Dr Leslie Norton has called Keilor’s historic Overnewton Castle home since 1975. We caught up to learn about his life, the castle and his home town.
I was born in Melbourne, but I grew up in in Bendigo. I left Bendigo when I was 14 to come to Melbourne and attended the South Melbourne Technical School and eventually qualified to be a telephone technician, but the job didn’t really excite me. So, I went to work at a university as a laboratory technician. During this time, I got to know one of the teachers who told me I was good enough to do medicine and on my second attempt, I passed my matriculation exam and got in. After studying and getting honours in surgery, I got a job at the Royal Melbourne Hospital which is where all the graduates who did well in school wanted to go. I eventually became a gastroenterologist and went across to Western General Hospital and I was the only gastroenterologist there for ten years.
I’m the owner of Overnewton Castle but my daughter Emma is the principal staff member who sees the clients and coordinates the weddings. We have meetings together to discuss the business needs and finances, as running a place like this is a lot of work. There’s a lot of upkeep for both the house and the garden; it’s 170 years old. When we have events at the castle, and the team needs help putting chairs out or direct guests in the car park, I step in. When you’re my age, you do everything that’s left over!
William Taylor was born in Glasgow in a town called Overnewton. He came to Australia when he was 21 and settled in Melbourne’s west as sort of a squatter. He ran sheep and did quite well at it. He also managed to do quite a bit of exploring, too. In 1849 he built the first part of the property — the colonial-style house — then ten years later he went about adding on the baronial-style castle. He got married to a local girl from Ballan; she was 15, he was 30, and Overnewton Castle is where they lived. From a historical point of view, William Taylor and Queen Victoria lived in the same era and nearly the same length of time, so the Victoriana and the Taylors are closely connected. He died in 1901, and one of his sons took over his estate. It’s interesting to note that the suburbs of Taylors Lakes and Taylors Hill are named after the Taylor family.
The next family that lived in the castle was the Carr family and they converted it into a wedding reception venue. The Carr family then sold it to a hotel group who had it for about a year and we bought it from them in 1975. It’s been in our family ever since.
My wife was also a doctor — a general practitioner — and she was looking for a place that was big enough for the family to live in, as well as practice from. Overnewtown Castle was of interest to her because it was in a nice country area and could easily accommodate her surgery on the ground floor. However, there were 20 weddings left to run when we bought the property and another 20 bookings that followed, so we decided to keep the receptions going. We have since extended the building so that we can fit 150 guests in for functions.
It’s two buildings that are connected. First of all, Taylor built a colonial-style house with verandahs and long windows, made from bluestone rubble. Bluestone came from the property itself; they mined it just at the back of one of the hills here. Then in 1849, Taylor went back to Scotland where Balmoral Castle was being built in the Scottish baronial style. Inspired by this, he came back with the plans of building a castle with the same look, which he did in 1859. It’s interesting to note that the first part of the property (the house) was built when this area formed part of New South Wales, and the second part (the castle) was built when the area was considered part of Victoria.
When we came in, we brought our own furniture — I’ve been a furniture collector since I was 19 — and that’s what’s there now. It’s all mid-Victorian furniture, which is the same era that this house was built and used. We have one piece of the decor that was original, and that’s a light fitting that features both candles and lights. In the days of the Taylors, they had a generator that would run for some hours, then it would stop, and they’d have to switch to candles.
There are 36 rooms in the whole place. Seven of them were bedrooms. Now we’re down to five bedrooms. We have a library, a den, a dining room, a TV room and more. Regarding accommodation for guests, we converted the stables into accommodation that can sleep up to ten. There’s a cottage up the hill that accommodates between four and six people — typically brides will stay there. Then there’s loft above the machine shed that sleeps four.
People would always ask if there were any ghosts on the property. We would always say no because if the ghost story got around, the kids would be too scared to be there! So, we always say no. But in all honesty, when my wife and I first walked into the place, we both agreed that it was a warm, friendly place. We wouldn’t think a place this warm and inviting would be haunted. We thought it suited our family’s needs. The kids really loved living here. They would climb the trees, ride around the property of their bikes and go for walks over the hill and things like that. We used to go canoeing on the Maribyrnong River, just at the bottom of the hill here, too. When the Calder Freeway was built, the property became like a little island with the freeway to one side and the Maribyrnong River to the other side. There’s a bridge that goes across the freeway to the castle like it’s going over a moat. It’s a great place to live.
I love Victorian history. So, the property is great for displaying the Victorian furniture that I have collected since I was a teenager. I’m also a yachting man and the space allows me to display my pictures and memorabilia in what I call my ‘boat room’. Having this space allows me to surround myself with the things that I enjoy. I also like that I’m surrounded by my own version of the Botanic Gardens!
We offer high tea on select dates and run tours of the property before the tea commences. Walking through the gardens is always nice — we believe that one of our oak trees in about 170 years old and it’s a really nice feature of the property. We also sometimes have private groups come in for a tour and a cup of tea.
Keilor is like a little country town, and I like the relaxed atmosphere that comes with that. It’s compact because of the hills around it but it’s also accessible to the city.
When I was told I was nominated, I was very happy. I have been in Keilor since 1975, at Western General Hospital for many years and a member of the local Rotary Club for quite some time. I’m also a life member of the Keilor Historical Society. I was proud and pleased to be Brimbank's Citizen of the Year — it was just nice a recognition of my presence here.
The Organ Pipes in Keilor North — they’re rock formations created by the cooling and cracking of molten lava from back when there was volcanic activity in the area. It’s quite an interesting sight. Brimbank Park is also a great spot to visit. It’s a great place to get in touch with nature and has the Maribyrnong River running through it. The Keilor Hotel is about the same age as Overnewton Castle; I always enjoy the food and would take visitors here for a meal.
View: Looking from my backyard; the view goes up to the Keilor Valley. Up until a few years ago, there was nothing in that view that was man-made. Brimbank Park also has nice views.
Local business: Caffe Dolce in Keilor Village because the owner is very friendly and chatty, plus makes a good coffee!