With a name meaning ‘Place of Rest’ few grand Queenslanders can have had quite as varied a history as Roma’s beautiful Winnathoola.
Roma’s premier residence was completed in 1904 by local dignitary TA Spencer. The house was a wedding present for his new wife, Lily Gordon. It was built to the north of the town on land owned by his father, the Reverend Charles Spencer.
Construction on the exterior began in the elaborate late 19th Century High Victorian style, but upon returning from their honeymoon abroad the Spencers completed the interior in the more modern Federation style that was then in vogue in Sydney and Melbourne. The mixture of styles gives the house a distinct charm, with the highly elaborate exterior contrasting with the more prosaic interior.
Spencer intended the house and its surrounds to be a showcase, and enclosed the extensive servants’ quarters and stables with an orchard and English gardens covering several hectares. Winnathoola was the first property west of Toowoomba to connect to electricity.
In 1922, Spencer left Roma and the house and contents were offered for sale. The home was eventually purchased by a local doctor and became known as St Mary’s Nursing Home and Private Hospital. Several of the town’s older folks were born at St Mary’s, which operated until just before the Second World War.
After the war the property passed through several hands and sadly fell into a state of neglect. During this period, it was also briefly used as an RSL club. Since the 1970s, a series of owners have progressively restored the house to its former grandeur.
Winnathoola almost had a brush with royalty in 2001, when it was selected to host a lunch with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip during their trip to Roma. Sadly, the events of September 11 took place two days before the planned luncheon and the visit was cancelled – the owners having to make do with a letter from the Palace instead.
Today the house is a remarkable reminder of times past. Standing on an acre of grounds near the centre of Roma, Winnathoola has retained its original exterior with all of the architectural features of the High Victorian style. Ample verandas surround the home on three sides, while one of the original gardeners’ cottages still remains in the grounds.
The interior features distinctive high ceilings and a long wide hallway to capture the breeze. The front four rooms and long hall have not been renovated in the past 100 years. Their bay windows and French doors open up to long wide verandas creating space and light.
Roma’s short sharp Winters are addressed at Winnathoola by three fireplaces, all original and in working order with elegant and ornate mantelpieces.
Greatly loved by her current owners, this grand old lady of Roma is set enjoy many hay days to come.
Words and images by Emily Yseult Taylor