By Danny Power. Reproduced from Inside Breeding Magazine
Victoria’s north-east is a Mecca for thoroughbred breeding and wine production. There was a time, 100 years or more ago, that thoroughbred breeding was the dominant force of the region, and wine was kept to savour after a success on the racetrack, including winning the Melbourne Cup.
One of the great farms of the area, north of Nagambie on the Goulburn River, was Noorilim Estate, where one of Australia’s most famous racehorses and stallions stood at stud.
His unmarked grave is in the shadows of a sprawling mansion that these days hosts weddings and soirees that replicate the garden parties and dinners the barons of the district held for the wealthy pastoralists of Victoria’s early days. Not far up the road, trading under the same name, sits a new farm. It is in a growth phase that will resurrect one of the famous names of Australian thoroughbred breeding, Noorilim. Here’s the story of two farms, BY DANNY POWER:
The Noorilim of Old
There was a time, almost 100 years ago, when the north-east of Victoria—especially in a small enclave between Nagambie and Shepparton—was the epicentre of thoroughbred breeding in Australia.
In the second half of the 19th century, vast Italianate mansions were built along the free-flowing Goulburn River, which served expansive estates carrying prized cattle, sheep and the vines of a burgeoning wine district.
The thoroughbreds were added in the early 1900s pre- and post-WW1—where champion and outstanding stallions such as The Welkin (Jim Redfearn’s Tahbilk Stud), Woorak (L.K.S. Mackinnon’s Chatsworth Stud), All Black and White Star (Alex Creswick’s The Nook), Irish Derby winner Land Of Song (Norman Falkiner’s Pranjip Park) and Lanius (Dr Arthur Syme’s Toolamba Stud) stood in the district.
Joining them in 1919, at the newly established Noorilim Stud, was the legendary Melbourne Cup winner Comedy King (GB), who in 1910 was the first imported horse to win Australia’s most famous race.
Comedy King (br h 1907, Persimmon (GB)-Tragedy Queen (GB), by Gallinule (GB)) had stood from 1912 at owner Sol Green’s Shipley Stud near Warrnambool, where he quickly became a sensation.
When Green dispersed his breeding stock in 1918, pastoralist Norman Falkiner paid 7300 guineas for Comedy King and transported him across Victoria to stand in the north-east: firstly that spring at Pranjip Park, just out of Nagambie; and for the following 11 years at Noorilim, at Wahring, south of Murchison. He bought Noorilim in 1917 and established it as his stud farm from 1919 after selling Pranjip Park.
In five-seasons between 1918-19 and 1922-23, Comedy King (three times) and The Welkin shared the title of Australia’s champion stallion, splitting a dominant run of the Hunter Valley (NSW) stallions Linacre (Oakleigh Stud) and Valais (Widden Stud).
Comedy King’s profile was given an immediate boost when his son Artilleryman won the 1919 Melbourne Cup, and three years later another son, King Ingoda, won the great race—both stayers were conceived at Shipley Stud.
At Noorilim, Comedy King was joined by the imported Spearhead (GB), by Carbine’s son Spearmint (GB), who also became a leading sire. Spearhead supplied Noorilim with his only Melbourne Cup winner, the champion stayer Spearfelt, who won the 1924 Victoria Derby, 1925 VRC St Leger and 1926 Cup.
Other successful stallions to stand on the property included the imports Crowdennis (IRE), Ornamentation (GB) and the top-class local stayer David, winner of the 1923 Sydney Cup, three AJC Plates (1921-22-23) and three Randwick Plates (1921-22-24). David proved to be an outstanding sire of jumpers.
Noorilim was fit for a King and the king’s horses.
The magnificent National Trust-listed mansion—the work of renowned architect James Gall—has no equal in Victoria. It still stands in all its magnificence following a painstaking and brilliant renovation after cleaning business tycoon, art dealer and racing fan Rod Menzies bought it in 1998. It features Minton tiles, 15 marble fireplaces, 10 bedrooms, seven staircases and extensive underground living compartments and cellars.
Noorilim is named after the local Ngurai-illum Aboriginal tribe and is believed to translate to mean “many lagoons”, because the area was a natural flood plain of the lower Goulburn River before the construction of the Goulburn Weir, south at Nagambie, was completed in 1891.
The original Noorilim Run was 17,800 hectares. By the time the mansion was commissioned by William Irving Winter in 1879, this was reduced to just over 800 hectares adjoining both sides of the Goulburn, although, under Falkiner’s reign, the holding trebled.
The estate has had 11 owners in its long history and more recently has been used as a function centre for weddings and tours for the Menzies family—Rod and his son Brandon and daughter-in-law Lucy.
In 2016, the Melbourne Cup Tour visited Noorilim and, fittingly, the famous trophy was put on display in the magnificent entrance to the mansion.
Falkiner died, aged 56, in May 1929. His great stallion Comedy King died in December the same year and was buried at Noorilim, according to Brandon Menzies, behind the stable block.
However, in a twist, a few months after his death, Comedy King’s remains were exhumed and his bones sent to be displayed at the newly formed Australian Institute of Anatomy at Canberra. However, it’s unknown if Comedy King’s skeleton was ever assembled, and as recently as 2013 an attempt was made to match up boxes of equine bones at the institute to see if the great stallion can be “put back together” to stand alongside Phar Lap’s heart. It remains a work in progress.
The new Noorilim
The defined newness of Noorilim Park Thoroughbreds is evident as soon as you turn off Arcadia Road into a driveway lined with young trees that are dwarfed by the giant, ghostly river gums that are prevalent along the Goulburn River.
