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When Dimity Griffiths sits down to discuss the past six decades living in Tamarama’s iconic home Lang Syne, she paints a picture of an ordinary family life set against an extraordinary backdrop.
“I used to like the evenings when it was quiet and the kids were doing homework and I used to sit out there, and we’d have a drink on a summer’s night – it was lovely,” 82-year-old Dimity tells the AFR Weekend.
‘Out there’ is one of Australia’s best front yards, located on the headland between Tamarama Beach and Mackenzies Bay along Sydney’s famed Bondi to Bronte coastal walk.
Now, the breathtaking block is for sale for the first time in 63 years, with price expectations of more than $50 million. Sitting on an 1100-square-metre level block overlooking Tamarama, the home is expected to eclipse the eastern beaches price record which sits at $29.2 million for a block half the size on nearby Kenneth Street.
After arriving at the low-set 1920s bungalow as a young bride with a suitcase, Dimity Griffiths never envisaged she would spend the next 60 years in the same spot: “I never dreamt when I first came here, I would end up here.”
Dimity recalls her very first visit to the Gaerloch Avenue address, travelling across the Harbour Bridge from her home in Pymble to attend a party hosted by homeowner and radio funnyman Harry Griffiths. Her rationale for travelling across Sydney: “You never know who you might meet – you can’t afford to miss a party.”
After a follow-up date at the American Club on Macquarie Street, Harry quickly fell for the young TAA airline hostess – and the pair got married in 1963. Dimity had no reservations trading the leafy north shore for the excitement of the east: “I made that break, I came over, and it opened up a new world because everything happened in this area,” Dimity says.
By that time, Harry was a well-known radio identity after his early success in McCackie Mansions alongside Roy “Mo” Rene which commenced in 1947. On the show, Mo would tell his son, played by Griffiths, to ‘Cop this, Young Harry’ – which soon became a national catchphrase. Harry’s career also covered television and advertising, including stints hosting Channel 7 variety show Sydney Tonight and a position as the first television producer for ad giant George Pattersons.
Harry and Dimity went on to raise four children - two girls and two boys - in their idyllic beachside home. Dimity recalls one of her biggest daily challenges was getting the children out of the waves and home to eat, so she devised her own lunchtime alarm – which proved hugely embarrassing for her eldest son.
“I started to use a triangle, from an orchestra, and I’m out there standing out there dinging away at this thing. Well, he came up and said ‘don’t do that!’ I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘the boys down there, all the gang say: there’s your mother again!’ then he said, other people leave – they think it’s a shark alarm! ”
In the heart of so-called Glamarama, Dimity and Harry’s daily lives centred around their four children and later their twelve grandchildren. Daughters Amelia and Sarah, who were present for the conversation, both interject with fond memories of their upbringing in what is now one of the most coveted blocks of land on Australia’s east coast.
“Even though it feels historic, it’s a family home, we could have as many friends as we wanted over, and it was not a strict formal upbringing – it was relaxed and loving,” says Amelia, whose favourite childhood memories include eating pancakes before running to the beach, making mud pies and endless sleepovers with neighbourhood friends.
Throughout the conversation, Lang Syne is variously referred to as the heart and anchor of the family. Eldest daughter Sarah says the home’s gravitational pull was a mix of the superb location and her parent’s hospitality and warmth.
“Mum was a very good entertainer, and made it casual. Mum could just drop everything and easily get a big lunch together. I think now of how you would just rustle up these big meals constantly for hoards of hungry people from the beach. Our weekend barbecues – they were quite legendary. ”
Harry personally designed the oversized barbecue complete with customised wind breaks. “He wanted the wall at the back of it to protect everything, the plates and the food from the wind - and he wasn’t going to be serving up cold steaks” smiles Dimity, who says the home has been ‘party central’ over the years – hosting numerous children’s birthdays, 21sts and family engagements.
Sarah says her father Harry, who passed away in 2014 at age 87, was the life of those parties. “Dad just loved being at the barbecue, regaling family and friends with great stories dressed in his trademark chequered apron and hat. The afternoons would drift into the evenings and no one wanted to leave.”
The only unwelcome thing in this home was sand – Dimity’s abrasive beachside nemesis, “people don’t realise that when all the sand comes off on the carpets, it actually wears carpets out.”
According to family research, the house’s name and design were borrowed from a similar property overlooking Gare Loch, north-west of Glasgow. The Scottish design turned out to be an unlikely fit for coastal Australia, with the sturdy build, complete with interior wood-panelled walls, proving a robust match for almost 100 years of buffeting coastal winds.
The property is defined by its interplay with nature, with the best spot determined by the time of day and direction of the breeze - from crisp easterlies to dramatic westerlies. Dimity counts dolphins, whales, occasional penguins and a local seal among her nomadic neighbours.
It’s this proximity to the natural world so close to the heart of Sydney that makes this property such a desirable offering. Selling agent Ken Jacobs, of Forbes Global Properties says the listing has been met with local and international interest. “We’re getting strong interest from expats overseas in the UK, the US and Hong Kong. It’s such an iconic home and so many people know it, walk past it and admire it.”
Jacobs says the house, which was built in 1924 by boot maker George Wolf and bought by Griffiths in 1959, is peerless regarding its size and panoramic views. “When you go back to 1921 when the subdivision was done, there was the whole choice of the coastline, and that was the premium spot - it’s on its own peninsula.” The property has only one neighbour, and sits across three titles with zoning that would allow for duplexes, but not apartments.
Dimity says she is sad to say goodbye to the family home, but remains pragmatic about selling: “Everybody’s grown up, you move on, and I’ve just accepted the change,” adding, “I just think back over the years that we’ve been here, and it’s always been happy times.”
While the family agrees it’s time to pass the baton, the children approach the final farewell with unsurprising emotion. Second-eldest daughter Amelia says she’ll miss the rugged beauty of the timeless retreat. “The world changes, there are pressures in the outside world – but when you shut the gate here, it’s just peaceful and beautiful.”
The property’s Scottish name refers to times gone by - and whether the house endures or is erased, it’s a fitting title for the three generations of the Griffiths family who will fondly remember their happy lang syne.