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The architect-designed Round House building.

A gift like no other

Published 15 Apr 2021 by Hannah James

Long-time Bush Heritage supporter and volunteer Annelie Holden once used her bush property as an escape from the city. Now she's donated it to Bush Heritage so it can start a new life as a conservation reserve and our first ever education centre.

Annelie Holden has enjoyed an adventurous life. Born in England to Dutch parents, she emigrated to Australia in 1965 with her brother, Anthony Jannink, driving overland from the UK to India, before boarding a boat to Australia.

“We bought ourselves a Ford Cortina, got in and drove off,” she says matter-of-factly. “It took us about three months.”

Bush Heritage supporter and volunteer Annelie Holden on the Round House Reserve, Taungurung country, north of Melbourne.

Adventure enough for some, but not Annelie. She went on to become Telstra’s first female branch manager, to travel the world – and to regularly camp out on a bush property she and Anthony bought in 1972, about an hour north of Melbourne, on Taungurung country.

“We had a small flat in South Yarra, and we just wanted somewhere to sit outside,” explains Annelie. “We looked at houses with gardens, but they were much too expensive, so we just bought a block of land out of town.”

True to form, that was an adventure, too: it had no water and no buildings. “We had to cart water in until we built a shed with a roof that could catch water. We camped in there until we had the Round House built in 1979.”

They enlisted noted architect Gregory Burgess to create a house that took advantage of the spectacular 270-degree views (“On a clear day you can see from Mount Bulla to Mount Macedon”).

For Annelie and her partner, George Dalton, it was a treasured retreat, and the two spent more and more time there over the decades.

“I’ve always loved being out in the country, and I’ve always loved the environment,” says Annelie.

“I feel more and more that the environment is fundamental to everything. All life stems from it and if we don’t conserve it, then all life is going to be the poorer.”

When Bush Heritage was founded in 1991, Annelie and George became two of its earliest donors – their supporter number was 115. The couple explored the option of buying a property to donate to Bush Heritage, but nothing suitable came up. “Then George hit on the idea of donating the Round House.”

The pair duly wrote the gift into their Wills and Annelie made this video in 2016 about the decision.

When George passed away six years ago, Annelie began volunteering at Bush Heritage two mornings a week. And when it became clear that all 87 hectares of the Round House were becoming too much for Annelie – who is now 86 – to manage, she had a bright idea.

“It was lonely up there without him,” she says. “And last year, part of the roof blew off. The insurance covered it, but that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. So I thought, ‘why don’t I give it to [Bush Heritage] now?’”

Not only was the gift perfect timing for Annelie, but it was perfect timing for Bush Heritage, too.

“A few years ago, our board gave the management team a challenge: to find a property close enough to a capital city that you could do half-day or day trips there,” says Melinda Warnecke, Bush Heritage’s Executive Manager of Marketing and Fundraising.

That wasn’t the only requirement though: it had to be less than 75 minutes’ drive from a city; equipped with running water; able to host small groups – and of course it had to have outstanding conservation value.

“Annelie’s property ticks all those boxes – and it also has the most gorgeous house with million-dollar views,” says Melinda. “It’s a recipe for success.”

With Tallarook State Forest on one side and Mount Disappointment State Forest on the other, the Round House Reserve, as it will henceforth be known, provides an important stepping-stone for native animals moving through the heavily fragmented landscape of central Victoria.

It protects Grassy Dry Forest, a threatened ecological community in the area, and includes habitat for species such as the Powerful Owl, Brown Quail, Brush-tailed Phascogale and Regent Honeyeater.

This Short-beaked Echidna is among many native animal residents at the Round House Reserve.

“When you look out the windows of the Round House, you can see immediately why it is so important to reconnect fragmented landscapes,” Melinda explains. “That story is what you’re looking at.”

Soon the Round House will be hosting lunches for donors; team-building and education days for schools, universities and corporate partners; revegetation days with volunteers; and cultural days with the Taungurung community.

For Annelie, the gift is a fitting tribute to George’s memory – and watching the Round House move into its next phase of life will be yet another adventure.

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Photo by Amelia Caddy

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