In October 1898, Hymettus won the Caulfield Cup in Melbourne, much to the delight and excitement of humble Ballarat railway porter Michael Taffe who had put a smaller amount of money on the horse, at great odds, to win. Married only five years to Julia Berkery, whose parents were district pioneers from nearby Bungaree, the substantial win enabled Michael to purchase a permanent home for the young couple close to the other Taffe families of Ballarat.
After purchasing the land at 6 Cardigan Street, the proud completely new owners employed local architect J. Turton to build them a cottage, which when completed in 1901, they named “Hymettus Cottage” in memory of the win that changed their lives. Julia Taffe had such a strong sense of history and family, that she requested that upon her death in 1928, “Hymettus Cottage” remain the family home.
The weatherboard “Hymettus Cottage” consists of six rooms, many of which still retain original or 1920s interiors. They also contain many of the original furnishings and fittings. The hallway retains the original “tile pattern” linoleum, whilst the parlour, excluding the original 1901 fireplace, was redecorated upon Julia’s death and the décor of the room remains unchanged from the 1920s, and it houses generational marriage presents and objects that have been gifted over the years from Michael and Julia’s marriage in 1892. The dining room is probably the most in-tact Edwardian room. Textured wallpaper created using sawdust and a reflective frieze called “Fairyland at Lake Wendouree” add a uniquely local sense of history to the room. The ceiling is stencilled with several different patterns. The dining room furniture is Blackwood, whilst a burr walnut piano sits in a corner of the room ready to be played. The room is dwarfed by a very impressive overmantle stamped “Sussman and Kornblum, Ballarat”. Amongst the numerous pieces of Edwardian brick-a-brack that clutter the shelves of the overmantle stands a mayoral trophy for the “Champion Cottage and Garden, City of Ballarat, 1915 –1918” which was won by Michael, a passionate gardener, for his wonderful front and rear garden.
The front flower garden of “Hymettus Cottage” features Nineteenth Century varieties of standard roses with flower beds edged in miniature English Box (Buxus Sempervirens). It also features a large holly bush which was planted when the garden was 1st established, and today blocks the front door from view when looking towards “Hymettus Cottage” from the street. The rear garden is much more utilitarian and is set in a grid pattern with a variety of heritage vegetables and more Nineteenth Century varieties of standard roses. As in 1901, chickens are still kept at the rear of the property, adjunct to an old orchard, and pet rabbits lop freely about the white gravel paths.
The current generation of Taffes open “Hymettus Cottage” to the general public at different times of the year, so that others may enjoy the wonderful time capsule that the house is. “Hymettus Cottage” was open to the public as part of the 2012 Ballarat Heritage Weekend, an annual two day event when buildings and private properties not usually open to the public are made available for viewing, as a way of celebrating Ballarat’s rich heritage.