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Our Heritage - Lady Stonehaven's Lookout

Updated: May 27

Frank Thomson Reserve has, arguably, a better view of Melbourne than any other lookout point in Victoria and local residents often take their visitors there to look down on the city. But many who go there may not know that it was once known as 'Lady Stonehaven's Lookout' and was marked as such on the tourist map of the Kinglake district produced in 1928.

The story begins with the fact that from 1901 to 1927, Melbourne was the capital city of Australia. Canberra had not been established when Federation was declared in 1901 and Melbourne was selected for the location of the Federal Parliament which was opened by the Duke of York (later King George V) in that year in the Exhibition Building with 12,000 guests present, the scene depicted so brilliantly in Tom Robert's painting.

The first Governor-General of Australia was the Earl of Hopetoun, the Right Honourable John Hope,but, for the purpose of this story, we are more interested in the 8th Governor-General, Lord Stonehaven, who arrived in Melbourne to take up his role in October 1925.

The Governor-General and his wife, Lady Ethel Stonehaven, had been in residence in Melbourne for only three months when bushfires broke out in Victoria in early February 1926, affecting towns in the Dandenong Ranges and other places from Warragul to Powelltown, Noojee, Healesville and Mansfield.

The fires reached the Kinglake township on the afternoon of 23 February. With no fire brigade at that time, the local residents fought the fire bravely through the night. A large group of women and children sheltered in the Kinglake Post Office and watched the hotel burn down beside them. In the morning, they found that the Kinglake Hotel, the Catholic Church and the Mechanics Institute Hall, as well as two homes and several bush sawmills and farm sheds, had been destroyed. Fortunately, no lives were lost.

On 10 March, Lord and Lady Stonehaven came to Kinglake as part of a tour through the fire-affected areas to view the damage and pay their respects to the people. The official party included the Minister for Forests, Mr Richardson, and they were met by Professor Laver and a welcoming party of local residents who showed them around. While inspecting the ruins of the Mechanics Institute Hall, which stood on the highest point of Kinglake, they were impressed by the view of the city. Lord Stonehaven asked the name of the location and, since it actually had no name, Mr Richardson and Professor Laver agreed that it should be named 'Lady Stonehaven's Lookout' in honour of the Vice-Regal visit.

Lady Stonehaven was the daughter of the 9th Earl of Kintore, Scotland. As Lady Ethel Sydney Keith-Falconer, she married John Baird, son of the baronet, Sir Alexander Baird, in 1905. John Baird had a distinguished career as a Minister in the British Parliament and, in June 1925, shortly before his appointment to Australia, he was raised to the British peerage as the 1st Viscount Stonehaven. When the Australian Federal Parliament moved to Canberra in 1927, Lord Stonehaven opened the first sitting there in May 1927, and he and his wife were the first to occupy the new Government House, named 'Yarralumla'. Lord Stonehaven's term of office ended in 1930 and he left Australia in October of that year. He died in Scotland in 1941, aged 67. Lady Ethel Stonehaven died in September 1974, one day after her 100th birthday.

The visit of Lord and Lady Stonehaven to Kinglake was featured on the front page of 'The Sun News Pictorial' on 12 March 1926 with photographs of Professor Laver with the official party and Harry Thomson describing to Lord Stonehaven the experiences of the local residents. In the years since then, 'Lady Stonehaven's Lookout' may have been renamed but the story is still part of Kinglake's unfolding history.

Deidre Hawkins

Kinglake Historical Society

c/o Kinglake Ranges Neighbourhood House 5786 1301

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