Tim the Yowie Man coastal hideaway
Myer House is nestled among the trees on the southern headland of Bithry Inlet. Photo: NPWS
Do you fancy a beach house nestled in the secluded headland of one of our region's most spectacular national parks - a place where you can sunbake on your own palm-studded strip of sand, fish from your back step and snooze in luxury? Oh, and what if your knock-out coastal hideaway was also designed by one of Australia's most acclaimed architects?
Dream no more. While you can't buy it (I wish!), the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service has just swung open the doors of historic Myer House at Bithry Inlet in the northern realms of Mimosa Rocks National Park to holiday lettings.
I've driven down to Bithry Inlet for a sneak peak to see what all the fuss is about, and although Tathra is only a 15-minute drive away, as I arrive late afternoon it's like entering another world. The curved driveway passes a tennis court, an old timber treatment shed, and covered orchard before I finally catch my first glimpse of the unpretentious single story wooden house and beyond to the sparkling waters of the inlet. It's paradise. Little wonder when architect Sir Roy Grounds first spotted this dramatic parcel of land from the air in the mid-1960s, he immediately wanted a piece of it.
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Grounds teamed up with philanthropist and business man Kenneth Myer (son of Sidney of the department store fame), and together they created a sanctuary on this site where they could escape the pressures and rigours of city life. Grounds was a leading exponent of modernism in house design and contributed to a raft of ground-breaking architect projects, including the National Gallery of Victoria and our very own Shine Dome in Canberra. In 1976, Grounds and Myer donated their coastal haven to the national parks and following the end of a private lease, the Parks Service have recently refurbished Myer House and made it available to the public for the first time.
Although it's the distinctive beach house with water gently lapping at a back deck that will lure most sun-seekers here, scattered around the property are an eclectic mix of other unusual structures which reflect Grounds' creative drive and love of experimentalism.
First, on the surf side of the house is a geodesic dome held together by a dozen or so garbage can lids, created by Grounds in 1966 as a vegetable garden and workshop. Given its age and exposure to the elements, it's in very good condition and with a little imagination, its futuristic shape does resemble a mini Shine Dome.
The quirky geodesic dome featuring garbage tin lids Photo: Tim the Yowie Man
Wedged between the dome and the inlet is what at first glance appears to be a circus tent - yet another of Grounds' architectural experiments - an intricately designed nine-sided tepee-style structure reflecting Grounds' "belief in geometry as the basis for design and his wish for a harmonious union between the built and natural environments".The original sod roof of grass and dandelions has been replaced with steel. Within months of its completion in 1965, The Barn, as Grounds nick-named it, achieved almost mythical status among architects with many seeing it as a precursor to the landmark spire at the Victorian Arts Centre.
From The Barn, choose your own adventure track. One leads to a golf course (little remains), and the remnants of some of the earliest private eucalypt plantations in the country, initially overseen by Canberra forester Lindsay Pryor. Another winds past a tangle of coast banksias and melaleucas to a stand of bangalay trees, one which appears to have more trunks than I can count. It's little wonder younger visitors to the estate used to camp here.
A third track ends at a wooden seat, complete with foot rest, perched near the tip of the headland. It was here that apparently Grounds and Myer would while the afternoons away chatting, planning and enjoying a bottle of red (or two). With a clear view of the sun setting over the estuary and hinterland to the west and an uninterrupted vista of the deep blue yonder to the east, you would be hard pressed finding a better place for a sundowner. As I watch the fish dart about at my feet on the incoming tide, and with no sign of civilisation within cooee, even a swig of H2O from my water bottle tastes sweet.
The historic 1965 Barn at Myer House Photo: Tim the Yowie Man
Having fallen under the spell of its theme-park like grounds and with the sooty owls starting to shift in their roosts, it's time to finally enter Myer House itself. Will it be as delightfully quirky as the other structures? Built from poles and rough-sawn boards milled on site, from the outside it blends into its forested surrounding much more than the dome and barn and a quick tour inside reveals it's also far more conventional.
Grounds was well known for his experimental Australian style (fusing living and dining area) and this is reflected in the baronial style dining/living room which runs the entire length of the house and features two fire places, soaring roof and clerestory windows.
The library is stocked with all sorts of Australiana classics as well as a range of magazines from fishing guides to a Woman's Weekly from 1974. However, taking pride of place on the top shelf is The Many Lives of Kenneth Myer (Sue Ebury, 2008) which even has the pages with references to his time at his south coast retreat tagged with post-it notes. There's nothing better than reading a book in a location where it is set, especially a biography - you feel as if you have a better understanding of some of the personalities. Heck, you can even poke your head outside (beware the bandicoots and possums!) and see with your own eyes some of the garden features you are actually reading about. Reality TV, eat your heart out.
A gnarly old bangalay tree at Myer House. Photo: Tim the Yowie Man
There's four bedrooms to pick from, two with ensuites, and I choose the one closest to the inlet where I drift off to sleep to the comforting sound of palm fronds swaying in the sea breeze. My dreams are vivid - and one involves sharing a bottle of red with the ghost of Ken Myer on his sunset seat while asking him about the day he turned down the offer from Gough Whitlam to become Governor General (it ended up going to John Kerr).
Morning breaks early - you see the sunrise from your pillow - and after breakfast I clamber up the hill behind the house to a memorial plaque. It's in memory of Myer and his second wife, Yasuko, who both died in plane crash in Alaska in July 1992. The inscription poignantly reads: "They loved and protected this forest. Remember them in the beauty that surrounds us."
Myer House is perfectly positioned as a base from which to explore the sights of the National Park. However, it's not every day you have your own private estate in which to roam, so, instead of adventuring further afield, I take heed of the advice on the plaque and spend the rest of the day, just as Ken and Yasuko would have, enjoying the wonderfully idiosyncratic Myer House and its immediate surrounds.
One of four bedrooms at Myer House Photo: NPWS
All right, OK, I'll confess, that should read, ''most'' of the day because I did sneak off late afternoon to buy a bottle of red for my last sunset. Myer's ghost didn't show up, but it truly is a seat with a view.
Myer House at Bithry Inlet: Bithry Inlet Road, via Penders Road, Tanja, Mimosa Rocks National Park, 222 kilometres south-east of Canberra (allow up to three hours to drive from Canberra). Sleeps up to 12 people in four bedrooms (plus sunrooms). Prices vary from $1200 for weekends in low season to $3990 a week in high season. It might sound expensive, but if spread among 12 people it's quite affordable for your own coastal hideaway. You can book by calling 02 4476 0800. The house is also listed on stayz.com.au
Mimosa Rocks National Park Top 3: Park ranger Helen Hayward knows the lagoons, sandy beaches and rocky headlands of this 5800-hectare patch of paradise better than anyone else. Her three favourite activities in the park are kayaking, photography and walking. Apart from Bithry Inlet, other must-sees, according to Hayward, are Nelsons Lagoon (take your binoculars and look out for pied oystercatchers, striated thornbills and little wattlebirds foraging for food) and Aragunnu (check out the volcanic rock stacks). More: nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
Tim's Tip: There is no mobile phone reception at Myer House. However, if you take a stroll up to the water tanks beyond the tennis court there are a few spots where you can access Telstra 3G.
Did You Know? The park is named after the Mimosa, a paddle steamer which was wrecked in 1863 after running on to rocks at the northern end of the park.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @TimYowie or write to me c/o The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick. A selection of past columns is available at canberratimes.com.au/travel/blog/yowie-man.