WHISTLEWOOD and its 5 hectares of land has been the McCulloch family’s home since 1951. The front section of the weatherboard cottage was built in the 1870s by Samuel Tuck, son of Henry Tuck one of the first white settlers of the Flinders Mornington Peninsula region. It was the second house to be built on the land following a fire that demolished an earlier 1830s house. For the next 60 years it remained in the Tuck family as first a potato, and then dairy farm. The original house comprised three main rooms (the front central rooms and verandah remain as the entrance and core of today’s house) and a small semi detached kitchen.
In the 1930s, Whistlewood was the holiday house of architect Charles Smart (of Bates Smart) and his family. The Smarts altered the configuration of the house, moving the original front door to the side, removing a few internal walls and adding a sitting room to one side and a bedroom to the other.
In 1951, on their return from living in the US and Europe, Ellen & Alan McCulloch bought the house as their permanent home. It remains as such by its current owners art writer, curator and publisher Susan McCulloch OAM and her daughter curator and writer Emily McCulloch Childs.
In 1951 Arthur Boyd and Alan built Alan’s studio adjacent to the house. This 6 x 7 metre wooden building with its wonderful southerly rural views remains a working studio today, along with many books, artworks, memorabilia and other items of artistic interest. The vast Alan McCulloch archive of more than 6000 letters, manuscripts and other material that spanned more than 60 years of Australian art was formerly housed in the studio. In the 2000s it was acquired by the State Library of Victoria where it forms one of their most significant visual arts archives - open to all to access.
Whistlewood has been a much-visited destination for much of the Australian art and literary world since the 1950s.
Hundreds of artists, writers, academics, actors, dancers, directors and many others have been visitors or regular guests at Whistlewood. Susan McCulloch’s 1950s, 60s and 70s photographs show artists including John Perceval, Arthur Boyd, Godfrey Miller, Guelda Pyke, Dorothy Braund, John Brack and their families as well as Nina and Clem Christesen and many others at Whistlewood. Of equal import has been the wide range of local friends who have shared many decades of friendship and socialising including regular (and fiercely fought) tennis matches of high standard, woolshed parties, table tennis matches and sharing work on each other's properties.
International visitors included Susan’s godparents Oscar and Dorothy Hammerstein, the entire cast and crew of the New York City Ballet, art critic Clement Greenberg, Voice of America broadcaster William Winter, the artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser and numerous others.
Alan McCulloch AO was founding director of the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, founding author of the Encyclopedia of Australian Art and a number of other books as well as a highly influential art critic for more than 60 years. He received an Order of Australia (A0) and an honorary Doctorate of Laws. Ellen McCulloch (1908-1991) was an Australian-born actress and businesswoman had starred in one of Australia’s first talking films in the 1930s before leaving for the US where she lived for 16 years, becoming a US citizen and manager for Elizabeth Arden.
In 1948 she and Alan married in NYC, having travelled across America in an event-filled trip related in Alan McCulloch’s subsequent book Highway Forty. After living in New York for some time, the couple then went to Paris and undertook an equally epic tandem bicycle journey from Paris to Positano, (related in the 1950s book Trial by Tandem) where they lived for a year before going to London where Susan was born, then returning to Melbourne and thence to the Peninsula. They died within 18 months of each other in 1991 and 1992. In 1991, Susan and Emily inherited Whistlewood and undertook many renovations and changes to the land, clearing its pine forests and planting more than 500 indigenous trees.
Whistlewood and its artistic heritage has featured in several exhibitions relating to artists on the Peninsula at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery. Today, the activities and spirit of Whistlewood as an art consultancy and private gallery remains very much as it always has for the last six decades – a showcase and repository for art and all those interested in it as well as a hub of working creativity.
Above: Ellen McCulloch, Alan McCulloch, Albert Tucker at Whistlewood c. 1961. (Photograph, Susan McCulloch)