Jarnes Kidd and his family." During the second half of 1907 Miss Beckx entrusted her affairs to William Rankin and moved to Florence in Italy. Heverlee was then offered for sale by auction in April 1909 and purchased by grazier Frederick Albert Moses (1863-1942) of Wahroonga (Harvey, 2013, 101), who in turn mortgaged the property to Miss Beckx. Frederick Moses and his brother William owned large properties near Moree on which they ran sheep and horses." (ibid, 2011, 11).

Frederick Moses and his family occupied the house for about three years before selling it to Gerald Francis Allen for about (Pounds)80.00 in August 1912. Gerald Allen was a son of Samuel Allen, who founded the firm of Samuel Allen & Sons Ltd in 1872. The company was wide ranging in its activities - it was a wine merchant, produce and general merchant and shipping and forwarding agency, and had offices in Queensland, Sydney and Melbourne. He rose to become managing director of the company (ibid, 2011, 12).

Around the same time that he bought Heverlee, Gerald Allen also purchased two allotments of land to the west of the property. These are understood to have been Lots 29 and 30 of the Brown's Estate subdivision of 1896 and were purchased from members of the Brown family. He also purchased two allotments fronting Ada Avenue, to the west of Heverlee (Lots 23 and 24 of the Brown's Estate subdivision)(ibid, 2011, 12). This amounted to an additional 8.5 acres of land (Harvey, 2013, 101).

Allen set about improving the property. He "purchased an additional 9 acres [3.64 hectares], and spent thousands in beautifying the grounds, as well as over (Pounds)120.00 in the erection of garages, a head gardener's home, and other structural improvements. At the present time it is one of the most beautiful mansions in that locality ."(ibid, 2011, 12).

Gerald Allen renamed it 'Mahratta' after a Bombala sheep station where his grandfather was overseer (Thorne, 1968, 53-7, 143-4; GCoA, 2016, 18). The name Mahratta comes from two Indian words: Maha Ratcha meaning 'The Great Kingdom' in sanskrit (GCoA, 2016, 18).

Under the direction of architect Arthur Palin, Allen made extensions and upgraded the substantial Federation home. The mansion was noted for its cedar staircase and copper ceiling in the billiard room (http://mahratta.org.au/Mahratta/about-mahratta.html).

Allen commissioned garden designer Paul Sorensen in 1925 to lay out its then 8 hectare (now 1.6ha) garden (i.e. Heverlee's pre-existing garden). Sorensen's design created two levels divided by a (retained, from Heverlee) graceful stone balustrade wall with steps leading from the upper level down to a sunken rose garden, croquet court and extensive lawns. Exotic trees were planted including cedars (Cedrus deodara/Himalayan cedar and weeping blue Atlas cedar, C.atlantica 'Pendula'), other conifers, maples (Acer spp.) and oaks (Quercus spp.), many coming from Sorensen's nursery in Leura. Other trees thought to have been planted at this time include the Queensland firewheel tree (Stenocarpus sinuatus), crows foot ash (Flindersia australis), Bunya Bunya pine (Araucaria bidwillii) and tallowwood (Eucalyptus microcorys). All have matured to become magnificent trees (GCoA, 2016, 18)

Allen sold Mahratta in May 1930 to Sir James Joynton Smith who was a member of the Legislative Council, Lord Mayor of Sydney and owner of the Carrington Hotel in Katoomba (http://mahratta.org.au/Mahratta/about-mahratta.html).
Sir James Joynton Smith (1858-1943) made his fortune after leasing and successfully managing the Arcadia Hotel in Pitt
Street, Sydney, from 1896. He went on to acquire other hotels, notably the Carlton in Sydney, the Bondi Astra and the Carrington in Katoomba - Smith was for a long time the dominant investor in the Blue Mountains. He made money from sport and was chairman of the Australian Trotting and Victoria Park Racing clubs. He was President of the New South Wales Rugby League between 1910 and 1928, and its patron between 1929 and 1943. Smith also achieved success in politics, being an alderman and mayor in the Sydney Municipal Council between 1916 and 1918 and an inactive Member of the Legislative Assembly between 1912 and 1934. In 1919 he commenced publishing the popular newspaper Smith's Weekly and the following year was knighted (not necessarily because of Smith's Weekly). Mahratta was not his only residential property; he had acquired the substantial Hastings at Coogee in 1907, which is where he died."(ibid, 2011, 13).

