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When the grand home Invergowrie was built, Victoria and NSW were part of the same colony, Queen Victoria was a young mother and Abraham Lincoln was not yet US president.
Its long history looms large in the minds of new owners Stephen and Angela Tomisich, who are keen to connect its past with the present-day public.
Stephen and Angela Tomisich are the new owners of grand home Invergowrie in Hawthorn.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui
The couple paid $40.5 million last year to purchase the landmark mid-19th-century Hawthorn property from former Australia Post boss Ahmed Fahour, after listing on the stock exchange the company they co-founded, Trajan Scientific and Medical.
The company develops and manufactures products used in the analysis of biological, food and environmental samples. After not taking dividends for a decade, the pair made $40 million from selling part of the company into the float.
“We knew we wanted to buy a historic home,” Stephen said. “You just have to do a Google search of historic properties in Melbourne and this one comes up.
“I became a bit obsessed with, ‘It’s got to be this one,’ because I started to read up on the history.”
The gothic bluestone residence dates to the mid-19th century.Credit: Luis Enrique Ascui
The 1.1 hectare block had been for sale in 2018, complete with a five-bedroom main gothic bluestone home, a separate cottage, converted stables, hall and tennis court.
But it did not find a buyer, so the Tomisiches arranged to meet the vendor to discuss, and shook hands on a deal.
They place a level of importance on history that prompted them to consider the home’s future.
“Why don’t we purchase this property? Why don’t we then think about how you reconnect it with the people of Melbourne?” said Stephen, who wondered whether if somebody else had bought the home, the gates might have stayed shut for another 30 years.
The cottage next to the main home.Credit: Luis Enrique Ascui
Construction on Invergowrie began about 1846, according to Heritage Victoria, for James Palmer, who became the first speaker of the Victorian Legislative Council in 1851 when the Colony of Victoria separated from NSW.
There are signs of the local Indigenous community on the site, including a yellow box gum tree once used to make shields and another tree scarred where bark was removed for canoes.
The home was later owned by William McPherson, who went on to become premier of Victoria. His son granted the home to the Headmistresses’ Association, which used it as the Homecraft Hostel, where girls were taught skills.
The home’s history looms in its new owners’ minds.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui
Invergowrie was sold back into private hands three decades ago.
The proceeds from the home’s sale were used in 1992 to establish the Invergowrie Foundation, which focuses on the education of women and girls, with a current interest in the development of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
When the home sold later, the foundation and the residence parted ways.
Stephen Tomisich got in contact with the foundation last year after purchasing the property, and hopes to collaborate by supporting work experience to encourage women to realise that scientific careers can lead to roles beyond a lab.
A function was held in the home’s stately grounds on Tuesday for the foundation’s 30th birthday.
The gothic home predates the separation of Victoria from NSW.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui
The event was part of the new owners’ project to take “baby steps” to open the home more to members of the public.
They granted tours to year 9 students from the nearby Strathcona Girls Grammar School, and Stephen said it was “quite emotional” to see how engaged the students were.
“There’s the potential now to think about that sort of level, and doing more programs like that,” he said.
“Everything in their life today is instant. Whether it’s TikTok or Instagram, or it’s the video game they’re playing.
“Whereas you come somewhere like this, it’s exactly the opposite. This didn’t happen overnight.”
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