THE marketing material describes Mintaro as "a small replica of Melbourne's Government House".
But it is also refers to it as "that crumbling mansion on the road to Romsey".
Both are fair descriptions of the 1882 Victorian Italianate mansion that needs total restoration.
- ROMSEY, VICTORIA
- Property: historic mansion
- Size: 9.9ha
- Price: $3 million
- Agent: Keatings Real Estate, Macedon
- Contact: John Keating 0419 880 444
- Auction: Thursday, November 15, 2.30pm
But the historical significance and potential of the building, which has remained largely untouched since its inception, is plain.
Pastoralist John Pascoe Fawkner first held the grazing licence for the 5180ha Mintaro in 1844 before Capt Robert Gardiner took it over in 1860.
It was Gardiner, inspired by the design of Queen Victoria's summer residence, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, who ordered the building of Mintaro's homestead.
It's believed the Scottish-born Gardiner made his fortune whaling at Portland, trading gold panned in Victoria's goldfields and grazing sheep and cattle at Berwick and Mt Gambier; each pursuit is depicted in four decorative frieze paintings on the walls of the home's impressive drawing room.
The handpainted walls and ceiling also feature Gardiner's initials, scenes from his homeland and references to Greek mythology.
Mintaro is one of three mansions designed by prominent architect James Gall.
The other two, Frognall, at Canterbury, and Noorilim, near Murchison, exhibit Mintaro's untapped potential.
Gardiner spent as much as 29,000 building Mintaro but died seven years after it was completed.
The property then passed through a series of owners, including the Methodist Church, which acquired it for 5500 and used it as a girls' home until 1913, before the Rae family bought it in 1934. They have owned it since.
It's a property few have been lucky enough to pass through, but Peter Rae has fond memories of long summers spent playing in the house and grounds.
His father grew up there before moving to Jerramungup in Western Australia while his uncle Derek Rae milked cows on the property and lived out his days in the manor.
"Holidays for us were like the pages from Boys Own Annual," Peter said.
"Making planes and flying them from the tower, building cubbies in the cypress trees, driving tractors and utes, attempting to shear sheep, and just hanging out with Unc on the end of a spanner; we spent every summer holiday up there."
On wet days, Peter and his brother would explore the cellar, discovering relics including a penny bunger marble cannon, their grandfather's miner's licence and war ration coupons.
"And, of course, there was gran's cooking, fantastic roasts, homemade mint sauce and caramel dumplings," Peter said.
"After lunch, Derek would walk up to the concert grand in his bib and brace overalls and boots, and knock out a tune.
"He was a gifted musician; you could sing him a few bars of a melody and he would play it with his left hand."
Peter's grandfather, Percy, bought the property with the hope of fattening sheep from the Riverina during dry years.
He died in 1940, leaving Peter's grandmother, Esther, to raise two boys and run the farm.
"Then, in 1941, during the war, the army walked in and gave my gran, uncle and dad two weeks to get out and they took over the place as a barracks," Peter said.
"She was a single mother, she didn't have much choice."
The family returned in 1946 after the army acquired by compulsory purchase a large portion that is now the Australian Government Monegeetta Proving Ground Complex.
Today, Mintaro spans 9.9ha and is shielded from the road and proving ground by century-old oak, cedar, monkey puzzle, sequoia and cypress trees.
Melbourne's skyline can be viewed across the tree tops from Mintaro's four-storey tower, which Gardiner would have likely climbed to scan his expansive leasehold.
The tower rises from the manor's grand entrance foyer and hall, which features freestanding scagliola Corinthian columns, patterned Milton tiling and central staircase with ornate timber bannister.
There are 10 principle rooms, most with marble fireplaces imported from Italy, five other large rooms, a billiard room, cellar and servant's quarters.
The original renaissance-inspired interior decor features finely painted walls and ceilings depicting the arts, nature, farm life and life at sea and detailed plaster cornices and mouldings. Tradesmen brought over from Italy completed the work over two years.
"If you were going to show off your wealth, you would have six-panel doors instead of four panels, your architraves would be deeper, the decor more detailed - these were the excesses of the time," Peter said.
"Robert Gardiner had the money and Mintaro was a statement."
Peter's family mostly used the front sitting room, to the left of the entrance, and the drawing room towards the back of the ground level.
"The front room was used as music room; Derek has his concert grand in it and it was where he used to get his band around to practice." Peter said. "I would like to see the building restored and to have a commercial life, as a wedding or conference venue, so the community can enjoy it like we have."
Already, the property is attracting attention from those interested in bringing it back to life as either a private residence or public venue.
"The property holds a lot of mystique for the local people and has done so for a long time," selling agent John Keating said.
"Very few people have been inside the building; we couldn't open it for public inspection as we would need the police to control the traffic.
"It would be in everyone's best interest if it was restored in all its glory."
Mintaro is 58km north of Melbourne and 5km south of Romsey.