After Smith had acquired Mahratta the title was transferred to Warrawee Equities and Estates Ltd in January 1932 (ibid, 2011, 13). Hankins and Agnew sold the house, sited on 12 acres, on 22 June 1939, reportedly for less than 30,000 pounds. The Australian Mutual Provident Society as mortgagee exercising power of sale transferred the property to Garagabal Pastoral P/L (Harvey, 2013, 99). The AMP, as mortgagee," subsequently sold it to Caragabal Pastoral Company August 1939." The company's "governing" director was a man by the name of T A Field' (ibid, 2011, 13).

Thomas Alfred Field was born in Kent in 1874. The family migrated to Sydney in 1885 (McKeesick, 2018, 72, says the date of their arrival was 1888). Thomas left school to work in his father's retail and wholesale butchering business (a string of slaughterhouses and butcher shops: McKeesick, 2018, 72), which he and his brother inherited in 1900. They began acquiring pastoral properties and developed the company's wholesale and export trade. T A Field Ltd, which exported frozen meat, was established in 1923 and by 1931 had pastoral interests extending across eastern Australia (McKeesick, 2018, 72 notes it was so successful that it experienced problems sourcing quality animals, and in 1906 T.A.Field Estates was established to acquire property and breed beef. She adds that by the 1970s, the firm operated the biggest butchery in Queensland). In 1934 the Field brothers divided assets and set up their own pastoral companies. Field has been described as "[h]ard working and confident, he was solidly built and had a forthright gaze. With a cigar in hand, he displayed success, and was respected by his employees. He was also a thinker, with a good memory and firm ideas about the industry. In a company memo he wrote that 'the key to successful business is careful finance'. Field's frequent rounds of his properties kept him away from his family for many weeks. He was one of the first pastoralists to own his own aeroplane. "(ibid, 2011, 13).

In 1933 Thomas Field suffered a severe heart attack. The following year he visited Europe and on returning to Australia largely withdrew from business. He died on 29 January 1944, less than five years after purchasing Mahratta."(ibid, 2011, 13).

However, in that time he initiated substantial changes to the property. Constance Beckx' fine Federation era house was demolished in 1940 and a large two storey house, reputedly designed by architect Douglas Agnew, was built the following year."(ibid, 2011, 14). The applicant to Council to construct the house was NR Smith (Norman Rigg Smith, builder) and the estimated cost to build it was 21,000 pounds (Harvey, 2013, 99). The house incorporated Georgian Revival and Art Deco features and included an extensive suite of formal living spaces and staff areas on the ground floor and bedrooms and sun decks on the first floor. Other features of the site, which were probably initiated by Gerald Allen, such as the garage and chauffeur's quarters, tennis court, croquet lawn, sunken rose garden and sunken garden on the northern side of the property, were retained. The major landscape element initiated by Field was the partially-enclosed Pompeian Court on the northern side of the house." A shed on the eastern side of the sunken garden was removed, presumably to enable construction of the moon gate on the northern side of the Pompeian Court (ibid, 2011, 14).

Mahratta was distinguished by a consistent if not relentless use of curves and circles within the planning and detailing of the house which included (but was not limited to) curved corners in major rooms, the elliptical dining room, the curved main stair, detailed planning and arches in bathrooms, round arched windows, circular glazed panels in the doors to the dining room and ballroom, circular windows, circular motifs in the detailing of glazed doors and highlights, rosettes in ceilings, quadrant-shaped corners and circular elements in the layout of the Pompeian Court and the round
moon gate placed centrally in the north wall of the Court. (ibid, 2011, 14).

The present mansion occupied the old house's footprint. Agnew designed the building (not the Abercrombie wing to its north-west) in the Art Deco style (which) accounts for the theatrical charm and majesty of the house, no less exemplified than in the experience of the entry and main hall with its curved, scagliola finished staircase, curved wall and pilasters. It is acknowledged as one of the finest Art Deco mansions in Sydney even though it was completed well after the Art Deco period ended (http://mahratta.org.au/Mahratta/about Mahratta).

