Australia boasts some of the world’s most ancient sites. The Rock Art that adorns the walls of caves around areas such as the Kimberley and Kakadu National Park far outdate figurative cave paintings found on the European continent.
In fact, Australian Indigenous art is the oldest unbroken tradition of art in the world and some of it is believed to date back over 40,000 years. But as the country’s native peoples were largely nomadic tribes, Australia’s architectural history is limited to say the least, with many of what are commonly thought of as ‘old’ buildings constructed in the early 19th century.
In typical Australian idiosyncratic form, what they bill as the country’s ‘oldest building’ is actually a British cottage.
Captain Cook is synonymous with Australia. Lauded as the ‘discoverer’ of the vast island continent in 1770, he is a hugely important figure in the country’s more modern history. Many may know that the intrepid explorer grew up in the picturesque North Yorkshire village of Great Ayton, which celebrated the 250th anniversary of his voyage last year and is home to the Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum, which the young James attended between the ages of eight and 16 (captaincookschoolroommuseum.co.uk; donations welcome), and a 51ft-tall monument (each foot representing a year of the Captain’s life before he was killed in Hawaii in 1779).
In 1755, ten years after Cook had left home, his father built himself a new house. And while Captain James Cook never actually lived there (although he did likely visit his parents), this tenuous link was strong enough to prompt Sir Russell Grimwade to purchase the property and transport it to Melbourne.
The cottage was originally put up for sale in 1933 with the condition that it remain in England. However, this later changed to the “Empire” after Grimwade put in a bid of £800, topping the next highest local bid by £500.
What happened next was rather extraordinary. Every single brick in the house was numbered as it was deconstructed and painstakingly packed into 253 cases and 40 barrels for shipping. The cottage then set sail from Hull aboard the Port Dunedin to Victoria.
On arrival, it was rebuilt brick by brick in Melbourne’s Fitzroy Gardens in 1934. In October of that year, Grimwade donated it to the people of Victoria in celebration of the centenary anniversary of the settlement.
Since that time, it has sat, almost exactly as it was in Great Ayton, in the Fitzroy Gardens in Australia’s capital of cool. A small ‘country’ garden complete with medicinal herbs has been built around the house to give it a more ‘cottagey’, English feel despite being surrounded by Australian vegetation and sometimes blistering heat. There also aren’t a huge amount of signs in the CBD promoting its presence, so it’s not the kind of place you are likely stumble across – you really need to know what and where it is should you want to see it.
For those interested in the country’s settler history, Cooks' Cottage is a fairly important site not just because of its its bizarre transportation across the globe. Very few of the items in the house itself are from the Cook family, but all are representative furnishings of the period. Once inside, you can dress in 18th century costumes to enhance the experience.
Entry to the cottage includes a comprehensive fact sheet for a self-guided tour (entry from $6.70 for adults and $3.60 for children, tickets and souvenirs can be purchased from the nearby Fitzroy Gardens Visitor Centre; whatson.melbourne.vic.gov.au).
If you’re not convinced that shipping a building half way across the world really counts, you could visit the country’s oldest public building instead. World Heritage-listed The Old Government House in Parramatta, Sydney, dates back to 1799.
For more ideas on what to do in Melbourne, check out our guide.