Buda historic house and garden in Castlemaine contains a rich legacy of the creative spirit of the Leviny Family, who lived there for over 118 years.
The Leviny daughters were encouraged to pursue their artistic interests at a time when women were being given more opportunities to study art and take up careers. They worked across a range of media including painting, woodcarving, metalwork, needlework and photography.
It was largely due to the foresight of last surviving sister, Hilda, that Buda was preserved as a house and garden museum when she sold the property to the Castlemaine Art Gallery in 1970. Her sisters, Mary and Kate, left a broader civic legacy through their involvement in establishing the Castlemaine Art Gallery in 1913, and assisting with the development of the gallery’s fine collection of prints in the late 1920s.
Text adapted from the booklet Buda and the Leviny Family, Lauretta Zilles (2011)
NARRATOR: The Leviny girls had a love of nature and beautiful things instilled in them by their parents. They were all taught needlework from an early age and encouraged in their artistic pursuits. A good education for young middle-class women in those days included the learning of languages, music, and drawing, amongst other things. These were desirable accomplishments for acceptance into certain circles of society.
Ernest Leviny was a Hungarian silversmith and jeweler who came to Castlemaine in 1853 to mine for gold. Though his mining efforts did not directly yield him great wealth, his business in the central market square prospered, allowing him to invest in property and shares. His returns elevated him to a position of status as one of the wealthiest gentleman in Castlemaine by the time of his death in 1905.
Buda was built in 1861 by a Baptist missionary, Reverend James Smith, who had retired with his family to Castlemaine from service in India. He originally named the house Delhi Villa, the design of which had been based on an Indian bungalow to suit Australian conditions. Ernest Leviny purchased the house in 1863. And it became the Leviny's family home when he married Bertha Hudson from Launceston, Tasmania in December of 1964.
Two generations of the Leviny family were to reside at Buda for 118 years. The Levinys had 10 children, all born in the house between 1866 and 1883. Five of the daughters remained unmarried and spent most of their lives at Buda.
The Leviny daughters were raised during an era when many changes were occurring in society. This included a change in attitude towards women entering higher education. The gaining of professional qualifications opened up opportunities for women to join the workforce. The question of women's suffrage was on the political agenda, as well as the Federation of Australia, together with a growing spirit of nationalism and pride in being an Australian.
After their father died in 1905, the Leviny women launched into redecorating the house, removing much of the heavy Victorian-style drapes and fittings, replacing then with simpler, more modern fixtures and furnishings. In the late 1890s and early 1900s, the effects of the British arts and crafts movement picked up momentum in the teaching of decorative arts in Australia. All of the Leviny girls attended classes at the School of Mines in either Castlemaine or Bendigo.
Both Mary, the eldest, and Dorothy were taught art by Arthur T. Woodward in Bendigo, who was a great proponent of the arts and crafts methods and philosophy. It was probably him who introduced them to "The Studio" magazine, which the Leviny women subscribed to and other books and periodicals relating to the movement. The arts and crafts movement was a major influence on the Leviny women's hand-crafted items, including needlework, wood carving, metal work, photography, and interior decorations, which were used to adorn their home.
The Levinys were socially advantaged women of independent means due to their father's financial position. They were under no particular pressure to marry or earn a living, but Dorothy and Hilda did work for a living at various times. This independence gave them the freedom to pursue their creative interests and remain in the family home for the duration of their lives.