Auction staff were gearing up for a long day at the office at Huntly near Canberra on Sunday with only one 10thof the 450 items up for sale as part of the John Gale Collection sold by the end of the first hour.
Despite a virtuoso performance by Leonard Joel auctioneer John Albrecht, who warned punters to swarm the sausage stand early as he feared the stock might not last the distance, the result fell far short of the 80 to 100 items per hour run rate the company was chasing.
Victorian furniture, rare original artworks and exquisite silverware were just some the items collected over more than half a century by John Gale during during his six decades at Huntly.
"Some things will go `like that' while other items will take a while," one Leonard Joel team member had predicted.
The latter dominated during the first hour and by 11am only a handful of the solid silver items that were expected to attract the strongest national and international interest had been sold.
These included a fetching pair of cut crystal bowls on silver mounts with a combined weight of 1476 grams that sold 10 per cent above estimate for $2200.
David Coulter, the nephew of Huntly's long-term custodian, John Gale, who arrived from Perth in October to help prepare for the sale, watched the proceedings with mixed emotions.
"It hit me on Thursday, when all the work [to get ready for the home contents auction] was done," he said.
"it definitely does mark the end of an era. It will be very difficult for a new owner to match the generosity and community spirit John has shown the Canberra community over many decades."
Mr Coulter, who grew up in Perth, remembers visiting Huntly as a young boy.
"There was always the river," he said. "I can also remember the house as it was before the extensions that have made it what it is today."
He noted that many of the 300 flesh and blood bidders were locals and said it was gratifying many of the treasures would be staying in the area. About 400 people from across Australia and around the world also participated by phone and on the Internet.
The Gale family company originally purchased Huntly in 1956 and John Gale was the only family member to live there permanently.
Mr Gale took an active interest in what was then a small and close knit Canberra cultural scene, soon emerging as a patron of the arts and a member and then life member of the National Trust ACT.
Thousands of Canberrans were able to experience the homestead and its heritage listed gardens over many years thanks to his willingness to open it as a fund-raiser for the trust and other charities.
Mr Gale now lives in a nursing home.
Mr Coulter said no final decision had yet been made on what would be done with the property itself.
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