Musk Farm, the Stuart Rattle, Michael O'Neill garden estate listed for auction

Musk Farm, the Stuart Rattle, Michael O'Neill garden estate listed for auction
Musk Farm, the Stuart Rattle, Michael O'Neill garden estate listed for auction

Renowned Musk Farm has been listed for sale by May 31 onsite auction through the Pat Rice & Hawkins agency.

Selling agent Matt Childs anticipates the Musk Farm cottage on 1.2 hectares will fetch $1 million plus.

A 30 hectare farm lot in the acclaimed Daylesford, central Victoria district is also expected to fetch $550,000 plus.

Interior designer Stuart Rattle and cattle farmer Michael O'Neill, partners for 16 years, paid $93,000 in 1998 with a $76,000 mortgage, for what was to become their expanded renovated Musk Farm masterpiece.

The 32 hectare property started as a derelict garden overun with blackberries. 

But taking their inspiration from the English Arts and Crafts movement of Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll, the couple set about its restoration starting with the planting of hydrangeas outside the 1880s old school house.

It would end with the garden divided into 14 distinct garden rooms, joined by interconnecting walkways, and separated by large clipped hedges, English Box (Buxus sempervirens) and viburnum (Viburnum spp) and Ligustrum vulgare (Privet). It shone even in winter.

Musk Farm, the Stuart Rattle, Michael O'Neill garden estate listed for auction

Source: Facebook

Title Tattle gleans Stuart Rattle had been reluctant to buy the property when he and good mate, Paul Bangay undertook their first inspection drive-by.

It looked like a municipal park with too much asphalt, but returning at twlight Rattle sensed the opportunity and he was always of the later opinion that the home was best in late afternoons. 

It was a compact cottage after installing lower ceilings and its paintwork created the rich, moody and broody feel that he had once seen at florist Kevin O'Neill's Mount Macedon retreat.  

The English kitchen comes with oak cabinetry made by craftsman Kim Moir.

The cottage had the potential of the nearby pastures acquired for Michael O'Neill's passion, a herd of British White cattle he set about to save when the once common breed shrunk to only 400 breeding cows in Australia.

With their white coats, black noses and long black eyelashes, the cows stood out on the green hill that dominates the expanding holding, which was bought in 2003. The beef was sold to top restaurants, such as the Lake House in Daylesford, and through farmers' markets. Michael came from a long line of vets in Ireland's County Cork. The farm lot comes with pine plantation, a character filled barn, hay shed, cattle yards, chicken coop, small orchid and a terraced vegetable garden. 

Visitors were very welcome at Musk's regular garden open days. Title Tattle recalls Pixie Skase was a devotee. There was the reminder of her in the pair of Hermes ashtrays with Islamic motifs. Susan Bittar, the Arthur Anderson accountant, had Rattle decorate her Georgian home among the many commissions by Melbourne's prominent families.

But before the hydrangeas were at their peak last year, Stuart Rattle was found dead in his burnt-out two storey Malvern Road, South Yarra apartment on December 9, 2013.

It was in his abode at the back of his shop, an infill concrete box with mansard roof which Nerida Piggin once described as a soothing spacious retreat. It had been built by his builder father, Ken with intricate coffered ceiling. Rattle often said he was following in the footsteps of other designers, like Nancy Lancaster from Colefax and Fowler and Coco Chanel who also lived above their shops.  

Within four days police charged his partner, Michael O'Neill, with his murder after a suspicious fire, alleging that he killed him through asphyxiation five days prior at the city apartment.

O'Neill remains remanded in custody due to return to court on June 5 for a committal mention hearing.

Stuart Rattle, who grew up on a farm at Wakool, saw himself as one of Australia’s leading interior designers, the sole designer within his company supported by skilled artisans who transformed inspiration into reality.

But he maintained he was not there to impart his own style – "my focus is always to bring out my clients."

"A home should represent who lives there," he believed. And at Musk the whole house certainly evolved around the Aga stove.

"Interiors are above all sophisticated and highly attuned to each client’s lifestyle and personality."

But for Rattle scale, proportion and elegance transcended the current trends as he endeavoured to construct timeless spaces with an emphasis on comfort and restraint. In July 2012, a custom-designed furniture range was launched by Rattle in collaboration with Mortice & Tenon.

Before his death he'd just finished refurbishing the drawing room at Musk Farm, after the ornate plaster ceiling arrived in four large panels. Then there was the Watts of Westminister birds wallpaper. The antique fire mantel was sourced in London. The Mulberry Floral Bouquet fabric on the sofa and some antique Persian blanket cushions. Brunschwig & Fils 'Argonne Lampas' fabric on the Gainsborough Chair.

Musk Farm, the Stuart Rattle, Michael O'Neill garden estate listed for auction

Musk Farm, the Stuart Rattle, Michael O'Neill garden estate listed for auction

Musk Farm, the Stuart Rattle, Michael O'Neill garden estate listed for auction

Musk Farm, the Stuart Rattle, Michael O'Neill garden estate listed for auction

Source: Facebook

In May last year the Governor of Victoria, Alex Chernov, and Mrs Chernov, on an official visit to Hepburn Shire, popped in to see the farm. (pictured below) Only last November the late interior designer and his partner proudly opened Musk Farm to the public to raise money for further restoration of Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens in nearby Daylesford. Stuart had been a very active supporter of the Botanic Gardens, repairing and restoring its rustic cascade, the Victorian Fernery and its irrigation works.

Musk Farm, the Stuart Rattle, Michael O'Neill garden estate listed for auction


Source: Facebook

But within three weeks he was dead. His partner Michael O'Neill awaiting trial for his alleged murder. Their assets were subsequently frozen, by Supreme Court of Victoria order, and only able to be sold with the court's approval. Katrina Lewin, one of Rattle's sisters, has been appointed interim administrator of his estimated $4.2 million estate.


School Road at Musk has just the six properties. All up Musk has around 130 properties, once described by The Age as a sleepy blip on the map.

Barcaldine House, at 238 Dairy Flat Road with 15 hectares and a 60-square-metre homestead, was perhaps the most known given its cellar door operations. 

The hamlet's last celebrity sale was in 2006 when the television personality and interior designer Tonia Todman sold the four hectare farm which she bought in 1998 to use as a weekender with partner Michael Dowding. They refurbished in a style that Todman described as "French provincial meets New Hampton via Daylesford". 

Todman's four-bedroom house with Castlemaine stone fireplace was surrounded by a stone-fruit orchard and a small olive grove plus nut trees, a vegetable garden and plantings of herbs, roses, lavender and bulbs on soil classed as chemical-free. The Todman property at 90 Currys Road was listed with Morley Real Estate who were quoting $730,000-plus, and secured $660,000.


Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor is one of Australia's most respected property journalists, having been at the top of the game since the early 1980s. Jonathan co-founded the property industry website Property Observer and has written for national and international publications.

Victoria Gardens Interiors Title Tattle Rural

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