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Lot 13, 119 Miners Hut Road: Ray’s Retreat

Ray_insideThese days most of us would have a hard time living without the benefit of electricity but it doesn’t seem to bother Ray. He has solar panels on the roof of his house but he hasn’t had them connected up for years. He does have a landline phone, and gas for cooking, hot water and the fridge, but manages to live quite comfortably without the luxuries of electricity… or a car. He had a bike for a while which he rode in and out of Castlemaine, but as traffic increased and the chances of ending up as a “smear on the Pyrenees Highway that someone would have to hose off” became more likely he gave it up, and took to walking that journey instead. There’s usually someone driving a car, going back and forth to town, who’ll give him a lift, and the exercise of walking on most days is enjoyable, beneficial to his health, and environmentally sustainable.

Ray was born in Northern Ireland but left there at the age of two.

The family moved to London and spent the next fourteen years there before coming to Australia. When they came to Melbourne Ray attended Northcote High School, and then after matriculating he went to Monash University. They were lively years, as at that time Monash was a university in its heyday.

Ray was very happy there and he graduated with a degree in English History and Politics. He then went into the field of education and gained the Diploma of Education at Melbourne College. Another experience he greatly values.

It was while working in Footscray in a Programme of Education for Unemployed Youth that he met a young woman named Jennifer Higgs. This meeting was to prove an auspicious one, for it provided Ray with the opportunity to flee the city and to reject, in his words, the bourgeois tendencies that may have resulted if he’d continued living there.

Jennifer meanwhile had moved out of Melbourne to fulfill an aspiration she had of building her own place in the bush. In 1983 she purchased Lot 13 in the Chewton Bushlands and set about carrying out that dream. She took up a State Government Low Interest Loan and began designing and building her own mud brick home.

Between 1984 and 1987 while she was building, she rented a small shack on Sir Les Thornton’s Country Estate known as “Bonkers”. On the completion of her house she moved into it on Lot 13 and then offered Ray “Bonkers”. Without hesitation he jumped at the chance to move out of the city and to live in a shack that was so greatly esteemed in the Shire.

House glass window_1yes

Jennifer and houseWithin 12 months of living in her house on Lot 13 Jennifer wanted another change, and moved back to the city. This time she offered Ray the opportunity of renting her house. In November 1989 he moved in. In the years prior to that date, he had been spending 4 days in the city and then 4 days back here, he gave that up and from then on he became a full time Bushlander.

When in 2002, Jennifer put the house up for sale, she gave Ray the first option to buy. After thinking about it for a full 5 minutes Ray said yes, then he began a 6-month negotiation with the Bank that finally lead to his ownership of the house at 119 Miners Hut Road. From that moment on he made a full commitment to a Bushlands lifestyle.

These are the basic facts but they do not explain what the move meant to Ray on an emotional level. The city had been his métier but increasingly in his late 30’s he had become alienated with that way of life. He had begun to view it as “fast, furious and mostly futile”. When the opportunity to move away came up he saw it as one not to be missed, and he likes to sum up his present feelings in the quotes that follow:

inside house“Only after the Last Tree has been cut down, only after the Last River has been poisoned, only after the Last Fish has been caught, only then will you find that money cannot be eaten”. (Cree Indian Prophecy)

“Not that I want to be a god or a hero, just to change into a tree, grow for ages, not hurt anyone”. (Czeslaw Milosz)

Garden Buddha

“A tree is a poem that the earth writes across the sky, we cut them down and turn them into paper that we may record our emptiness”. (Kahil Gibran)

“The affluent society is a society at war… if its citizens have not noticed it, its victims certainly have”. (Herbert Marcuse 1951)

“Technology is not the basis of our society, compassion is”. (The Dalai Lama)

There is much to be reflected on in these quotes, and they are ones that most of us who live here can relate to.



Househouse viewRay is the proud owner of a very beautiful and unique house. It sweeps back in an angle to the rise of stone behind it. In front there’s a wonderful westerly view out over the valley that falls away towards Goldspeck Gully Road and then on far beyond to Mount Tarrengower. From the highest point on the Lot looking in an easterly direction, there is view of Mount Macedon far off in the distance.

The house itself is all angles and as Ray puts it “it looks like a bird that’s just landed or is about to take off”. It was built by a man named Dick Anderson who was also responsible for building other houses in and around Golden Point Road. Sadly he died in his early 50’s but not without leaving a wonderful legacy of craftsmanship and skill as can be seen in Ray’s house.

When Ray first came to this area he did some occasional work at the Junior High School, teaching literacy to young people and then later to adults.

He was not unhappy about giving that up. At present he does volunteer work at Buda and at the Castlemaine Information Centre. These he greatly enjoys, and he also takes pleasure in participating in Castlemaine’s café culture. There was a time when he says he was a very gregarious person who craved the company of others. This is no longer the case. Around about the age of forty he found that having time to contemplate alone was essential to his sense of personal well-being. He now likes to spend at least two days a week in isolation with just the natural environment for company. This is something that can be easily achieved in the Buddhist like atmosphere of his retreat in the Bushlands.

There are places, such as the Wesley Hill Market and the various ‘op shops’ in town, where Ray often spends time rummaging around looking for those ‘special treasures’ particularly books, as reading is a favourite pastime. He has found that by living frugally his needs are few, and of late he rarely leaves the Bushlands except to go into town or for an annual visit to family in Perth.

The Chewton Bushlands has become both his physical and spiritual home, and he expects to spend the rest of his life here.

Responses (2)

  1. Freewoman says:

    I really enjoyed reading that story about Ray’s experience of living here!

  2. Gary Van Den Driesen says:

    A good story Ray. Brought back many wonderful memories of Jenny Higgs too! She did a fantastic design job and spent many many weeks of hard physical labour on it as well. Her home has been passed on to a very sympathetic second owner and she must be well pleased with that. Long may you continue to enjoy it all!

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