Rone's 'Empire' Eclipses All That Came Before

Rone will open his most expansive project to date next week.

The Melbourne artist’s engrossing murals combine with awe-inspiring sets, sculptures, cinematic lighting, scent design, augmented reality, and a thrilling soundtrack at one of Melbourne’s most iconic Art Deco mansions. Think The Great Gatsby meets The Shining with a bit of Bowie’s Labyrinth woven in.

We made the trip out to The Dandenong Ranges to witness Rone’s colossal, immersive Empire in its final stages. It’s a project that needs to be seen to be believed!

Elle Murrell

Rone’s Empire has taken over Burnham Beeches in Melbourne’s east. Pictured here: The Study. Photo – Rone.

The Street artist has been working on the largely self-funded project for over 12-months. Photo – courtesy of Rone.

The 12 vast zones incorporate Rone’s Jane Doe murals, the muse for which is actress Lily Sullivan who came on-site early in the project’s development. Photo – Rone.

Part exhibition, part installation, part VR and AR experience, Empire combines art, vision, sound, light, botanical design and scent to take audiences on a hauntingly immersive multi-sensory journey. Photo – courtesy of Rone.

‘It’s almost like we’ve discovered a forgotten time capsule and cracked it open for the world to see,’ he says. Photo – Rone.

Interior stylist Carly Spooner of The Establishment Studios was back, after teaming up with Rone for Omega, and has proved integral to the sourcing of items, propping authenticity and the final film-set-like styling. Photo – courtesy of Rone.

The year-long project coincided with the birth of Rone’s first child. Photo – courtesy of Rone.

This grand piano that was left to the elements for several weeks to achieve its aged patina before being transplanted back into the house – moss, leaves and all. Photo – Rone.

No task is too menial for the internationally-acclaimed artist. Photo – courtesy of Rone.

Inside Her Room. It was given the working title of Diana’s Room as it is rumoured Prince Charles and Lady Diana once stayed at Burnham Beeches in its luxury hotel heyday. Photo – courtesy of Rone.

The dedication to seasonality, tonality and historical accuracy is astounding across the vast rooms. Photo – courtesy of Rone.

The experience has been meticulously curated to evoke a distinct series of moods as audiences move from room to room. Photo – Rone.

‘Once I got inside and realised that I had free rein on an entire mansion my mind was blown with ideas of what could be possible. It was quite overwhelming,’ tells Rone. Photo – courtesy of Rone.

Fragments of inspiration came from Johnny Cash’s heart-wrenching Mark Romanek-directed film clip Hurt, (where he covers Nine Inch Nails), but Rone was careful not to dictate the narrative. Photo – courtesy of Rone.

‘I want people to walk in and feel like they can explore the possibilities of what might or might not have happened here,’ he explains. Photo – courtesy of Rone.

The project has now been supported by Visit Victoria and Yarra Ranges Tourism. Photo – Rone.

Built-in 1933 Burnham Beeches was the family home of wealthy industrialist Alfred Nicholas. It later served as a research facility, children’s hospital and luxury hotel until being shuttered in the late 1990s and purchased by current owners, The Vue Group in 2010. Photo – courtesy of Rone.

Elle Murrell
26th of February 2019

Rone doesn’t like to cut corners… unless he’s decapitating a vintage Chesterfield armchair to appear submerged. ‘That wall is four-and-a-half metres and that is three-and-a-half metres. If we have a row of books every 30 centimetres, that’s eight rows,’ the Melbourne-based artist calculates, as we peer into The Study he is creating. Tyrone Wright’s precise project-manager demeanour comes as a bit of a surprise, when it really shouldn’t have. If you’re familiar with his art, it’s clear that the same exacting detail applies to both his large-scale murals and the 40-something spreadsheets he’s been coordinating to bring Empire to life.

