History

Bethany 1915

Maitripa Centre was originally Bethany Guesthouse, built a century ago, at a time when Healesville was famous around Australia as a health resort. Bethany was one of the bigger guesthouses, with in-house entertainment provided by a billiards room, tennis court, and above all, do-it-yourself indoor fun, including singing round the piano, cards, dancing in the upper hall, plus a reading room with the latest novels.

One of the major attractions was fresh farm produce; all the dairy you could eat, produced on the property, on the farm paddock below. For vitamin-starved city folk, that was a treat. So well known was Bethany that it was much used for conferences, such as a 1939 conference of young scientists from all over Australia.

After the railway from Melbourne reached Healesville in 1889, the guesthouses boomed, and were built further and further out, in the most scenic spots, which house guests often walked to, or hired a horse-drawn drag taking as many as a dozen guests. When the Melbourne train pulled in, Bethany’s proprietors always had a horse drawn coach at the station.

On weekends, Bethany and the other local guesthouses took turns to hold tennis tournaments and sing-alongs. By 1931 talkies were screened at the Healesville theatre, one of the quickest to install the latest technology, which became a regular venue on Saturdays. On Sundays guests would stroll down to the local church.

Bethany had a close escape from bushfire in 1926 and again in 2009. On both occasions, plenty of water was available from Myers Creek, only a short stream, but one that has never ceased running, even in drought, from its source high in the rich red volcanic soils of Toolangi.

In the great Depression of the 1930s, many people in need of a holiday could no longer afford it, but Thora Wortley, Bethany’s proprietor for decades, had a compassionate heart. Not only did she let the poor stay free, she even on occasion paid their rail fares to Healesville.

After WWII, as Australians got richer, people could easily drive further afield, or afford to holiday on the Gold Coast, and Healesville’s guesthouse era dwindled. Bethany closed as a guesthouse in 1963. Miraculously, all the buildings have survived.

Around 1990, it was bought by devotees of the Hindu teacher Bubba Free John, who, in 1996, sold the property to Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche, who established Maitripa Centre.

 

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