Almanac Memoir: Rannoch House, Renting, Music and Writing

 

Rannoch House, Geelong. (Image used with permission of Heritage Victoria.)

 

Rannoch House, Renting, Music and Writing

 

My favourite-ever rental place was an historic mansion in Newtown, Geelong, called Rannoch House, built in the middle of the 19th century.

 

I was a tenant there for a couple of years in the mid-to-late 1990s, until my area became the next part of the vast building to be renovated, and I had to move out. I should clarify that I lived in a few divided-off rooms in the rear section, in what was originally the servant’s quarters. The owner and his family occupied most of the building and there were also other tenants like me in outlying parts, such as the converted bluestone stables that were a short walk from my front door.

 

The rooms I occupied had wonderfully high ceilings, thick plaster walls, and brilliant acoustics. All the music I played on my small stereo CD player sounded excellent. That said, the cold, mathematical beauty of a collection of Domenico Scarlatti’s keyboard sonatas, played on piano on a CD I purchased around then, was perhaps most suited of anything to fill the space around and especially above me. My poem (below) about Scarlatti, who lived from 1685-1757, was inspired as much by my living space as by the sublime music itself. I recall writing the poem sitting on the carpet in my lounge room there, clacking away on the enormous metal frame typewriter I regularly used at the time. It didn’t take long for a version of the poem to appear in print; fittingly, the first time was in a Geelong publication, Deakin University’s literary magazine, Mattoid, in 1996, while I was still living in my little area of that wonderful mansion.

 

Interestingly, Rannoch House was less than two hundred metres from Geelong Football Club’s original home ground, Argyle Square, and I believe that if one stood on the second-floor balcony of the mansion, one would have had an unimpeded view of any game Geelong played there from around 1860 until they moved to Corio Oval in 1878. Also, the Argyle Hotel (now called Murphys), where GFC was founded in 1859, is roughly the same distance away from the building.

 

 

Scarlatti’s Pearls

 

little finger-flourishes
on ivory

 

semiquaver splashes
across black and white keys

 

crystal rivulets of notes
upon which to run my fingers are these

 

keyboard sonatas, musical pearls
by Domenico Scarlatti.

 

He wrote a string of them.

 

 

 

 

Publication Notes:

 

‘Scarlatti’s Pearls’ was originally published in Mattoid (Deakin University, Geelong, 1996), then in The Journal (UK), 2003, before appearing in Vigorous Vernacular, my first poetry collection (Picaro Press, 2008; Ginninderra Press, 2018 reprint).

 

An earlier version of the above piece (including the poem) appeared on the Stereo Stories website.

 

 

 

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About

Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, was published in late 2020 by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Other writing includes screenplays for educational films.

Comments

  1. Could see Rannoch House over our backyard fence, back in the day KD

    Remember Bostock House right next door, or as close as.

    My Dad was a school master there and our building accommodated not only our house but dormitories for a dozen or so boarders plus a sitting room and bedroom for one of the single, female teachers.

    Think it’s now St John’s Lutheran school bordering — as did Bostock — on the Aberdeen St.–Pakington St. corner.

    Cricket training nets faced onto Aberdeen Street. Old Geelong footballer Len Metherell used to deliver petrol in his tanker to the petrol station diagonally opposite the cricket oval.

    We lined up in Pakington Street in 1953 to see the Queen and Old Phil the Greek slowly pass in a motorcade.

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Great memories – and local Geelong history. Thanks, Richard!

    I value this kind of input a great deal.

  3. Kev, I think distance lets the heart grow fonder. Rannoch House was the home of Alexander Miller, a Geelong and Victorian draper who left £176,000 when he died in 1914, which was used to extend the Miller homes for distressed women that he had begun building while he was alive. The Miller homes are now part of the Wintringham group and continue to supply social housing in Geelong and some other parts of Victoria. Along with two former students and colleagues Jennifer Kloester and G. Alwyn McLean we produced a short book Alexander Miller and his Enduring Legacy that tells his story. It is about a couple of kilometres from Rannoch House to the Argyle Hotel so you would probably have needed binoculars to see what was happening on the paddock
    But I loved the story. One of these days I must arrange for you to sit down with Col Hutchinson and my Bannockburn mate Keith Evans, who is in his nineties, but has clear memories of early Geelong football. Not quite back to Argyle Hotel paddock days, though.

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Roy. Thanks for your reply, particularly the Alexander Miller material.

    Re distances, though, I beg to differ. I lived in Rannoch House for years – and before that for even longer in nearby Austin Street – and did a great deal of local walking over these periods. I had to, as most of the time I didn’t have a car in the eras concerned. It would be approximately one hundred metres (maybe a bit less) from Rannoch House, basically on the corner of Skene Street and Pakington Street, down to the corner of Aberdeen Street and Pakington Street. My understanding is that the Argyle Square ground was very close to the corner of Pakington Street and Aberdeen Street – there’s the basis for my couple of hundred metres estimate. And my further understanding is that historians have only made reasonable, educated guesses as to the EXACT location of the Argyle Square ground anyway. (And I’m basically talking about the amount of land it occupied and its precise location.)

