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Jenny and David: How we learned to love the Bushlands

Jenny and David

David says

We have to thank Annie O’Shannessy. If she hadn’t invited us up to the Bushlands for afternoon tea — all right then, wine — we would never have been anywhere near Chewton. And if she hadn’t said “Let’s go for a bit of a walk” we would never have met Kath Clark in her little muddie on lot 22 Goldspeck Gully Road. And if Kath Clark hadn’t said “Make yourself at home. Have a look around the house”, we wouldn’t have stood on the upstairs balcony, gobsmacked by the view.

view from the deck

the house

And Kath wouldn’t have heard me mutter under my breath “Who would you have to kill to own this place?” And Kath wouldn’t have said “The house is for sale.”

Cutting a short story long we bought our weekender. The weekends gradually increased in length. When they became seven days long we upped sticks and moved in permanently. We resisted the urge to nest build for as long as we could. But after a time you realise that the electrics need to be fixed: basically a whole new solar/generator system. The terrace at the west end needs to be widened. A section upstairs turned into a guest bedroom. And water tanks. And a new (never worked) dam, that probably still leaks. An irrigation system (of sorts), a fernery. And so on. A never ending saga of disastrous attempts at DIY each of which created at least three more jobs just to repair the damage. Ah! the good life and the Green life. It is idyllic but it doesn’t come cheap. Especially when you make as many mistakes as I did.

a party


But the life: how wonderful was that? Champagne Sunsets on the Western Terrace; curry nights and endless parties for no particular reason; guests visiting from Melbourne in increasing numbers; new friends; babies (Annie’s, not ours); dramas, divorces, new loves; the Melbourne Cup Party that turned into our wedding.

And Jenny trying desperately hard to nurture a garden and a veggie patch in the worst soil and the driest conditions and succeeding; both of us worrying about bush fires, setting up fire hoses and pumps and dedicated tanks, and ember & radiation shutters, and an Emergency Plan. We also joined the CFA to learn the basic skills needed to fight a fire.

Jenny's garden

Jenny in the garden

One day there actually was a small bushfire on Tony Cook’s (him of the long white beard) land. That was the day the fire truck was unfortunately directed to the wrong Tony Cook’s place. And that was the day I didn’t put our Emergency plan into action, and that was when we began to question whether it was such a good idea to live up in the bush. At our age would we be able to fight a fire and survive?  The never-ending drought had dried the ground litter and the bush fire risk was dangerously high.  As it was, by the time the fire brigade arrived on the scene Tony Cook (him of the long white beard) had put out the fire with the aid of a 2-gallon plastic bucket!

shed studio

A shed for him/a studio for her had to be built

Across the road from us lived Enid Hall. Hers was one of the first buildings in the Bushlands Estate; originally used as the sales office for the Bushlands subdivision project. Enid was a beautiful person: kind, knowledgeable, proud and self-sufficient. Independent, that’s the word. And a generous neighbour. At eighty-odd and frail, she left when things got a bit much for her to handle. Laura and Scott, Enid’s son, moved in to her lovely home with its large fernery and the wine cellar that had been hacked out of the rock behind the house.

no through road_2

Opposite the end of our drive there is a sign that said “OLD SETTLERS RD- Private – NO THRU ROAD”.

On the corner in another stone house, contemporary with Enid Hall’s, lived Douglas Banks and his family. Douglas was everybody’s picture of the old-fashioned English Gentleman: tweed coat and hat, cravat and walking stick (am I imagining this?) and the voice of a 19th century actor/manager, rather like a ‘Lord of the Manner’. There was a studio out the back where he painted, and every year he would exhibit at the Rotary Arts Show.

mudroom fernery

A mudroom and fernery had to be built

Like all of us, age caught up with him and he moved into Castlemaine. I believe he sold his house cash-in-hand to the Baxters about whom there are many stories. Rob (was that his name or his profession?) was youthful, good looking in a rakish sort of way, polite and kept to himself most of the time. Occasionally you would hear the odd altercation, and occasionally there was a fusillade of gun fire (probably a semiautomatic as no-one could have reloaded that quickly). On one occasion we were approached by the police who wanted to use our place as an observation post. The story was that Rob was in fact an armed robber and his wife ran a bawdy house in Bendigo. We pointed out to the cops that we had to live here, at peace with our neighbours, and what they were asking wasn’t neighbourly. Rob’s pride and joy was a red Mustang sports car which was frequently covered with tree branches, unable to be seen from a searching police helicopter in the air. Did he(or his wife) legally own it? From the road it was quite obvious as he had forgotten to hide the front and sides. Another time some bravo broke into his house and stole a few things. Like they say “there is no honour amongst . . .” etc. Eventually the Baxters left. The house was unoccupied for some time. Then, as far as I know, it was bought by a musician but never really occupied. Broken into and trashed, it was left vacant. Happily, it is now restored, renovated and used as a weekender by a professional woman from Melbourne.Next door to us were two lovely properties. Closest was another stone house, vacant for a long time and purchased as a weekender by a retired couple. It has since been sold to a young couple, both of whom are interested, active and working in the area of conservation and the environment.

On the other side of us was the “Jigsaw” house: a tiny picturesque cottage that looked like it belonged in a Brothers Grimm folk tale: the roughest bit of bush building you have ever seen and one of the most attractive. The shower was a bucket with holes in it hanging from a tree and the bedroom was so small the wardrobe lived out on the veranda. That was fine if it never rained. This house too was vacant for many years until Pye Rankine acquired it. Life must have been terribly hard for her especially as she had a baby to look after. She, too, departed the bushlands, but I think she may have returned recently.

Towards the top of the hill, in Miners Hut Road lived Annie O’Shannessy and Tim Ford in the house that is now Steve Charman’s. Annie was (still is) a compulsive host. With three daughters and innumerable sisters and their spouses, there was always a reason for a barbecue, a party or just a good old chin-wag. A slip of the pen and Marital Arts can become Martial arts; and before you know it another marriage has hit the rocks. Annie and Tim went their separate ways and they moved out of the bushlands.

The same with Linda and Tony (not him of the long white beard). They split. Tony lives on in the Bushlands but not in their old house. Bill Irwin lives there now. Tony built a house for himself and another one for his Mum, Laurie, and they still live there.

And us? We sold our lovely muddie to Domdeloiuse, alias Dominic and Louise. They, as we did, fell in love with the place. They should tell their own stories. Jenny and I moved into “the Paris end of Metropolitan Chewton” where we do “snob” very well.

There are so many stories to tell. So many friends to cherish. But where would one stop? The tragic end of Peter Hellawell, the wonderful house that he built, the relaxed barbecues Susan hosted in their lovely tangled garden. The loony annual event known as “TANYEP” – The Ansett’s New Year’s Eve Party held by John Ansett and Pat Milthorpe in the first Bushland’s house that Tony Cook (not the Tony Cook of the long white beard) built, now lived in by Jan Palethorpe and Bruce Armstrong. The house that Charles Affleck built, where he and Antoinette Birkenbeil now live: how love has transformed two lives. Of our oldest friends only Gary and Michael still live in the Bushlands.

People age and change. Old people move out; new people move in. Weekenders become residents. The social order, even on so small a scale, collapses and is replaced by something newer and stronger, a strongly motivated group of “Bushlanders”. Lose some, win some.

Sorry we had to leave.

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