Bonsai Boomerang

Sun Herald

Sunday July 12, 1998

BY SUSAN OWEN

Built by music publisher Frank Albert in 1927, the landmark Sydney house Boomerang has been re-created in miniature.

SALLY Mount in leggings and muddy trainers sprints into focus. Labrador panting at her heels, personal trainer puffing at her side.

"Hello", she says. The smile is winning. The smile of a former model, Paris based. Chanel, Givenchy, Versace.

"I'm sorry, I just can't shake hands. Let me take a shower first." Bags of style, despite the mud and sweat. At just 34, she's mistress of Boomerang, the most important house in Sydney still in private hands.

"Go inside and see," she says, leading me away from the house. "I've recreated the main house in the garage. It's my 'Mini Boomerang'. I'll send over my butler with coffee."

Welcome to Boomerang, circa 1998.

Fast cars (dark blue Ferrari, green Bentley). Fast fitness (a personal trainer). Fast boats (his 65ft Riva; her birthday present - a 34ft Cabriolet Royal canvas-topped speedboat, currently having a mechanised canvas roof fitted.) And fast work. Mini Boomerang was installed in the garage in just 12 months. It took a giant effort and buckets of money, patience and resolve as craftsmen were found to reproduce parquet floors, stone walls, plaster friezes and cornices, arched windows, an iron staircase and bevelled glass and carved doors.

Frank Albert, music publisher, who made his fortune from sheet music, built the landmark pink-stuccoed waterfront mansion in 1927. Back then it cost him $60,000.

His elegant taste was satisfied by formal gardens, playing fountains, colonnades, a mosaic-tiled portico, swimming pool and deep-water jetty. Oh, and a 22-seat underground cinema with plush velvet chairs for chums. The garage? Room for six cars, equipped with a mechanic's pit, petrol pump and digs upstairs for grease monkeys.

Sally has reinvented the garage, first as her own office-cum-retreat downstairs, and as an apartment for friends and family upstairs.

"We had made the decision to leave Hong Kong, to live either in Sydney or Canada. One day we were walking through Elizabeth Bay when I saw the house," she says. "I had to have it, even though it wasn't for sale at the time."

With a little persistence they were eventually able to see it. "Inside it was 100 times better than I had ever imagined."

The deal was done in November 96. It cost Duncan Mount, an expatriate Hong Kong funds manager, $15 million.

"It is a very large house," Sally agrees, "but so is a family of six". They have four daughters - Alexandra, 14, Camilla, 10, Jamilla, 6, and Olivia, 4.

Duncan, who has opened a Sydney office for the Hony Kong-Canadian investment company CEF/TAL Investments, suggested his wife turn the garage into a guest house.

She wanted the integrity of Boomerang in the garage. If she was going to construct a junior version, it had to be done properly.

Scouring not only Sydney, but corners of Australia, and taking advice from friends in London, Sally put together a team of craftsmen who could replicate every aspect of the Spanish mission-style house.

On Billyard Avenue, Elizabeth Bay, the deep-blue garage door has a surprise in store for passers-by lucky enough to see it rise - like a curtain on a set. They are treated to a glimpse of the stone exterior wall, the arched windows, wooden double doors with bevelled glass and two 18th century columns.

This is the entrance to Sally's office. The flat is upstairs. Her personality shines through in the downstairs office where a favoured French commode and a 19th-century desk remind her of living in Paris.

These are juxtaposed with a contemporary lounge by Mark Brazier Jones, a friend in London. "He calls it his Java couch," she says.

The lounge now sits atop the former mechanic's pit, a small feature of the room, covered with toughened frosted glass lit from below.

"I like to think this was redecorated, not rebuilt," says Sally. "It looks very modern, but I haven't lost things like the pit and I have kept the petrol bowser. I think it's fun."

With the exception of the kitchen, the new construction mirrors the house - the modern furniture creating a different ambience.

Parquet floors with elegant black borders are laid throughout and replicate the unusual patterning of the floors in the house.

Atop the stone walls in the apartment the frieze matches those in the house.

The substantial cedar doors, one of the loveliest features in the house, were originally carved with a detailed rose pattern. Sally searched for a carpenter prepared to copy the doors and eventually came across Italian company Ceivardis who hand-carved the replicas.

The iron staircase in the flat leads upstairs to two bedrooms, a bathroom, the sitting room and kitchen.

In the centre of the upstairs ceiling is a dome with a frieze around it, just as in the centre hall in Boomerang, but scaled down.

Sally has furnished the room with plush cream sofas, a modern glass coffee table and round dining room table with sage-green suede high-backed chairs. The corner kitchen, the only concession to the 21st century, is finished with burr walnut and black marble counter.

The bathroom is perhaps her biggest achievement. Boomerang's original bathroom tiles, imported from America, have a highglaze finish with tiny exploding crystals. Easy to find? "I tried America without success, eventually I found a local ceramicist who agreed to make them," explains Sally.

"But he was never able to fully discover the technique and hundreds were lost in the firing during many attempts. I rather wonder if he'll ever speak to me again.

"This is my retreat. It's my only escape. With such a lot of maintenance, there is always someone in the house. Always someone who needs an answer. Here only one of the six phone lines can ring."

Boomerang remained in the Albert family for 53 years, but after the death of Mr Albert the family preferred not to move in. It remained empty until it was sold in 1979 to oil recycler Peter Burnett for $1.25 million.

It was later owned by bookmaker Mark Read, who paid $3 million for it 1982, and later by film entrepreneur Peter Fox, who died when his Ferrari hit a tree at Kempsey.

The Mounts bought the house from Nati Stoliar, who had bought it for $6.6. million from Perth-based developer Warren Anderson, who paid $5.1 million in 1985.

As chatelaine of Sydney's most significant house, Sally Mount has her hands full. Mark, her butler, returns for his next duty.

"Time to leave for your appointment," he says. Sally steps into the Bentley. An appointment with travel planner Warwick Vyner, of Traveltwo, awaits.

© 1998 Sun Herald

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