George Harrisons Haven: The Australian Home of the Late Beatle and his Wife

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August 21, 2007; Architectural Digest


"George was a Pisces, so he liked to have water around," Olivia Harrison says of her late husband, singer, songwriter, guitarist-and Beatle-George Harrison. In the couple's South Pacific-style compound on Hamilton Island in , Australia's Whitsunday Islands, she says, "the pool actually comes into the house, and there's a walkway over it. He always wanted to walk on water, so walking over water was the next best thing."
A place for family getaways and for welcoming friends, it was called "Letsbeavenue," a pun on a line by British comedian Tommy Cooper, "Let's be having you." Although the property was far from their house on Maui and halfway around the world from their mansion in Henley-on-Thames, where they spent most of their time, the enormous distance was its attraction.
"George was always on a quest to get as far away as he could," Harrison says. "We found Hawaii and built a house there. But he wanted to keep going. We went to Tasmania, New Zealand, Australia. I had the feeling that he maxed the planet out, looking for solitude. It was about 'How far away can I get?' "
In the early 1980s one of his friends in Hawaii, British racing driver Sir Jackie Stewart, suggested attending the Australian Grand Prix. "Jackie knew about Hamilton Island," Harrison says. "It was undeveloped, with only one bungalow on the whole island. It was pristine and stunning-just what George was looking for."
In the next four years the couple bought a six-acre lot high on a cliff and built their tropical sanctuary. "He loved the idea of being there, and the Australians loved him. He had good memories of Australia. When the Beatles visited, more people turned out for them than for the queen."
As a Beatle, George had fulfilled most of his other dreams. In fact, as with many answered prayers, it was overwhelming. "He was shell-shocked from the whole Beatle experience," Harrison says. "Literally shell-shocked. He hated loud noises. And imagine if all day, every day, for five or six years, people were screaming at you when you opened your door, jumping on the hood of your car, looking in your window. And then there were the death threats. He wanted to be far away. And he wanted sunshine."
George Harrison grew up in the frosty winters of postwar Liverpool, in the sort of terrace house that had a fireplace and a stove but no central heating. "As a child he used to wake up in the winter, and sometimes it would be half an hour before he'd get out of bed. He'd have to chip the ice off the inside of the windows-the inside!"
His father, a former sailor, told George stories of the tropics, filling his head with Pacific imagery. "George liked the South Pacific look," Harrison says. "He wanted the house to look natural, to fit in with the island landscape. When he designed it, he wanted round thatched structures like [Fijian] bures. Because the walls are curved, they were hard to decorate. But he didn't buy paintings. He liked sculpted objects-New Guinea art especially. He bought a lot of fertility objects, totems and tapa cloth."
The main house has the master bedroom, and there are three thatched guest huts, all of them built with bamboo and indigenous materials. "The tree trunk at the center of the living room he actually found on the island," says Harrison. "He used to go around the island, nicking plants for our garden. He'd even take big trees and replant them. He said, 'I want it to be a jungle.' "
Because Hamilton Island has not been overdeveloped, it's full of antipodean creatures. Being in the house, Harrison says, was "at times like being in a zoo, except we were the ones in the cage, because we'd get monitor lizards, kookaburras, wallabies and snakes at the windows looking in at us."
Inspired by the exoticism and simplicity of tropical life, George Harrison wrote the song "Gone Troppo," which contains the lines, "He smile, mucho in a sunshine / Highlife counting de fruit bat / Troppo, gone troppo . . ."
"Our final visit to Letsbeavenue was in the year 2000," Olivia Harrison says. "It was the last of our big journeys together, before an even bigger journey for George."