De Kerilleau's scandal, secrets part of past

IT started with an innocent enough question — but pretty quickly, Jenny O’Donnell found herself winding down the rabbit hole of Wodonga’s pioneer past.

The Melbourne woman’s intrigue led to her writing a whole book on one of the city’s only remaining homesteads, De Kerilleau and its founding family, the Huons, launched last night at Wodonga Library.

Her work began nine months ago when she was helping an author friend with his research into Victoria’s cast-iron lace-work and their travels brought them to De Kerilleau.

Determined to discover the maker of the lace-work — the style of which is “very rare” in Melbourne and not found in any other country town — led Ms O’Donnell to further research the house itself, built in 1870 by William Huon.

But history has a way of turning up surprises — Ms O’Donnell discovered that, among other things, William Huon’s grandfather was Gabriel Louis Marie Huon de Kerilleau, a French nobleman who travelled under a false identity with the Second Fleet in 1794.

Not only that, but he married a convict woman.

“It would have been an appalling scandal,” Ms O’Donnell said.

“The De Kerilleau name hadn’t been used until William Huon named the homestead.”

Unfortunately Ms O’Donnell never did manage to find the answer to her initial question of who made that astonishingly unique lace-work ... but in the end, it hardly mattered.

“The main thing was that it was enormous fun,” she said.

“Ferreting through old Border Mail records, the archives at the State Library ... the hunt is the thing.”

The book, The Huon Family and De Kerilleau Homestead, is available from the Wodonga Historical Society for $10.

Proceeds will go to the historical society.

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