Dapper, chatty and enterprising, no one knows Subiaco quite like Thomas Murrell. An advocate and collector for South and West Australian female artists of all eras, and an avid local historian, Tom’s professional life is almost as illustrious as the history of his heritage-rich classic Queen Anne Federation home Fairview.
Cutting his teeth at the ABC, working on and off-screen, Tom has gone on to carve an international career as a sought after public speaking connoisseur and prolific author having published thirteen books on the subject. Citing “art, history and roses” as the home’s legacy, this house-proud polymath also has a way with florals, with the flourishing rose bushes that frame his beloved homestead a local celebrity in their own right.
GO-TO LUNCH SPOT?
Café Melograno is run by two Turkish guys from Izmir. Every time I go there we greet each other in Turkish and it reminds me of my fabulous time visiting Ephesus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world with amazing architecture, history and culture.
BEST WAY TO SPEND $50 IN SUBIACO?
Fresh food at the Saturday morning Subi Farmers Market. I am biased because I sit on the Board and helped set it up 12 years ago. It has been an incredible success story and great asset for the school and community with more than 2,500 people visiting each Saturday morning.
BEST COFFEE IN SUBIACO?
Sorry I don’t drink coffee. I love a Turmeric latte from Boucla, where my 13-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Muggles, gets the full loving attention from their friendly staff.
THE MOST UNDERRATED PLACE / EXPERIENCE IN SUBIACO IS…?
The walking leadlight trail. Subiaco has one of the best-preserved collections of leadlight in the world. It was an early form of street art where the emerging middle-class expressed their wealth through ornamentation.
I am grateful, my historic house, Fairview, built in 1915 for a Scottish Ice Engineer at the peak of his career running the Perth Ice Works has some of the best-preserved examples. These include works by Howard Cavaliero Escourt (1888-1948) and Arthur Clarke (born 1902 in Kent England and arrived in Fremantle in 1922) from the Barnett Brothers studio in East Perth, which began in 1896 as its founders followed the gold boom west from Melbourne. Barnett Bros was chosen to represent Western Australia In the 1900 Paris Exhibition because of the quality of their work. During the 1970’s nickel boom when everything had to be shiny and new again, many historic Subiaco leadlights were removed, with some even being buried in the backyard or broken down for their lead value. Despite their visibility and beauty, the majority of leadlight is unsigned, so the stories and talents of their creators remain hidden to the general public. I aim to address this by writing and publishing a book on the glass artists of Fairview in 2022.
TELL US ABOUT THE HISTORY AND PROVENANCE SURROUNDING YOUR HOME AND WHAT IT MEANS TO YOU?
Heritage is about prosperity, opportunity and curiosity. My historic house Fairview is a classic Queen Anne Federation home built during the gold boom period which saw the growth of using material objects to portray messages of luxury and wealth.
Fairview was built in 1915 by John Kennedy, a refrigeration engineer at the peak of his career who in the pre-refrigeration age built ice works all around Australia. Kennedy was born, raised, and trained as an engineer in Scotland and migrated to Melbourne Australia in 1886. Mr. Kennedy’s childhood, his cultural heritage combined with his migrant working heritage from Melbourne and South Australia are reflected in the building and in the chosen adornments installed during the build. For example, Fairview has a highly distinctive veranda with skewed gable corners that feature, Art Nouveau style square corner timber bracket decorations, in the shape of a unique snowflake design to reflect his profession as an ice works engineer. Many sailing ships were wrecked on their passage from Scotland to Australia in the 1880s and they had flying angels on the front of the ships to protect their passengers. Kennedy has incorporated flying Angels on the front veranda to protect his family which included four daughters. Because of these unique designs, the house is classified by the National Trust as a place of historical significance.
I’m proud the home houses my nationally significant collection of women artists from South Australia and Western Australia from the 1850s to the present day. The Fairview Art Collection defines a great injustice and dichotomy: a man promotes his profession to the world via the outside design features of a prominently positioned house, while inside the talents and efforts of invisible women lines the walls.
HOW DID YOUR PASSION FOR GARDENING / ROSES COME ABOUT?
I have been gardening since the age of five. I was inspired to study agriculture by the career of my great grandfather, a successful orchardist from Judbury in the Huon Valley in Tasmania. Through my role as a broadcaster and senior executive with the ABC, I was a Director of the Australian Open Garden Scheme and West Australian Chairman for nine years from 1997-2006. My previous garden, Chartwell House in Churchill Avenue Subiaco was open to the public on October 18, 1998 with 1500 people visiting.
The historic rose garden at the front of Fairview has been nominated for listing on the Local Heritage Scheme (LHS) for the City of Subiaco because of its strong links to the home’s first three owners. For example, the home’s previous and third owner for forty years, Polly Willis (1921 – 2018) was a heritage activist who helped save Subiaco from the developers in the 1970s and five foundation roses she planted still survive today. Every time I see their beautiful red blooms and smell their wonderful perfume, I am reminded of her visionary legacy. Art, roses and heritage have always been a heady mix and passion for both past and present owners of Fairview and I feel I am a worthy custodian of such a wonderful historic homestead and garden.
WHAT IS THE SECRET TO A BLOSSOMING ROSE BUSH?
Love. The more love you show them through pruning and feeding, the more joy they will give back!
Article: Tatiana Farley
Photography: Robert Firth