The property is famous, its owner Keith Rous, aka the “Aussie Earl”, is cheekily infamous. Now the two are to part ways, EVERARD HIMMELREICH reports.
THERE’S no sign that the feisty Sixth Earl of Stradbroke, formerly of Dundonnell near Mortlake, is losing any of his eccentricity despite soon reaching the age of 78.
The “Aussie Earl,” whose other name is Keith Rous, is selling up his massive 5900-hectare (14,600-acre) Dundonnell property, the Mount Fyans aggregation.
But is sure to still stir up trouble at his home in Melbourne and at his English estate, Henham Park, in Suffolk.
Apart from his expansive landholdings, Mr Rous also has an extensive family of 15 children from two wives and is unashamedly proud of his virility.
“I’ve put out a lot of sperm,” he declares with the love for causing outrage for which he is famous.
Such is his pride in his virility that he has adopted the figure of a minotaur with a large penis as his mascot.
He believes the mascot has brought him luck and has a 1.5-tonne sculpture of it at his property in Hawthorn in Melbourne.
He is keen to get an even larger one made about 2.47 metres high (nine feet), also similarly endowed, to take to his English estate.
He concedes the sculpture would “piss some people off” but said it would be great advertising for the estate’s efforts to be a wedding venue.
With such antics, Mr Rous could be seen as another batty English aristocrat.
However, that would not give credit to the man who battled against dyslexia and poor education to be wealthy in his own right before he received his “wretched” English title when he was in his late forties.
Mr Rous came to Australia when he was 19 after being kicked out of the prestigious Harrow school for running a betting racket involving his classmates.
He said he only got into Harrow because an ex-boyfriend of his mother got him enrolled without passing any exams.
Mr Rous said leaving England for Australia was the best thing he had done.
While he might not have been well educated, Mr Rous knew how to make money and put that to good use in Australia, working at everything from selling encyclopaedias to collecting rents and working on building sites on weekends.
He invested in real estate in Brisbane and Sydney and in 1977 moved to farm on a large property in NSW’s New England Tablelands.
He makes light of his prowess in real estate, saying the wealth it brought him “was not my fault”.
“I kept buying property and it kept increasing in value.”
Mr Rous inherited his title in 1983 after other two heirs in England died within days of each other.
The inheritance was a mixed blessing, coming with a bill for £4 million in death duties and financial challenges facing the family’s large (3500-acre) Henham Park estate.
On top of that was a cousin esconced on the estate and refusing to leave.
Facing a long court battle to get occupancy, Mr Rous decided on a much quicker method to get his cousin out.
He challenged him to a shooting duel.
The cousin declined and Mr Rous had the keys to the estate.
He set about restoring the historic estate that has since become a popular venue for the annual Latitude music festival as well as other public events and visitor accommodation.
Back in Australia, a drought in New England prompted Mr Rous and his family to buy Mount Fyans in 1989.
“It had fabulous water and a lovely old homestead,” Mr Rous said.
He progressively enlarged his holdings during his 26 years at Mount Fyans, acquiring surrounding former soldier settlement blocks as they became available.
It had proven to be an ideal place to raise children who had given him a lot of enjoyment, he said.
His children were hard-working and include Henham, named after the family’s English estate, who with his wife Celia oversees work on Mount Fyans, and Hektor, who manages Henham Estate in England.
Mr Rous’ achievements on the Mount Fyans aggregation include installing about a 90-kilometre network of five-centimetre pipe across the property so his cattle and sheep have easy access to water.
The property has an estimated carrying capacity of between 65,000 and 70,000 dry sheep equivalents (DSE) and carries a renowned black Angus herd of about 2800 breeders as well about 2000 breeding ewes for prime lamb production.
Mr Rous’ delight in water also prompted him to create a lake covering more than six hectares at Mount Fyans, following on from the large lake he created at Henham Park.
He expects to again visit Henham Park after Mount Fyans is sold but says England to him is a great place to visit, but not to live.
Mr Rous, a child the Second World War, said England was good at “winning the wars but it loses the peaces”.
Mr Rous and his wife Rosie have spent their time between Mount Fyans and Melbourne for the past few years as they have sought treatment for their youngest son, Ramsar, who has autism.
He said the decision to sell Mount Fyans was prompted by the couple’s desire to help Ramsar reach his potential and they had moved to Melbourne to give him access to more professional help.
His family had been happy on Mount Fyans but “everything comes to an end,” Mr Rous said.
He hoped the huge property would sell as one lot, but otherwise it will be broken up.
Media reports suggest a $40 million price tag. It is being offered for sale on a “walk in, walk out” basis, with expressions of interest invited by Friday, April 24.