The new home brought forth much criticism when it was being built because building materials were generally scarce during the years of World War II. Socialists declared that there were enough bricks in the fence to build a forgettable number of workers' cottages! Field was a dream client and Agnew was given a free hand as to the design of Mahratta and its garden> it took at least six months for Agnew to complete the plans, drawings and specifications as he was working completely on his own. During this period he used to travel to the Field family's country home and rural showpiece, Lanyon to discuss his progress. This property (now in the Australian Capital Territory) is now a museum and gallery. Many of Agnew's ideas for Mahratta were inspired by (film director) Frank Capra's film 'Lost Horizons'. The Agnew family still retains the poster used to advertise this film. Agnew's son Brian remembers his father modelling up the clay lion's heads and other details for Mahratta, which were then cast by Wunderlichs in bronze. Agnew drew up everything from the fireplaces, doors, windows, gates to light fittings which then were individually made (Harvey, 2013, 99, 101).

On its completion Field brought Sorensen back to extend and complement his design of the original garden. The curving red gravel driveway was built and Sorensen oversaw planting of the front lawn and the two dawn redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) and two red Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) that frame the entrance to the house's porte cochere. The wide garden (bed)s facing the house are filled with colourful shrubs set against a backdrop of trees, lily pillies (Syzygium spp.) and other rainforest trees were planted to blend in with the exotics elsewhere in the garden. The walled courtyard at the back (north) of the house leads out through a moon gate to lawns shaded by two Himalayan cedars and on to the pleasant Refectory Courtyard to the left (west). To the right (east) is the tennis court with luxuriant plantings of Rhapis palms and rhododendrons between it and the house and a long garden bed of azaleas and camellias on the eastern (Pacific Highway) boundary (GCoA, 2016, 18).

Much of the 1925 garden by Sorensen was retained and Agnew's daughter-in-law Helen recalls visiting Sorensen with Agnew at his nursery in (Leura) the Blue Mountains. It appears they collaborated on the garden design for Mahratta (Harvey, 2013, 101).

Mr Field died in 1944 but his widow Jessie, continued to live in Mahratta until 1960 (http://mahratta.org.au/Mahratta/about-mahratta.html), along with her children, Thomas Alfred Jr., Ross Alan (AIF) and Heather Maude (Red Cross). When Heather married Geoffrey Prockter in 1952, 'a pink-lined marquee was erected in the grounds of the bride's home for the reception for 150 guests'. The bride and groom sailed to England before making their home in Singapore (Harvey, 2013, 101).

T.A.Field's son Ross Alan Field in 1946 purchased Lot B containing 1 acre 2 roods and 11.25 perches from the owners of the adjacent property Yaamba. This meant that the curtilage of Mahratta was extended on its northern side which gave a more open setting and extended the views to and from the Moon Gate (Harvey, 2013, 101).

The 2 storey house of 15,000 sq.feet together with tennis courts and swimming pool was bought in (Taylor Brammer et al, 2011, 15 add, that all the various lots of land associated with Mahratta were sold at the end of) 1960 by the Bank of NSW (now Westpac Banking Corporation) for use as a training college for its senior officers. Four full time gardeners were employed (Thorne, 1968, 53-7, 143-144).

In the mid 1960s while they worked in Telegraph Road, Pymble, and others in the vicinity Brian Smith (the only apprentice to Landscape Architect & Nuseryman Paul Sorensen)(and sometimes Ib Sorensen) lived for more than 2 years in the attic of an old coach house nearby. They brought supplies and cooked their own meals. One of the jobs they worked on at this time was Mahratta on the corner of Fox Valley Road and the Pacific Highway (McMaugh, 2005, 584-5).

The bank in 1964 built the new three storey Abercrombie wing to the house's north-west, for residential purposes. Though the bricks are closely matched (the original quarries were re-opened for their manufacture), there was no attempt to replicate the Art Deco forms of the rest of the building (http://mahratta.org.au/Mahratta/about-mahratta.html). The orginal 'L' shaped plan of the house with its open court on the northern side of the building became U-shaped and the western side of the court was enclosed (ibid, 2011, 15).

Paul Sorensen was retained by the bank to 'redesign and develop the grounds to a very high standard' (KRGHS, 2013, 101; GCoA, 2016, 19; Ratliffe, 1990, 95-6). Taylor Brammer et al note Sorensen was employed 'to supplement the existing garden layout. He did this by planting a range of exotic and native trees in the lawn areas and introduced shrubberies to the periphery of the property (Mahratta in its entirety, Author's note) complementing the already extensive planting of the garden (ibid, 2011, 15).

