The McCraith 'Butterfly' House gives wing to exceptional creative works

The McCraith 'Butterfly' House gives wing to exceptional creative works

A historic house on Port Phillip Bay offers a peaceful retreat for writers and artists alike, including RMIT’s first graduate residency prize winners, who will take up residencies as programs resume.

The heritage listed McCraith House is also the subject of a short film by comedian Tim Ross, who captures a slice of family life in the seaside residence, drawn from extensive archival footage. 

Affectionately known as the ‘Butterfly House’ for its unique geometric design, McCraith House has been providing residencies to independent writers and visual artists through RMIT’s Writing and Publishing and INTERSECT programs and other partnerships.

Now, the Graduating Student Residency Prizes are giving two exceptional graduates an opportunity to immerse themselves in ongoing creative projects in the secluded environment of McCraith House, including Bachelor of Arts (Creative Writing) graduate Logan Ramsay and Bachelor of Arts (Fine Art) (Honours) graduate Hootan Heydari.

The house was gifted to RMIT by descendants of its original owners in 2013. The house was gifted to RMIT by descendants of its original owners in 2013.

A landmark of Melbourne’s experimental post-war modern architecture, McCraith House was commissioned by Gerald and Ellen ‘Nell’ McCraith and designed by modernist masters,and RMIT alumni, Chancellor and Patrick in 1955.

Gifted to RMIT by descendants of its original owners in 2013, the Dromana property has since been carefully restored by the University, which engaged alumnus architect Peter Elliott for the process.

The RMIT Culture team is responsible for delivering the University’s McCraith House Artists and Writers in Residency program and for creating spaces and programs for the whole community such as The Capitol and the Design Hub Gallery.

Head of Cultural and Public Engagement Paula Toal said RMIT was proud to be the custodian of this treasured house and program that had enabled wonderful creative endeavours to be hatched by artists and writers.

“We look forward to seeing many of these projects come to fruition and to curating residencies at McCraith House alongside our other wonderful cultural spaces,” Toal said.

RMIT Graduating Student Residency Prize winner, Logan Ramsay . RMIT Graduating Student Residency Prize winner, Logan Ramsay .

Graduate prize recipient Logan Ramsay undertook his residency prior to the COVID-19 restrictions, in March, to complete his visual and poetic project, City of Streams, describing the experience as a much-needed suspension of time.

"A diving bell of clouds and bay to let the craft breathe — I was able to inhale deeply, surging in final edit waves for City of Streams my interactive poetry collection, available online shortly," he said.

Fellow prize winner Hootan Heydari is set to take up his residency at the end of the year, saying he looked forward to immersing himself in his project, Yeki Bood Yeki Nabood (There Was One, There Wasn’t One/Once Upon a Time).

“I am grateful to have been awarded an artist residency at McCraith House, with this rare opportunity being even more significant due to these uncertain times,” he said.

Graduating Student Residency Prize winner, Hootan Heydari. Graduating Student Residency Prize winner, Hootan Heydari.

McCraith House will also provide sanctuary to independent artists and writers later in 2020 including writer and co-founder of Behind the Wire, an oral history project documenting experiences of immigration detention, Andre Dao; acclaimed Aboriginal poet, Windham Campbell; literary prize winner, Ali Cobby Eckermann; and visual artists Stephanie Misa and Francesca Pietropaolo.

For others McCraith House has left a lasting legacy, with Vietnamese writer and editor (and Australia Council Future Leader) Hung Duong working on his first novel during his recent stay, and RMIT Associate Dean, Writing and Publishing Francesca Rendle-Short recalling the property’s part in strengthening respect for cultural heritage. 

“Writers formed a circle to walk through the billowing smoke of eucalyptus leaves for the Smoking Ceremony and poet and Yankunytjatjara/Kokatha woman Ali Cobby Eckermann cooked kangaroo tails in a fire pit,” she said. 

This Welcome to Country deepened our collective understanding and awareness of and respect for the Boon Wurrung and Bunurong language groups of the Kulin Nation, the unceded land and country on which we were standing, that stretches across the Mornington Peninsula, French and Phillip Islands, and down to Wilson’s Promontory.

The house is home to RMIT Culture’s writers and artists in residence program. The house is home to RMIT Culture’s writers and artists in residence program.

Most recently, comedian Tim Ross has explored the architectural significance of McCraith House in a new cinematic show about why architecture matters, Designing A Legacy.

Ross’s short film presentation features the McCraith family’s beachside home movies taken while holidaying in the house, capturing life in their modern masterpiece in the seaside suburb of Dromana.

The donation of the house included an archive of correspondence, drawings, photographs, specifications and film now held in the RMIT Design Archive, ensuring the story behind the design and construction of the landmark property remains available to future generations of design professionals.

In all, the Butterfly House has given expression to a range of artistic endeavours and has previously hosted several creative residencies through partnerships with the Lifted Brow, Australian Writers’ Guild and programs such as WrICE Writers and Women Writers in the City.

The residency program is currently on hold in line with recent government advice to implement a shutdown of all non-essential activity across the state to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Story by: Georgie Martin and Ali Barker


  • Media & Communication
  • Indigenous
  • Arts and culture
  • PEG
  • Indigenous Australia

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Acknowledgement of Country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.