When Inside Breeding visited the farm in late April, everything was idyllically quiet, but as the tyres on our car crunched loudly on neatly laid crushed bluestone rock, a couple of rowdy stumpy-tail Blue Heelers sprang into life and some nearby workmen, who were diligently moving soil in front of the recently completed main house—a weatherboard in the modern colonial style—stopped at the intrusion.
The main house is on the right facing a large, airy 19-horse barn on the left, opening on to the spelling yards and broodmare paddocks, and leading along magnificent trails between ancient gum trees stretching along the banks of the Goulburn River.
Lawns are green and manicured to golf-course standard, and offer an oasis-like backdrop to the parched surrounds of country that is aching under the strain of a hot summer and a drawn-out, ultra-warm autumn that has it calling for some early winter rain.
Noorilim Park, which is just north of Murchison, was established from virgin country that was originally part of the sprawling Noorilim Run, and like the magnificent nearby Noorilim Estate, it sits on the banks of the prized Goulburn.
Noorilim Park is the “baby” of passionate racing and breeding man Peter Carrick, who worked his way from an apprentice plumber in 1972 to become owner and managing director of one of Melbourne’s biggest commercial plumbing businesses, CDC Plumbing & Drainage, whose major projects include Etihad Stadium and The Royal Children’s Hospital.
Carrick bought the 115-hectare property in 2006, and while the farm houses Carrick’s impressive band of mares, foals and yearlings, it also is run as a commercial business offering a wide range of services to the general population of broodmare and racehorse owners.
Carrick’s son Glen is Noorilim’s business manager and ex-Kiwi Sherah Sullivan runs the day-to-day operations of the farm, and does well to keep the playful dogs in check.
Noorlilim Park is one of many outstanding boutique holdings that have been developed along the Goulburn River between Seymour and Shepparton, and they dot the river’s flow north between the “big” farms such as Darley Northwood Park, Swettenham Stud, Sun Stud-Smithfield, Paringa Park, Limerick Lane (recently bought by Yulong Investments) and Dorrington Farm (ex-Wood Nook).
Glen Carrick, 33, was working with his father as a plumber in the family business, but the racing bug took control as the farm began to develop and needed a hands-on involvement while his father was busy running the business.
“I’ve always loved the horses … used to have a punt with my father. This (to work in the horse business) is a great opportunity,” he said.
Carrick said the improvements on the farm were almost complete. “We are putting the finishing touches on the new homestead and there are plans to further develop the rose garden (between the house and the stables), which will be a nice feature when people drive into the property.”
The Carricks breed from a select band of mares that includes the Stakes-winners Minaj (by Commands), Anatine (by Fastnet Rock) and Lucida (by Danehill (USA)), as well as the royally bred mares Crystalised (by Zabeel (NZ)) and Special Lover (by Pins). A recent addition to the broodmare band is Dreams And Wishes, an All Too Hard filly from a daughter of broodmare gem Procrastinate.
Most of the colts are sold at the yearling sales and selected fillies are kept to race, but generally the Carrick philosophy is to buy high-class yearling fillies in the hope of value-adding on the racetrack.
This year the Carricks will race a Fastnet Rock-Ocean Of Tears filly they bought at the Inglis Easter Yearling Sale for $650,000; and they paid $500,000 for an I Am Invincible filly, from the family of Sizzling, at the Magic Millions on the Gold Coast in January.
Noorlilim also is home to the bloodstock of leading syndicator Brad Spicer (Spicer Thoroughbreds), who uses the farm for the spelling of the near-60 horses on his books.
The Carricks returned the favour by combining with Spicer to buy a Zoustar-Bionic Girl colt (cost $360,000) at the Inglis Melbourne Premier Yearling Sale in March.
The Noorilim brand, once the leader at the yearling sales in the early 1900s, has returned to the sale ring under the Carrick banner.
Although they may not have a direct connection to the old-timers who once made this area and the Noorilim name famous, the Carricks have a level of passion and professionalism
that seems certain to breed its own success under the historic name.
The Noorilim timeline
1850s: Varying reports of Andrew Sinclair and Frederick Manton squatting on land then known as the Noorilim Run. The estate was later taken up by William Drayton Taylor
1870: After Taylor’s death, it became the property of Melbourne politician William Winter-Irving, who had married Taylor’s daughter, Frances, two years earlier.
1879: Noorilim (the house) was designed by James Gall and built for Winter-Irving.
1901 Samuel Finlay bought the farm following the death of Winter-Irving.
1917: Pastoralist Norman Falkiner bought the estate from Finlay. Falkiner died in 1929.
1930: James Tweddle, son of Goulburn Valley pioneer Joseph Tweddle, paid £40,000 for the house and 2950 hectares. Tweddle, a sheep and cattle man, had no interest in thoroughbreds.
1950s: There was talk of demolishing the run-down mansion, but the demolition company gave such an exorbitant quote, the owner replaced the roof instead of the whole building.
1975: Shepparton truck dealer and racing car driver Bryan Thomson and his wife Loel bought the property and spent 24 years on restoration of the home and garden.
1998: Bought by Rod Menzies for $3.325 million. Menzies built a winery and refurbished the house.
2010: Noorilim Estate put up for sale for a reported $10 million. A buyer couldn’t be found and it remains in the Menzies’ family under the direction of Menzies’ son Brandon and his wife Lucy. Wedding receptions and functions are held on the property. Daily tours can be made of the house and renowned botanical gardens.