‘…that comes to 64. So I thought to myself, OK, go find 64-metres of hardcover books that are the same height. That’s where I started.’ It seems an arduous task that someone so internationally-acclaimed might outsource. Nope. Scouring Gumtree and racking up miles around Melbourne, Rone pulled it off. Then he proceeded to paint one of his stunning ‘Jane Doe’ artworks – this time in the image of actress/’girl-next-door’ beauty Lily Sullivan – on the library of books, before flooding the entire room to create a captivating reflection. Inspired by a leaking, OH&S-liability ceiling and concept sketch from years ago, The Study is arguably the most ambitious room of the 12 spaces that have been transformed at this neglected Art Moderne manor.

Following the wild success of his now-demolished The Omega Project, the artist was invited by past-collaborator Shannon Bennett of the Vue Group to ‘come and check out a place I’ve got up in the hills, maybe you should paint a wall there… it’s empty at the moment’. It was, in fact, the sprawling Burnham Beeches: the once glamorous 1933-built home of wealthy industrialist Alfred Nicholas, which later became a research facility, children’s hospital, and luxury hotel. It had been vacant for decades.

For all the exceptional location’s promise, this was a risky gig, especially as it was self-funded up until some support came through just a few weeks ago. ‘I’d taken a dedicated six-months off before our first baby came, and decided to go for a drive up the hills and look at this place. When then I saw it and I thought, well, there goes the next year!’ Rone explains. ‘It was a very serious sit-down conversation with my wife as we didn’t know how our life would look after a baby. Yet, it was the most incredible opportunity I’d ever been offered… Could we make it work? If we did pull it off and at least break even, It would just blow peoples’ minds. That alone would be worth doing it for!’

On subsequent visits, potential collaborators were equally intrigued and quick to sign on. Interior stylist Carly Spooner of The Establishment Studios was back, after teaming up with Rone for Omega, and has proved integral to the sourcing of items, propping authenticity and the final film-set-like styling. After linking up over Instagram, Wona Bae and Charlie Lawler of Loose Leaf added their botanical sculptures, including an incredible twig-lined hallway, while composer Nick Batterham has scored the scenes, incorporating months of ambient audio recorded in the estate’s gardens. Further elevating this immersive installation, is the bespoke scent design by Kat Snowden and cinematic lighting by John McKissock, along with an area for before-and-after augmented and virtual reality experiences.

As well as bringing together the exceptional team to realise his ambitious vision, Rone has done everything from sleuthing second-hand furniture across the city to collecting bundles of branches from around the property, and even pilfering from the onsite café’s coal ovens to dust the entire installation! If you can look past the transfixing details – epic murals upon aged wallpaper, trees growing through walls, a forgotten Champagne tower or that grand piano that was left outside to weather for weeks – the dedication to seasonality, tonality and historical accuracy is astounding across the vast spaces.

Rone encourages visitors to walk in and explore their own imagined possibilities of what may or may not have happened here. Meanwhile, his own veiled narrative draws on aspects of Johnny Cash’s melancholic music video, Hurt (2002), and the project takes its name from the Trent Reznor lyrics delivered ever so harrowingly: ‘and you could have it all, my empire of dirt’. Standing in His Room, while Her Room is far down the hall, Rone explains, ‘already they have become separated, maybe he has lost her. I guess the whole concept of Empire is: I’ll give it all up for you. Having that realisation about what is really important – It’s not all this material wealth,’ he gestures. ‘You have the feeling that it has all been walked away from. That this grand stuff, without her, is nothing.’

Empire truly is something. Spine-tinglingly unforgettable, it shouldn’t be missed!

Empire by Rone
March 6th to April 22nd 
Burnham Beeches, Sherbrook Road
Sherbrooke, Victoria
Book for day and night sessions at

Limited-edition art photographs of Empire, taken by Rone, are available to view and purchase in an on-site gallery. Just like his meticulously documented The Omega Project, which has now toured internationally (photography, VR and AR),  Rone hopes Empire will continue to be experienced into the future and in alternate locations – stay tuned!

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