Mount Macedon: Hill of content
Mount Macedon is home to ancient rock formations, beautiful gardens and great wines.
Stephen Ryan says it took five days before the full extent of the fires sank in.
“I stood behind a tree at a friend’s place and had a good howl,” says the former host of ABC Television’s Gardening Australia and owner of Mount Macedon’s famous Dicksonia Rare Plant Nursery. It was February 1983, and the business Stephen had been nurturing for three years had just been wiped out.
The disaster, which became known as the Ash Wednesday bushfires, took the lives of seven people in the Macedon area and destroyed more than 600 buildings. Across tinder-dry Victoria and South Australia the flames accounted for 75 dead and thousands of homes burned.
Stephen could easily have walked away. But he didn’t. “I thought, well, there’s nothing I can do about it and there’s nothing else I want to do, so I told myself, ‘get off your arse and get going’. And that’s what I did.”
Thirty-five years later, Stephen, 63, has built his business back up, on its original site on a south-facing slope of Mount Macedon. And, surrounded by rare shrubs, trees and plants that attract obsessed green thumbs from as far away as Perth, business is looking good.
So is tourism in the area. Mount Macedon is a popular weekend destination and less than an hour’s drive from Melbourne. Its elevation – up to 1001 metres – has made it popular with Melburnians since the 1870s, when the horse and cart drive would have been considerably longer.
“The enclave of Mount Macedon is made up of a lot of heritage gardens, which we call hill station gardens,” says Stephen. The name derives from British Raj days when expats in India would retreat to cooler climes in the summer.
“Mount Macedon was exactly the same. The wealthy from Melbourne would retreat [here] for the summer, to get away from the heat and smell of Melbourne and they’d come up here to entertain themselves. And the best way to entertain yourself in the deep soils and cool climate was to garden. And, of course, they hadn’t invented telly.”