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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

Tour a Prime Minister's home in Devonport Tasmania Australia

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

The story of Joseph and Enid Lyons is a true-love fairy tale. Joseph (Joe) was the Australian Prime Minister from 1932 to 1939, and his wife Enid was the first woman to sit in the House of Representatives. Today, we can take a small part in that story by visiting Home Hill, their elegant home in Devonport, run by the National Trust.

Joe and Enid were the parents of twelve children, one died in infancy. The six girls shared rooms at Home Hill, two to a room. The boys shared a dormitory styled bedroom.

Home Hill is a valued asset as all the furniture and fittings were items that belonged to and were used by the Lyons. It is a preserved snap shot of this amazingly successful duo. Descendants of Joe and Enid have donated family heirlooms to the trust.

The guided tour at Home Hill started with the stories of how Joe and Enid came from humble beginnings in the north of Tasmania, Joe from Stanley and Enid from Smithton. Both came from poor families and trained to become teachers. Joe entered politics, and at the age of 35 married the 17 year old Enid, with her parents blessing.

Joe purchased the nine acres of land in 1915 and gave it to Enid as an engagement gift. The road into the Devonport township was a three kilometre dirt track. Not only did the house that was to be built here need to accommodate Joe and his bride, but also Joe’s father and Joe’s three younger siblings. The family moved into the home in September 1916, just six weeks before Enid gave birth to their first child Desmond. It was originally a seven room Federation-style weatherboard design, with four bedrooms.

My tour of the property commenced in the room that was originally the newlyweds’ bedroom. It was later turned into an office for Joe and memorabilia of his time as Prime Minister decorate the room still today. This includes the desk he used in Canberra and the leather dispatch box he used during his time in office.

The candlestick telephone Joe used sits on his desk now, and an old Bakelite phone is also present in the room. From the days when an operator connected users, to being able to call direct, would have seemed an astonishing leap forward in technology.

On the wall in his office hangs one of Joe’s most prized possessions. It is a badge from the Round Table organisation, presented to him when he gave a speech to the group in England.

Over the years as the family grew, more rooms were added on, including three bathrooms. Enid decorated most of the house herself, including painting alfresco on one of the bedroom walls, and hanging wallpaper. Not a wealthy family, Enid saved money by making clothes for herself and the family. She was a talented seamstress.

Enid made decorations for the home, and even taught herself to reupholster furniture. Two fine examples of those skills are a chair and couch in the living room. Her favourite colour was blue and many of the rooms feature this colour.

There are gorgeous examples of the art deco period in the lead light interior doors. An art deco clock given to Joe by General Motors when he organised them opening a factory in Australia, sits proudly on the mantle. Bold colours used at that time have been incorporated into many of the rooms.

The rooms were repurposed as need arose over the years. After the original main bedroom became an office, a new main bedroom was built on. Its final use was a dining room, and this is how the room is presented and decorated today. You can still see where the wardrobes were on either side of the bed space.

Avid readers, the library is filled with books. The walls are hung with a wide variety of art produced by Australian artists.

Each room has bold and decorate wallpaper, one of the bathrooms even has a wallpapered ceiling! In her own bedroom Enid found the wallpaper colours a little pale for her taste. So, being the ever enterprising hands-on woman, she increased the intensity of the motifs by hand painting watercolours on it.

Enid loved gardening and after the war, she encourage people to grow beautiful flowers. She is quoted as saying “gardening brings heartsease.” Grandchildren remember fondly helping her build a fishpond in the yard. It is still there today.

Joe passed away from a heart attack in 1939. He was the first Australian PM to die in office.

Enid had been a strong supporter of her husband, and after he died she retired from public life to deal with her grief. One of her daughters encouraged her to run for the local seat in 1943, which she won. During her time in parliament Enid campaigned for cost of living expenses, maternity services, widow’s pensions, and the rights of women in the workplace and society. Due to ill health she resigned from the cabinet in 1951.

From 1951 to 1962 she was a commissioner of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Television was not available at the time in Tasmania, so she had antennas installed on the roof of Home Hill and pointed them at Melbourne to gain reception.

She was also an author, a broadcaster, and advocate for Womens' rights. Dame Enid is still the most highly decorated woman in Australia’s history. She was nominated Mother of the year in 1950. On Australia Day 1980 her work was recognised and she was made a Dame of the Order of Australia.

In 1937 Enid was awarded the Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE). This is the highest honour that can be made if you are not of royal blood. When she accepted the award she said, “this is not just for me, but an honour conferred on Australian womanhood”. Visitors to Home Hill can see the special robes for the ceremony. This outfit was made for her, unlike her usual handmade clothes. It is made of rose pink satin, lined with pearl grey silk, and is a full length robe.

Both Joe and Enid were invited to the coronation in 1937 of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

Enid sold the house and land to Devonport City Council in the late 1970s, and lived here until her death in 1981. The council still own the house, and it is looked after by the National Trust, who own the contents.

In November each year, a garden fete is held to raise funds for the upkeep and maintenance of the house, with over sixty market stalls, food vans and music held in the grounds.

There is one part time paid worker and thirty volunteers here. Volunteers act as tour guides, do the gardening, cleaning, cataloguing and transcribing.

I chatted with one of the volunteers who said that it is easy work and there are a variety of things to do here. “The volunteers are like one big family, we all get along well together,” she said, a wide happy grin on her face. “ I love the house and the stories.” The Lyons did so much for the nation, they were both well loved.

On the day of my visit, one of the workers, Ann, said that she “can’t help but love the house.” I second that thought. Visiting Home Hill is not just seeing a house, it is being invited into, and sharing, the history of a well-loved home and a family that was loved by a nation.

77 Middle Road, Devonport, Tasmania, Australia

Happy Travels!

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