Possibly the most significant planting of the time included the cedars, now mature, planted close to the house. The Bunya Bunya pine near to the Fox Valley Road boundary is a local landmark. The major landscaping feature included in the design of the new mansion was the continuous brick fence with its magnificent gateways, matching that of the main house. The bank made some alterations and extensions made to the residence, which were designed by the same architect in a manner sensitive to the original house in scale, materials and details (National Trust of Australia (NSW), 2008, 30).

Prior to putting Mahratta on the market, the Bank employed Schweger Brooks & Partners to prepare a heritage analysis of the property. They noted 'Mr Field chose to retain much of the original landscape and outbuildings'. A ' Pre-1940 Site Plan' included in their report noted the existence of the original 1902 tennis court and pavilion, two 1941 sunken gardens, the 1941 'Rose Walk' and the croquet lawn. Photographs of the original Heverlee / Mahratta show the 1903-4 croquet lawn with balustrade above (Harvey, 2013, 102).

Mahratta was acquired in 1990 (Taylor Brammer et al, 2011, 16 give this date as 1989) by the School of Philosophy which uses it as a venue to conduct public courses in practical philosphy. It also holds events (lectures, workshops and residential retreats for human development (National Trust, 2008, 30:http://mahratta.org.au/Mahratta/about-mahratta.html). The School also runs conferences, lectures and events and residential retreats.

In 1991 Ku-Ring-Gai Municipal Council received 1915m2 of land as a section 94 contribution from development to the west of Mahratta, which formed part of Gerald Allen's 1912 purchases. The western section of the land purchased by Ross Field in 1946 formed part of this development (ibid, 2011, 18). Council has since (2011) made a pocket park on Mahratta's northern edge, named 'Curtilage Park'.

The School of Philosophy's members recognise the historic significance of the property and wish to keep it in good order for future generations. The Friends of Mahratta was established in 2010 to raise much-needed funds for the care of the property. All proceeds from open house and garden events go to the upkeep of the property and students also volunteer help to assist with maintenance (GCoA, 2016, 19).

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Gardens-
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Cultural: Conserving and protecting natural features-
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Cultural: Plains and plateaux supporting human activities-
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Modification of terrain-
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Introduce cultural planting-
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Rare and Significant Trees-
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Regional flora and fauna-
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Special tree or trees-
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Changing the environment-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Commerce-Activities relating to buying, selling and exchanging goods and services Banking-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Developing local, regional and national economies-National Theme 3
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Significant Places: How are significant places marked in the landscape of Parramatta by, or for, different groups?-Monuments and Sites
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Landscapes and gardens of domestic accommodation-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Landscapes used for self reliant recreation-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Landscapes demonstrating styles in landscape design-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Significant tree(s) providing urban amenity-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Industry-Activities associated with the manufacture, production and distribution of goods Manufacturing foodstuffs-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Housing the prosperous - mansions in town and country-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Housing for industrial managers and owners-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Housing professional people-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Land tenure-Activities and processes for identifying forms of ownership and occupancy of land and water, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Sub-division of large estates-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Towns, suburbs and villages-Activities associated with creating, planning and managing urban functions, landscapes and lifestyles in towns, suburbs and villages Creating landmark structures and places in urban settings-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Creating works of art-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Designing landscapes in an exemplary style-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Landscaping - 20th century post WW2-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Architectural styles and periods - mid 20th century modernism-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Domestic life-Activities associated with creating, maintaining, living in and working around houses and institutions. Ways of life 1900-1950-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Domestic life-Activities associated with creating, maintaining, living in and working around houses and institutions. Ways of life 1950-2000-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Domestic life-Activities associated with creating, maintaining, living in and working around houses and institutions. Ways of life 1850-1900-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Domestic life-Activities associated with creating, maintaining, living in and working around houses and institutions. Living in suburbia-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Domestic life-Activities associated with creating, maintaining, living in and working around houses and institutions. Living in a bushland setting-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Domestic life-Activities associated with creating, maintaining, living in and working around houses and institutions. Ornamental Garden-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Domestic life-Activities associated with creating, maintaining, living in and working around houses and institutions. Wealthy pastoralists homes in the city-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Domestic life-Activities associated with creating, maintaining, living in and working around houses and institutions. Living on the urban fringe-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Domestic life-Activities associated with creating, maintaining, living in and working around houses and institutions. Kitchens and servants-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Domestic life-Activities associated with creating, maintaining, living in and working around houses and institutions. Living in a new house-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Domestic life-Activities associated with creating, maintaining, living in and working around houses and institutions. Living in, adapting and renovating homes for changing conditions-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Outdoor relief-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Visiting heritage places-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Gardening-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Gathering at landmark places to socialise-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Playing croquet-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Playing tennis-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Leisure-Includes tourism, resorts.
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Social institutions-Activities and organisational arrangements for the provision of social activities Belonging to an institution for self improvement-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Paul Sorensen, landscape architect-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Ib Sorensen, nuseryman and horticulturist-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Brian Smith, only apprentice to Paul Sorensen, landscape architect-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Douglas Agnew, architect and real estate agent-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Thomas Alfred Field II, merchant, butcher and grazier-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Gerald Francis Allen-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with Arthur Palin, architect-

