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The Cook’s Story: Tony and Laurie Cook

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BUSHLANDS PIONEERS!
It all had to do with the desire for a ‘Bush Block’, something a bit rugged, natural and unspoilt.

Tony had always loved the bush and knew he’d know that block when he saw it and sure enough there it was Lot 16, 81 Miners Hut Road. It had the view, it had that special remote quality, and it was affordable. Tony paid $11, 000 for it, and considered it a bargain at the time.

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Tony, Linda, and baby daughter Sarah, had come up from Melbourne to visit friends in Castlemaine. They travelled all about the countryside looking for that perfect spot. They were living in Hurstbridge at the time and it was there that Tony had restored a house for the artist Albert Tucker. Perhaps it was that contact that developed in Tony his creative streak. The first mudbrick house that he worked on was built with Peter Wallace at Smiths Gully near Saint Andrews. The first load bearing mudbrick house that he built on his own, was in Woodend in 1973.
From Castlemaine the family visited Dunolly and other possible locales in the area, until finally they called on Max Cassidy on Templeton Street. His agent showed them what was for sale up here.

Tony had had an interesting life prior to coming to this part of Victoria. He’d been working as a wool classer and then a barman in St. Andrews. Even with back problems he had that sort of confidence that lead him to believe he could turn his hand to most things. For instance when he first came to Chewton he worked at the Wattle Gully and the Prince of Wales Mines, and as well he took up whatever other work he could find.

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They were exciting times in Victoria in the early 80’s. Amongst other things the then government was offering very low interest loans to anyone who wanted to get in on the ‘Mud Brick Scheme’. Tony being a multi- talented man jumped at the chance. We have him to thank for four unique mud brick houses in the Bushlands.

The little family set up a caravan on their chosen lot of 6 plus acres, and with the help of some mates they built their first house. There were also friendly neighbours around who were delighted to lend advice and encouragement. The Hellawell’s, Laurie Leslie, Enid Hall and Ray Lindstrom each had experience and local knowledge that they were happy to share.

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It took a while to build, and life in a caravan cannot have been easy. Linda was already pregnant with their second child Beau. They were very happy however, and the finished house was very comfortable. The view southwest over towards Castlemaine and beyond is superb, and sunsets from the patio are spectacular. This was enough to raise everyone’s spirits.

The years passed and money was short, so when the opportunity came to sell the house on Lot 16 at a profit, they took it. Meanwhile there was another site right across the way, Lot 27 on Goldspeck Gully Road, just waiting to be built on.

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This block does not have the beauty of the first one but it’s a good one nevertheless, and the earlier experience gained in house building was put to good use. The mud brick house that now exists there, has a charm all of its own, and is a credit to Tony’s considerable skill.

At this stage things had begun to change for the family. Linda had grown tired of Bushland life and decided to move on to other things, taking the children with her.

During all this time, Laurie, Tony’s Mother, had been making regular visits here, and she grew to love the area just as much as Tony did, and it was while Tony was living at Lot 21 that Lot 19, almost next door but one, came up for sale.

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Laurie had been living in Croydon at the time and working as a bookkeeper in East Ringwood. All of her four children had left home and were busy with their own families. It was the right moment for her to make a change. And change she did.

In 1992 she retired from her job, sold the house in Croydon and moved into the railway carriage that was in place on Lot 19, 184 Goldspeck Gully Road. She bought the property from Peter Reed, who had been using it as a holiday retreat.

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It was no ordinary railway carriage. It had tanks, a generator, a fully functioning ‘dunny, and bottled gas for hot water and cooking. After living in Croydon she felt as though she was on a never-ending holiday!

Laurie lived in the carriage while Tony set about building for her, mudbrick house #3. It took about six months to build so it was not long before Laurie moved in to what has now become her comfortable home.

Meanwhile Tony sold the second house and he subsequently moved into the railway carriage. From there he went on to build his own house a short distance from Laurie’s That became mudbrick house #4, Tony’s own last home.

What an accomplishment. Each of the houses has it’s own specific character and design. Small touches such as recycled stain glass windows, personalized entrances, and interesting floor finishes, gives each of the houses a distinct and subtle personality, and each one fits very comfortably into its Bushlands environment.

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Tony has since retired from building houses but he did keep his hand in over a number of years helping others to build theirs. He worked on the house on Lot 22, and helped out Gary and Michael on Lot 11 and on Cate’s house on Lot 15. His love of the Bushlands lead him to explore it from end to end. He was often seen walking barefoot through the land with his dog Penny at his side.

Laurie and Tony belong to that very small group of people in the Bushlands, who built their house, made it their home, and have resided in it ever since.

Laurie continues to take pleasure in the wonderful sunset views and plans to keep doing that for the rest of her days. She is a true inspiration to all of us. Possessor of a witty, wise, and humorous pioneer spirit, long may she keep on enjoying her ‘holiday’ lifestyle. The Chewton Bushlands would be a lesser place if she and Tony had not decided to settle here.

Responses (4)

  1. Judy Love says:

    I remember it well. We spent many happy hours up there with our kids. Well done, great read.

  2. Deb Hamilton says:

    Terrific to read. I remember visiting on the block. Looked after Sarah when Beau was born. Such a beautiful spot
    To build. A credit to you. Deb Hamilton x

  3. Lydia Bailey says:

    I have been to both Laurie and Tony’s homes and I found them to be amazing.
    I was struck by the wish that all homes would be built with mud brick and what a saving of money, energy and how good for the environment they were.
    I enjoyed your article, thank you.

  4. Judith ann jacques says:

    Lovely article, hello Tony and so good to know you and your mum Laurie are still happy and well in castlemaine…love to hear from you…Judy J xx

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