In the 1950s Gerald and Nell McCraith built an iconic house on the Mornington Peninsula. Here they share their family’s inspiring story.
Their daughter Lois Dixon-Ward, and granddaughters Bin and Kerryn, donated the house along with a scholarship to RMIT.
Lois (daughter): “The story for how we came to donate my parents’ holiday house to RMIT begins during WWII. Towards the end of the war, there was a shortage of food in Europe and across the world – and a rabbit plague in Australia.
My father, Gerald McCraith, was given permission to leave the army to start a rabbit trapping business with his brother. They established a network of rabbit trappers across the country – I remember my father describing the trappers as “men that didn’t necessarily want to be found” – but he was helping people who needed work.
Dad and his brother were very entrepreneurial. They set up other businesses to freight the rabbits back to Melbourne in freezers and then ship them to the UK and Europe. The business was successful. One year, they exported a million rabbits.
My parents Gerald and Nell came through the Depression and the World Wars – that affected them. Helping others was always a thread that ran through our family. That thread of generosity was something that influenced our decision to donate the house to RMIT.”
Bin (granddaughter): “During the war, Pa was transferred out of his unit to the Signals group stationed at Larrakeyah near Darwin. He missed out on being sent to Singapore – all the men in his unit were captured and ended up as prisoners of war in Changi.
So when the war ended, for those war veterans that survived, Pa made sure they had work in his business. He kept in mind their sacrifice and he wanted to help them.
In 1954 my grandparents built a holiday house in Dromana and called it Larrakeyah, the name of the Indigenous people of Darwin and the place where Pa was stationed in WWII. It was designed by David Chancellor of Chancellor and Patrick Architects and is now heritage listed. When Mum inherited the house, we decided to donate it to an institution interested in architecture and design.
Our family had many connections to RMIT. Pa did some business courses here when it was the Working Men’s College. One of the architects of the house had studied here. I did my undergraduate study here and now I am doing my PhD here. So it just felt like all of these things were leading us to RMIT.
What I like about RMIT is that it’s not the hallowed halls and the ivory tower. It’s very grounded in the city, it’s grounded in people’s working lives at lots of different levels – there’s no pretention.”
Kerryn: “We decided to donate the house to RMIT, as well as scholarships to support art and architecture students. We are very excited to see the writers who have stayed in the house as part of RMIT’s Writers in Residence program – Hannie Rayson, Carrie Tiffany, as well as international writers like Dai Fan from China.
We chose a scholarship to support art and design students because of the way the house has had an impact on us. Design can seem frivolous in people’s lives, but it’s actually fundamental. Creating a great space can have an impact – how you build a space that’s not only beautiful, but beautiful to use.
You can see that in the house at Dromana – it makes you think about the expansive view of the bay – not of sweeping the floors or what’s for dinner. It makes you think, “Oh, wow!” Both our grandparents had to leave school at 14 to help support their families. They wanted to help us, and other people to be educated, because they never got that chance.
We recognise that through everything, our family has been so lucky. We’ve given these gifts because we want others to have that same opportunity that we’ve had.”