Recommended management:

A conservation management plan or strategy for Mahratta’s grounds is required to inform any future proposed tree removals. A previous CMP only covers the buildings. A preliminary tree visual assessment of trees on site is underway and has identified 80 trees of significance on site.

Recommendations

Management CategoryDescriptionDate Updated
Recommended ManagementReview a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) 
Recommended ManagementPrepare a maintenance schedule or guidelines 
Recommended ManagementCarry out interpretation, promotion and/or education 

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workHeritage Act See File For Schedule


Order Under Section 57(2) to exempt the following activities from Section 57(1):
* Change of use
* subdivision and development of the site in accordance with the conservation Guidelines contained in the document entitled "Heritage Analysis - Mahratta", prepared by Schwager Brooks and Partners Pty Ltd.
* The maintenance of any building or item on the site where maintenance means the continuous protective care of existing fabric, but excluding renovation, major repairs, restoration or repainting;
* garden maintenance including cultivation, pruning, weed control, the repair and maintenance of existing fences, gates and garden walls, tree surgery but not extensive lopping.
Jul 28 1989
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
HERITAGE ACT 1977
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

FRANK SARTOR
Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0070802 Apr 99 271546
Heritage Act - Permanent Conservation Order - former 0070828 Jul 89 854871
Local Environmental Plan  15 May 92   
Potential Heritage Item  15 Nov 01   
National Trust of Australia register  8833   
Royal Australian Institute of Architects register  30 Mar 79   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenArboricultural Tree Services P/L2012Arborist Report 'Mahratta', School of Philosophy, 25 Fox Valley Road, Wahroonga 2076
WrittenBarry Quine, for Sydney Garden Craft2007Summary Arborist Report - Mahratta, 25 Fox Valley Road, Wahroonga
WrittenDavid Scobie Architects P/L2016Heritage Issues Report - Mahratta
WrittenEdwards, Zeny2000The Architectural Gems of Warrawee
WrittenFriends of Mahratta20142014 Behind the Wall: 'Mahratta' An Art Deco delight in a Sorensen garden - Open House & Garden Weekend - 11 & 12 October 10am-4pm View detail
WrittenFriends of Mahratta2012Frriends of Mahratta (webpage) View detail
WrittenGarden Clubs of Australia, in "Our Gardens", Summer 2016/172016'Mahratta - a superb Sorensen garden in Sydney'
WrittenHarvey, Jennifer2013'Douglas George Agnew (1902-1968)
WrittenMayne-Wilson & Associates2011Section 60 application - approval of proposed minor works at Curtilage Park, Pacific Highway, Wahroonga - adjacent to 'Mahratta', State Heritage Listed Place at 1536 Pacific Highway, Wahroonga
WrittenMcKeesick, Mandy2018'Fine Wether' (story about Congi Station, New England & T.A.Field & Co. History)
WrittenMcMaugh, Judy2005Working for Paul Sorensen (interviews with Brian Smith), in 'Living Horticulture - the lives of men and women in the NSW Nursery Industry'
WrittenMorris, Colleen2011Report on a proposal for Mahratta Curtilage Park and 1536 Pacific Highway Wahroonga Conservation Management Plan
WrittenNational Trust of Australia (NSW)2008Mahratta - a vision in Art Deco (promotion)
WrittenRatliffe, Richard1990Australia’s Master Gardener - Paul Sorensen and his gardens
WrittenSchwager Brooks and Partners Pty Ltd1989Mahratta: heritage analysis: draft report
WrittenTaylor Brammer Landscape Architects; with Roy Lumby20111536 Pacific Highway, Wahroonga - Conservation Management Plan
WrittenThorne, Les1968North Shore, Sydney from 1788 to today

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5045079
File number: EF14/4809; S90/2455; HC881404


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