About Pirra

Brief History


1856                               Robert De Little, an architect and builder from Launceston, purchases the original Pirra landholdings at a Crown land auction in Geelong.


1863                               George Fairbairn senior, one of Australia’s most prosperous pastoralists, later to become one of the pioneers of Australia’s frozen meat export trade, purchased the Pirra landholdings from De Little and established a sheep station.


                                        The Fairbairn family owned, expanded and farmed the property until 1907. The property nearly trebled in size to 3389 acres over this period.


The homestead was originally known as “Woodlands” and the location as Duck Ponds. By 1880 the name of the property had changed to “Windermere” and the location to Lara.


                                        On the death of George Fairbairn senior in 1895, Pirra was inherited by his son George Fairbairn junior and wife Jessie. They lived in Toorak and used Pirra as their getaway. Social life at Pirra, including cricket, croquet and tennis, flourished at this time. 


1907                               The Pirra landholdings were sold to the Government in accordance with the Closer Settlement Act of 1904.


                                       The Lara Inebriates Institution was established by Order-in-Council dated 21 June 1907 on 637 acres of the Fairbairn estate including the homestead, outbuildings and gardens. The institution operated until 1930.


1938                               Pirra was sold to James Dougal McDonald of Euroa. He grew crops and ran sheep. The McDonald family lived in the mansion.


1946                               McDonald leased the former Inebriates Dormitory to the States Tobacco Company for use as a tobacco processing factory. The factory closed two years later.


1948                               Oscar and Edna Mendelsohn purchased the property and renamed it “Serendip”, meaning “happy place”.


                                        A Pelaco clothing factory replaced the tobacco factory.


                                        A commercial almond orchard was established and the large water reservoir was proclaimed a sanctuary for protection of birdlife.


1959                               The 600 acres surrounding the water reservoir was sold to the State Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. This is now Serendip Sanctuary.


                                        The remaining 37 acre homestead was taken over by the Social Welfare Department.


1961                               The Pirra Girls’ Home was established in the mansion house and nearby buildings – and the property soon became known simply as “Pirra”.


1983                               The Pirra Girls’ Home was closed and the property leased to Rex Keogh and Geoff Dombrain.  They established accommodation for themselves and invited artists.


1996                               The property, now 16.4 acres, was sold to Rex Keogh. He continued to use it as a home for artists and as special community-based accommodation for a limited number of people with disabilities.


2006                               Pirra was purchased by Lara businessman Lino Bisinella with plans to restore the mansion house to its former glory.


2012                               The restoration project, undertaken in close consultation with Heritage Victoria and costing well over $2 million, was completed.