Paringa Hall at Sacred Heart College
with Keith Conlon
Is Paringa Hall the grandest of South Australia's great family homes? It is certainly on the short list and, as Sacred Heart College runs regular tours, you can decide for yourself.
With its triple storey classical design tower, ornate and spacious verandahs upstairs and down, book-end bay windows and twenty rooms inside, Paringa Hall is another monument of the "Christopher Wren of Adelaide", architect Edmund Wright.
Its first and only family in residence were the Cudmores. When James Cudmore moved into his specially commissioned new house in the rural agricultural district of Somerton in 1882, this was to become his business base for thirty years. Its opulence of decoration inside and out speaks of massive wealth. Where did the Cudmore's money come from? The answer lies in the plaster embellishments on the tower.....ramsheads. Paringa Hall, like the rest of Australia, rode on the sheep's back.
It took its name from James Cudmore's first big sheep station in the Riverland. And it was his way of saying "I own a bit of dirt". He owned so much sheep grazing land in South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland that he spent four or five months each year on a horse, inspecting his stations.
What a contrast is the grandeur of Paringa Hall to James Cudmore's humble beginnings in a reed and mud hut on the Torrens. His father, Daniel, arrived from Tasmania while Light and Company were still pegging out the city square mile, and his son, James, was born on the schooner, perhaps as it came up the gulf which Paringa Hall's tower now overlooks.
By the time he was in his 40's, he could commission a mansion designed by the best architect in town. Edmund Wright had already completed the Adelaide Town Hall, the GPO and Brougham Place Church, for instance, and his design for Parliament House had already won a design competition.
When James and Margaret Cudmore took up residence in their pastoral seat, they did need a big house. They already had nine children, with four more born at Paringa Hall.
Their home has one of the great entrance halls of the city, then and now. It has been kept in good condition by the Marist Brothers who moved their school, Sacred Heart College, here soon after the death of Mr & Mrs Cudmore. They both died in 1912.
The stairwell of rare dark mahogany leads to a spacious arched upstairs landing, where carved outback lizards nestle in the column cappings and bushbirds are centrepieces of the stained glass windows. There are seven bedrooms upstairs, all administrative offices now, but Sacred Heart's past boarders remember then well. Each year, the senior boarders resided in lofty splendour in the tower room.
It is impossible to put a price on the architectural detail of the College's acquisition. The Cudmore pastoral seat features elaborate stained glass windows round the front door.
They trace the family's pioneer progress, while at the other end of the long hall, north facing windows celebrate the four seasons with very Victorian paintings on glass of people enjoying nature.
For the Cudmore ballroom at the front of Paringa Hall, Italian craftsmen were specially shipped in to add exquisite flourishes on the ceiling, complete with portraits of mediaeval musical instruments. In one corner of what has become the Sacred Heart College formal meeting room or parlour, sits a grand piano. In its family home days, there were seven, including one for each of the five surviving daughter's music practice.
In the dining room, there's a magnificent black marble mantlepiece, with a huge mirror above. There were twelve fireplaces throughout the house - all imported. The riches involved dissipated soon after. Over-extended with pastoral loans and hit by drought and rabbits, James Cudmore lost everything within a few years of taking up residence in 1882.
A cunning capitalist he was, however, with the grand house held in his wife's name. As a result, they lived there until they died.
A classical figure has been looking down from the top storey on one side of the house for nearly 120 years. These days, he keeps an eye on the 1000 male and female students and regular tour groups.
The original proprietor, James Cudmore, could watch ships sailing up the Gulf from the top of his square tower over the entrance. From there, the view is still panoramic. The school oval was his sheep stud paddock, and the great front lawn is intact, with a spring flower garden colouring the aspect.
There is an unsolved riddle attached to the grassy welcome:-
Did James Cudmore design with prescience the heart-shaped lawn for Sacred Heart to inherit? Or was it round, with a long gone pine tree at its centre?
Pastoralist James Cudmore's first education was at the Jesuit School at Sevenhill, and so, although he became a Saints boy, the Catholic Marist Brothers reckon he probably wouldn't mind at all that they are looking after his house now. They have occasional Sunday afternoon openings and regular Wednesday morning group tours, by arrangement, during which their Friends organisation will proudly show you around magnificent Paringa Hall.
Sacred Heart College
Somerton Park SA 5044
(entrance off Whyte Street)
Sunday guided tours
2.00pm to 4.00pm Sunday 14 November
(more in 2000)
Wednesday guided tours
10.30am to 12 noon
N.B. by appointment only