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Lot 17: Robyn and Ian Robinson

We had been looking for a property in the country for some time and had become increasingly despondent. After viewing some houses near Castlemaine, on a wet and windy Friday, we visited Glenys Johnson at Waller Realty. Glenys said that she had one place that we might be interested in but that she couldn’t show it to us until 3pm. It was about noon. Would we wait or not? It was a toss of the coin decision. To fill in time, we grabbed a meat pie from the pie shop on Barker Street. How delicious was that? It was the first of many to come (though we didn’t know it then). We waited in the car as the rain poured down. Three o’clock came and we followed Glenys into the bushlands. As we came to the top of a very steep drive, we saw what we knew would be a spectacular view if you could see it, but which we couldn’t because of the rain. We also saw the fascinating outside of a house that friends later called “a Hansel and Gretel house”. It took our breath away and we knew that this was it before even stepping inside the house. Once inside the house it just got better. We wanted it so badly that it was an agonising 24 hours until the deal was clinched.

The owners, Sue and Michael, were to become friends and we see them regularly to this day. I rang Sue to find out when we could see the house a second time stating that I had been so excited that I couldn’t sleep. She said she had been exactly the same before they bought the house. No matter that on this next visit, our car couldn’t get up the steep drive to the house. Sue and Michael had cultivated a vegie patch that grew the most mouth-watering vegetables. We received the benefit of their hard work, though we found that the vegies didn’t appear the next year! We share a love of crosswords with Sue and Michael, especially DA’s in Saturday’s Age.

We bought the house and soon came to realise that this was Mick Melican’s house. He built it and all those who live in it are mere caretakers. So many times, we would explain to a tradesperson how to get to our house and they would say “oh Mick Melican’s house. We heard many stories about him and how he eventually relinquished the house.

Moving in and getting to know the place was an experience. Being city people we were not used to dealing with no electricity or no water or failed sewerage systems. We take these and other conveniences for granted. That was also part of the adventure. I have always admired country people because they have to be resourceful. At least we have learnt a few survival skills over the years.

I remember one of the first visits to Castlemaine. It was to the butcher’s where a sight-impaired woman, after purchasing meat, gave her open purse to the butcher to take out what she owed him. Such trust. You wouldn’t see that in the city. I also remember how slow the traffic was. It still is relative to Carlton, but who cares?

We have met many colourful people since being here but none more so that “Bushy” Graham Holden. He was good to us and helped us maintain our house. One day, he cleaned out his sister’s car and took us to meet some wonderful people from Castlemaine (none of whom had been warned that we were coming). On another occasion, knowing we wanted to plant some trees, he arrived (without warning) with a post hole digger and he and Ian set out digging holes so that tress could be planted. On another occasion, knowing we had possums in the roof and that our roof was too steep for an ordinary ladder, he arrived with a mega ladder and left it with us.

It has been especially rewarding to get to know our neighbours in the Chewton bushland. Social gatherings, e-mail communications, and the need to work together in the event of a bushfire have all contributed to closer networking. From any of these communications, we are always left with the sense of wanting to spend more time with people and engage in projects of mutual interest such as protecting this beautiful natural countryside.

There are so many aspects of our life here that we love.

You feel the seasons; it’s hot in summer and cold in winter. The stars are brilliant. When the moon is full, it’s totally light outside and it is pitch black without a shining moon. We are fortunate enough to see magnificent sunsets (for about half of the year) and have also seen several spectacular lightening shows.

We have gotten to know the incredible range of birds that make this area their home. Over the years we have learnt to identify them, to recognise their particular sounds and habits, and their different personalities and social structures. “Birdbrain” is an erroneous saying as birds are bright. Having recorded sightings for over 9 years, we now can recognise the locals from those who migrate.

Though it’s not fashionable to say so, I love rabbits. One day I looked out the window and saw Lucy, our dog, nose-to- nose with what was probable a pretty sick rabbit because it wasn’t moving. On another occasion our two dogs found a live possum on the front door step. The dogs just sniffed at it as it lay there playing dead. Good possum. Good dogs for not attacking. It was also a good little animal that apparently found my gold bracelet which I lost in the kitchen cupboards while cleaning them out. The bracelet was one of sentimental value and I had been distressed at losing it and searched everywhere for it. We came into the kitchen, after being away from the house for a few weeks, and saw a little mound of “bits and pieces” that mice seem to collect when they are nesting. There in the middle of the pile was my gold bracelet.

Our experiences with wild life have not always been positive. We have birds fly into our windows and evidence of foxes eating the wild life. Once we came home and there was a little pile of blood on the floor inside the house. What got in and what ate what we will never know. We have had foxes, wallabies, the odd dog and once or twice a cat come by the front door. We have had echidnas pass by and once saw a koala in a tree on our property. Not so welcome the brown snakes, but we have only seen them twice in 11 years and both times they were trapped in garden netting.

The possums were a particular problem for many years, though not so now. It was not just the noise (that also set the dogs barking) but they ate through the roof of the bedroom and their pee has dribbled down everywhere including over the bed we sleep in. Removing them from the house was a saga for many years that featured in our Christmas letter to friends. Basically, we tried to find the holes in the roof that were their entry and exits points. We would wait until it was dark. No wine would be consumed until the mission was completed. Ian had the task of getting on the steep roof and attempting to seal holes while they were out.

We developed exit paths from the roof to the outside, with apple trails to encourage the possums out. We would set the alarm at 3a.m so that we could close off the entry points. It never worked. We used traps within the house and once got a mum and baby and on another occasion we got a bushy. Gleefully, we released the bushy outside and thought this called for a celebratory cup of tea. But when inside we heard possum sounds. It couldn’t be! Yes, it was. We had left the back door open and the possum just walked in the back door, through the upstairs wardrobe and up into the roof again. I think he got back inside before we did.

A little more distressing was the rosella that ate its way from outside into our bedroom (through the shingles). We arrived to see her and three chicks inside (plus multiple pecks on the window sills in the bedroom, all of which still have to be repaired. We got the chicks to wildlife rescue and happily two survived. The replacing of the shingles and painting cost thousands of dollars.

Our time here has been life changing. We have times with each other and our dogs that are very special and our being in touch with nature is also very special. When the time comes to leave this place, which it will one day, it will be a very difficult decision. As we get older we find it harder to maintain this life style. However that day of decision is not today.

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