FOR many people, the rural town of Williams is viewed as a great place to refuel the car and grab a bite to eat, being on the busy route from Perth to Albany.
But on Albany Highway and in the heart of Williams is a piece of WA rural history with an enchanting garden, known as Millbrook (originally named Granny Palmers), which can be easily missed.
Motorists travelling south are more likely to come across the beauty of this gem as there is a bright mural designed to catch the eyes of passers-by.
The beaming, colourful piece was painted by local artist Georgina Paterson.
Maintaining the history of the buildings and the garden at Millbrook is a credit to the owners Graham and Verna Harding.
Graham has a particular passion for restoring old buildings with gardening being a love of Verna’s, and together they make a great team to present the public with such a historical and beautiful place that is Millbrook.
Graham and Verna, in partnership with Trish and Rob Bowden, purchased Millbrook in 1995 when the original farming property was subdivided.
Prior to the sale, Millbrook had been vacant for 20 years so the buildings and gardens had deteriorated considerably.
In 2010 Graham and Verna took full ownership of Millbrook and restored the original house.
The original Millbrook house was built in the 1850s with red clay bricks in an English bond pattern.
This house is one of the earliest buildings constructed in the Williams shire and is the oldest that still exists today, built by a Williams pioneer of the time, Stephen Monger.
Stephen’s name was baked onto a brick that was used to build the mill and is still there today.
The house has had a number of uses in its time, including being a classroom before the government school was constructed in 1888 and also functioned as a general store, coffee palace and butcher shop.
It is currently Graham and Verna’s home.
The Millbrook homestead was built around 1870 and Graham and Verna use it as a gallery.
When Millbrook was under dual ownership with the Bowdens, this building was operated as an antique shop and was the scene for ‘Jazz & Shiraz’ events which extended out into the garden.
Restoring old buildings is close to Graham and Verna’s hearts and they have put a great deal of effort into maintaining the heritage and beauty of historic structures that are on Millbrook.
“The history of a town is what helps join a collective group of people into a community,” Graham said.
“Apart from being beautiful and earning the right to be there, old buildings are something for the next generation.
“They are part of what gives us character, history and a sense of belonging.
“This is who we are – people are creatures who identify with the land and the buildings on it.
“Our ancestors have built these and this is who we are – if we lose that, then what anchor do we have emotionally and intellectually.”
Millbrook also has many other historic buildings including the stables (circa 1860), a police station which was built in 1930 and later relocated to Millbrook, and ruins of the Millar’s house (built after 1870) which was notable as being an integral part of Millbrook and the flour mill.
Constructed in 1870 by J. R. Quigley, the Millbrook Flour Mill was the only mill in the district and attracted grain from a wide radius as the closest neighbouring mills were at York, Bunbury and Albany.
In operation until 1914, the mill was powered by a steam engine and was very productive.
In July, 1872 the ‘Herald’ reported that 272 tonnes (10,000 bushels) of grain from the Williams, Arthur River and Kojonup areas had been ground so far that year.
Originally a two-storey building, the mill was most likely damaged from a storm and is now a one–storey structure.
It is one of the few remaining flour mills in WA and there is still a portion of the original mill stones that were used to grind the flour.
Surrounding these iconic structures of history is Verna’s spectacular garden which when it’s in full bloom, she tends to every day for hours.
The garden was started in 1995 but was extended eight years ago when Graham and Verna took on sole ownership of Millbrook.
Upon entering Millbrook, as you venture past the old wooden fence, it’s easy to get lost in the blooming flowers which form a sea of colours and a haven for wildlife.
As you explore the two hectare garden, going down the windy paths which are framed by all sorts of plants in every direction, even over your head in some areas with wisteria drooping down, there are many places to sit and take in the beauty that this country treasure has to offer.
Open spaces are complemented with cosy flower-filled corners and eclectic works of art are placed throughout the garden, including many quirky creations by Len Zucks, Boddington and William Braun, Bunbury.
It’s become a place for Verna to go wild with her creativity and green thumb as it has all been designed by her.
“I think I have always had a passion for gardening and before here, I have had gardens at other places we have lived but this one is certainly the biggest,” Verna said.
The newest addition to the garden is a grand water fountain that also doubles as a roundabout for the driveway.
Verna designed the fountain, the stone work was done by local Paul Babick and Lance Lupton was the engineer behind the project.
The story behind how Millbrook got its name is rather simple but sums up the property perfectly as it was once a productive mill that was powered by the brook that runs through the property.
The brook also plays host to one of Graham and Verna’s favourite features, an exact replica of Claude Monet’s Bridge at Giverny, France.
They were holidaying in France when they came across Claude Monet’s Bridge.
To obtain the dimensions, Graham manoeuvred among the tourists as he put one foot in front of the other to count the number of (his) feet in length and width that the bridge measured.
Millbrook’s Claude Monet’s Bridge sits with a rowboat nearby, just as the one in France had at the time.
Graham said the time spent developing the buildings and garden of Millbrook had “been a labour of love”.
This glorious historic treasure is a true example of the dedication used to preserve heritage buildings, while displaying some of the joy that can be achieved from a stroll through a beautiful garden.