High and lonely hut still object of mystery

Mystery surrounds the occupant of one of the smallest huts you will ever see, hidden away on Bendigo Station. Lucy Ibbotson discovers a hut untouched by time.

The identity of the person who lived in an old iron hut, high on the hills of Bendigo Station, is one piece of the property's history that has evaded owner John Perriam.

''Who the guy was I can't tell you. It's a piece of information that we've never really been able to dig out, so there's still quite a bit of mystery there.''

Known as the Dam Keeper's Hut - because of the role of its occupant - the tiny windowless dwelling tucked under a huge bluff remains much the same as it did when it was lived in more than 100 years ago.

''It's still there exactly the way he walked out of it. His tin bath and mugs and bits and pieces ... the bed, how the hell he slept in that I don't know. He must have been quite a short fellow.''

Native foliage has grown over the top of the hut, which is positioned in the centre of the station, several kilometres above the Bendigo Historic Reserve.

''Nobody would ever know where to find it.''

It is lined with hemp sacking for insulation and has an old stone fireplace and a dirt floor.

''It's an intriguing situation. The hut's so small it's just amazing he could live there, and how cold it must have been in the winter would be just unbelievable, really.''

The hut sits next to a stone dam described by Mr Perriam as ''quite an incredible structure'', having stood the test of time for more than a century.

''Even this year the water was running right over the top of it, and that's quite a credit to the stone builders and masons of the time; just the way it's constructed. It's withstood all the floods over the last 100 years or so, whereas a lot of our own dams that we've put in haven't.''

While the name of the hut's inhabitant is not known, the part he played in Bendigo's gold-mining operation was a pivotal one - providing the power source needed to break down the hard quartz rock.

''I think, basically, his role up there was to let the water down when required to drive one of the stamping batteries in the goldfields below, at Welshtown and Logantown.

''It's part of a bigger story because they bought the water nearly 10km through very difficult country from the Devils Creek around the sides of the hills - and that's a real feat in itself - to where the dam is, and then the dam keeper operated that.''

Mr Perriam believes the dam keeper lived there some time between the 1860s and when the gold ''fizzled out'' before the turn of the century.

''I wouldn't like to say just how often and how long he lived there; that's the questions that haven't really been answered for me. We did a lot of research in the book Dust to Gold [about Bendigo Station] and we never really got the answer to that.''

Unlike the public reserve further down the station's slopes, the hut has been largely out of the public eye because of its remote location.

''Sometimes there might be a group that ask to go up there, so we've never denied them that. It sits right in the middle of our [farming] operation, of course.

''We have our own cattle and sheep yards and air strip up there ... so it's just not an area we can let the public go willy nilly, that's all. But we've never turned down a group.''

Mr Perriam said any opportunity to learn more about the man who lived in the hut would be welcomed by his family, who already take a keen interest in preserving their property's history.

The Perriams have restored the original Bendigo Station homestead, which houses a collection of historic memorabilia, and consider working with organisations such as Doc, the Otago Goldfields Heritage Trust and the New Zealand Historic Places Trust ''a win-win'' situation.

While the hut is on private land, it is covenanted for preservation, along with the neighbouring dam.

''It's well protected. It's not going to go anywhere and it's part of our history, so that's great.''

-lucy.ibbotson@odt.co.nz


Dam Keeper's Hut

Built under a rocky bank and nowadays overgrown, the Dam Keeper's Hut, on Bendigo Station, hosts only the occasional visitor today.

• Named after its occupant
• Very little known about the dam keeper
• Been kept as it was during gold-mining days
• On private land
• No public access