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“He had a dream” — How Brian Parsons did it

Wedge-tailed Eagle -  P. SkinnerIn 1966 Brian Parsons was living with his wife Merle in Harcourt. He’d come from Kooringal in Wagga Wagga filled with a desire to return to the Maldon, Bendigo and Castlemaine region where he had spent much of his childhood. He was an accountant and he started out working with the orchardists of Harcourt who were looking to set themselves up as a Co-operative. This lead to an interest in the fruit and vegetable business and he worked for a time at Thompsons Fruit and Vegetable shop in Castlemaine, bringing in fruit and vegetables from Harcourt.

After purchasing the Bushlands from Jan Cern in 1967 he gave up on all that. From then on he saw himself as a significant player in the business of Real Estate.

Yes he had a dream and that dream was to create 42 house sites on the 300 or so acres he had bought, and then to sell them on to a throng of eager buyers from the city. He wanted to show them that they could live an alternative lifestyle, self sufficient and close to nature; where they would be as free as the eagles that he had found nesting off Mount View Road. But firstly those house sites had to be created, and the feasibility of such a plan had to be demonstrated.

Among his multitude of acquaintances’ he found one who had access to a small plane, who he then persuaded to fly him over the area. Looking down from the air he picked out the most suitable routes for the roads, and obtained an overview of suitable Lot sites.

Leech Earthmoving Contracting Company of Castlemaine was hired to excavate the roads. Brian accompanied them on the ride and thought up the names of each one as they went along. He then had signs made and installed. Once that was done he then set about figuring out Lot sizes, driveways and dams.

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He understood an engineer was necessary but he also wanted this sub-division to have its own distinct personality, and to achieve this he looked for help amongst Castlemaine’s artistic community.

Chief among these was the artist Laurie Turner who accompanied Brian as he mapped out, and then pegged each Lot. Both Laurie and Brian felt it was desirable that each house be sited in such a way as to be invisible to its nearest neighbour, thus ensuring the privacy of each potential family.

None of this was easy work. Ron Rice, the chief excavator from Leech, speaks of moments of hair-raising danger. Fearful earth moving workers sometimes had to be roped to their machines to keep them on the job. The creation of the dams could be particularly treacherous. One man lost his life in the undertaking.

At last the mapping and pegging were completed. The whole thing then had to be surveyed, before it could go on the market. A surveyor willing to take on the task was finally located in Ballarat. The local Council also had to be appeased.

This was accomplished by agreeing to leave one block empty. That’s the one we now know of as Municipal Reserve #1 on Bush Sanctuary Road.

Things still looked rather primitive, more had to be done. The decision was made to actually demonstrate the viability of living here by building some houses.

Brian had already had some experience of house building; he’d built at least two on Golden Point Road. Stone was the obvious choice as there was so much of it about. Some was got from the site and some from a quarry on Havelock Reef Road. A simple plan for constructing these dwellings was developed, and the locations on which to build them were chosen.

The first one to go in was on Lot 24. It had an excellent dam for a start, and it was not long before Brian began using it as his headquarters for the whole project.

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Stonemasons were hastily trained and a system to build the houses was developed. At ground level each one has a similar plan. A second floor of timber was built onto this base.  Brian could have built much more cheaply but he felt that it was stone that best expressed the nature of the house’s natural environment.

Two more on Goldspeck Gully Road, and then two on Dishpan Gully Road followed that first house on Wattle Dam. Later another three were built in and around Mount View Road.

It’s worth remembering that access to Goldspeck Gully Road was via Commissioners Gully Road, the one road to the west which was in place prior to Leech’s excavation, and via Sparks Road to the east which also existed earlier, whereas Mountview Road had to be accessed using Kennedy’s Lane off the Calder. The fire access road that is now an extension of Dishpan Gully Road did not exist at the time. Consequently there was a natural separation of the two areas. And they still tend to be independent of each other.

Things were tough in the early 70’s and the houses and Lots sold very slowly. People came and went, but only some were ready to take on Brian’s vision and become happy homesteaders.

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Ray Lindstrom was one of the first. He bought Lot 36 on Dishpan Gully Road in March 1976 and paid $24,650 for it. He also purchased the adjoining Lot 36, on which he built a shearing shed.

Ray came from Essendon but gave up on buying there because it was too expensive and also because his plans for himself and his family’s future had changed. Earlier, while travelling the world with his young wife, he had spent time in England, where he noted a shift that was taking place there.

Families were leaving the city and were looking for that alternative lifestyle, such as the one that Brian Parsons had in mind.  That was in England but could it also be done here?  Ray’s occupations as a hairdresser and a musician were transportable. He added to these skills by setting out to become a farmer.

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Meanwhile the Hellawell’s, (who were from England by the way) began the daunting task of building their house on Lot 30, Goldspeck Gully Road, living in a caravan in the interim.  Then in 1978 the Hall’s moved into one of the other stone houses, (Lot 23) and Laurie Leslie and his wife began the task of building their house on Lot 12 at the top of Miners Hut Road; using the stone that was supplied by Brian Parsons.

Other houses and Lots were bought in the 70’s but no one moved into them on a permanent basis. They were ‘holiday homes’ or ‘bush blocks’, which were visited only occasionally. It was not until the mid 80’s that people once again began to build here. By that time Brian Parsons was off and away and pursuing other ventures! As far as he was concerned he’d fulfilled his dream of creating the Chewton Bushlands Sub-division.

Responses (3)

  1. Cate says:

    As you can see from the photograph Ray Lindstrom’s house is covered in snow!
    I think that snowstorm happened in 1981 but I may be wrong about that. It must have been a surprise.
    Although severe cold in the Bushlands is by no means rare, even in December, as we experienced on Dec. 5, this year!
    In the various Titles I’ve searched pertaining to particular Lots in the Bushlands, Brian and Merle Parson’s address is given as Kooringal N.S.W. Kooringal is actually a suburb of Wagga Wagga so to say he came from there is true.
    Brian is always a venturesome man (ebullient as one person expressed it) in both his professional and personal life. By the time he left Castlemaine his marriage to Merle had foundered and he had met and married his present wife, with whom he went on to adopt 3 more children. He’d already adopted 3 with Merle and one of those son’s vividly remembers playing between the house on Wattle Dam and the earthworks being carried out on Lot 19 across the road. Dangerous games,including trying to drive one of the graders left unattended,which almost lead to calamity, but was a lot of fun nevertheless.

    • Sandie Parsons says:

      Sandie and Brian did not adopt. Sandie had a son from a previous marriage. Enjoyed your article.Found it when looking for your address. Thank you all for your card following Brian’s passing. Michael, Brian’s son has told me he will give you all the “Chewton” stuff which is still at the house. Continue to enjoy your Lifestyle in the bush. Shame Parsons Road was renamed. — Sandie Parsons

      • Cate Freeman says:

        WOW Sandie!
        How good to hear from you.
        We’re going to try and do something about the naming of that road!
        We’d also love to have some pics of Brian taken in those early days???

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