    With regard to the distance from the front gate of Rannoch House to what used to be called the Argyle Hotel – it would be roughly one hundred metres to Aberdeen Street, then another four hundred or so metres along Aberdeen to the pub. Maybe five hundred metres in total. So, upon reflection, I may have been just a little out there, but not much. As the crow flies, from Rannoch House to the Argyle, it wouldn’t be much more than the couple of hundred metres I indicated.

    With regard to another related thing, there is a well-known photograph of the Geelong Football Club team taken circa 1877 on the Argyle Ground. (You do, of course, know about it, I realise). I believe that the mansion visible between trees in the centre background could indeed be Rannoch House. At any rate, it’s feasible that one could watch a game taking place on the ground from the (also visible) second-floor balcony of the building in the photo.

    I’m happy to meet in the area sometime and pace out the distances concerned, Roy, with the end goal of a Guinness or two at the hotel that is now called Murphy’s. All the best!

  5. Sorry mate it is more than a kilometre along Aberdeen Street to the Argyle Hotel, though the ground could easily have been half way along, but that still means binoculars in my book. Check your Melways when you have a moment. The picture in the hotel that purports to be of the ground is actually of the MCG. The local historical mag got it wrong and Trevor Ruddell and I had to correct them about that.

    As to your suggested walking out the distances I’ll be in that unless I have to drink Guinness. I used to do until my 21st when a dose of gastro went through our local pub in Scotland when we were celebrating my 21st. Everyone present foreswore the dark liquid after that. I still do.

  6. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Roy. Thanks for your reply.

    I don’t know which photo – or picture – is in Murphy’s pub. (I used to frequent the place a lot many years ago, particularly when it was the Argyle, but not recently.) It seems clear that the image you’re thinking of is the same one as appeared incorrectly captioned in the local historical mag – an artist’s illustration – and that you and I have discussed it (most likely via email) before. The photograph I’M talking about is the following one, which I first encountered on a Geelong College-related website. It is also used in one of your Footy Almanac pieces. Here, it is referred to it as “The earliest photograph of the Geelong Football Club team in 1877. Bob Gartland collection.” It’s in this Footy Almanac article of yours: https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/almanac-footy-history-albert-pompey-austin-a-man-between-two-worlds/ At any rate, this is the image I was discussing in my Rannoch House piece.

    Finally – sometime in the New Year, I’d be happy to pace out the distances we’ve been discussing – and no, of course, you don’t have to drink Guinness at the conclusion of the process!

  7. Kevin Densley says

    Further note: I checked – and double-checked – Google maps regarding the distances I mentioned in my Rannoch House article and in my comments following it, and the relevant Google map corresponds in a reasonable way with what I concluded on the basis of the key local distances concerned – namely, the good view I believe onlookers would have of the Argyle Square ground from the balcony of Rannoch House in the period c.1860-78, and also the short distance from the mansion to the old Argyle Hotel.

    For example, according to Google maps, from the corner of Skene and Pakington Streets (where Rannoch House is located) to Murphy’s (formerly the Argyle) Hotel in Aberdeen Street, it is 400 metres, when one follows the shortest walking distance via the relevant streets. And it would be around – and I do write “around” – 200 metres from the balcony of the mansion to the Argyle Square ground itself. I searched Google in this manner: “cnr skene street and pakington street to murphys aberdeen street” and a map of the area was then subjected to close scrutiny.

  8. Think you’re right about the distance from Rannoch House to the boozer in Aberdeen St, KD. After arriving back from Kardinia Park we’d wait until around 6.25/6,30 pm and walk around the Pakington Street/Aberdeen Street corner down to the Argyle Hotel block. There was a little milk bar or general store next door to the pub and we’d get our pink paper — the Sporting Globe — with the write-ups of those very Saturday matches we’d seen only an hour-and-a-half or slightly longer before. Remembering that TV didn’t come to Vic. until the Melb. Olympics of 1956 and we’re talking about 1954-55 so waiting for the Globe was a winter Saturday evening ritual. Back in those days, KD, if a funeral procession went past the tram stop where you were standing everyone stood stock still and removed their hats and caps as the entourage passed. Different decades, very different ways of showing respect.

  9. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for your interesting response, Edmund. Good material indeed, vividly bringing back a past time. I know the milk bar you’re writing about, too. Also, I played in a rock band at the Argyle Hotel in 1980, which I’ve written about in a previous Footy Almanac post.

    Yes, thanks for the additional confirmation regarding the distance from Rannoch House to the the old Argyle pub. I knew I was correct about this, but it’s nice to hear others confirm it, too. Here is an instance where local, lived experience really counts – but I’ve also double-checked the distances I mentioned by map to make certain.

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