Kev Long took on a big challenge. With the job done he’d discovered a new way of looking at life and the world around him.
The view out the window driving southwest along the mighty Hume Highway doesn’t provide much stimulation for the viewer. Old, brown hills stretch off into oblivion, making it feel like you’re going nowhere.
The monotonous drive into the Snowy Mountains is one many have become accustomed to on winter pilgrimages. But in late 2017, Kevin Long made the same drive on quite a different journey.
Kev was on his way to start work on what would prove to be his most challenging project in 40 years of building.
Tucked away in the hills of Jindabyne lay 100 acres of virgin bushland, occupied only by a handful of Kangaroos and a tribe of squatters living in a corrugated-iron shantytown. The land, which felt like stepping into a Banjo Patterson poem, was to be the site for a rustic cabin. The client was Glenn Peterson, who Kev had worked with several times over the years, mainly on their family home overlooking Palm Beach, and while this project was still intended to be based around family, it provided a unique set of challenges and hurdles.
After a career in carpentry and building on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, Kev saw the bush adventure as an opportunity to be involved in a project completely different to what he was used to. He recounted his initial reaction to the client’s proposal: “To position and construct a house on an untouched piece of land, with no existing services or structures, was an elementary, almost primal desire for me.”
This project was bound to be a serious challenge, but what Kev didn’t realise was how quickly the challenges would start revealing themselves.
“The site was a lot wilder, denser and hillier than I’d imagined,” he recalled.
The only access to the best building spot was a rocky bush track, barely wide enough for one person to clamber up. That meant having to clear a wider, more car-friendly path on the opposite side of the hill by hand. The first week in the bush was spent lopping trees with a chainsaw before any measurements could be taken.
Once a makeshift driveway had been made, the next challenge was deciding on the best orientation for the build. With no existing structure or landmarks to use as reference points, it was difficult for Kev to imagine which position would best capture the views and the sun, and which would avoid the most heavy excavation.
Once the site had been made relatively accessible, plans had been drawn and heights had been measured, the next step was to construct something to live in for the duration of the build.
“Sleeping in a swag while I built a more robust cabin felt like I was living in an adventure novel,” Kev grinned. “Every day became a test – from bull ants, brown snakes, feral cats and thunderstorms. I certainly had to adapt to living in a different environment.”
He chuckled as he looked back at the early stages.
Not So Easy
The onsite accommodation was thrown up in little over a week.
Enlisting the help of an old friend and carpenter, Anthony ‘Wiseo’ Wiseman, the boys used as many recycled materials as they could, including old corrugated-iron sheets left behind by the squatters who’d previously occupied the land.
With a roof over their heads to keep the snow and foxes out, Kev had to go back to square one in terms of finding tradies and subcontractors up to the task of working in such a wild environment.
“Not having access to the tradies and subbies I had developed such a good relationship with at home became very frustrating,” Kev remembered with a sigh.
Working as a tradie in the Snowy Mountains proved to be very different from the established work culture of bigger cities. Everything was a lot further apart. The advantage of being able to run to the tip, pick up some timber, grab some fixings and get smoko, all in under an hour, was lost to the open road.
“The pace of work and life in the Snowy Mountains was a lot more relaxed than Sydney,” said Kev. “There are never any traffic jams unless you hit a ’roo, and everyone seemed to be friendlier. No-one’s in too much of rush.
“The attitude is good for the soul, but when you’re trying to order 50 lengths of LVLs and no-one can give you an exact time, it can get under your skin.”
Kev remembered one afternoon a few weeks into the snow season when a delivery truck had arrived from Canberra with 100 sheets of gyprock. Lo and behold, the flatbed truck was no match for the makeshift dirt driveway.
“There’s no way I’m getting up there,” the driver said, shaking his head.
As Kev looked for a solution, an ominous cloud crept over the mountains, bringing with it a steady snowfall.
“I didn’t know what snow does to bare gyprock, but I sure as hell didn’t want to find out,” he said.
Panicking, Kev tapped every local resource he had trying to find shelter for the gyprock. Being a Friday afternoon made it quite difficult. Luckily, as the snow turned from pellets to flakes, the owners of the local hardware store said they’d house the materials until the storm blew over and he could find a way to cart them up the dirt track.
“Although problems like that caused minor panic attacks, I found I preferred that attitude towards working and living,” said Long.
Kev had become accustomed to a certain type of working lifestyle in Sydney. Finishing work and being able to shoot down to the beach for a surf, or just having a yarn in the carpark, was a comfort that could easily be taken for granted. It’s only when he had to start digging holes to take a crap in that he realised how far out of his comfort zone he had stepped.
“Being alone in the bush so far from home and my family really tested my spirit. But as the weeks progressed, being out of my comfort zone was something I began to cherish.”
The challenges of isolation and lack of resources that loomed over Kev at the beginning of the adventure eventually turned into sources of inspiration.
“The isolation, which at first scared the shit out of me, was something I began to value. Being able to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and spend some time alone in nature developed into an almost cathartic process.”
One friend that kept Kev company came in the form of a red fox, aptly named ‘Megan’.
“Every afternoon when I would be making my dinner, Megan would appear out of the
bushes. At first it was a bit scary, but in the end she became like a pet. Many an afternoon staring into the wilderness was spent with Megan by my side.”
Give It A Try
As the weeks progressed into months, then years, Kev formed a relationship with the small, tight-knit community which allowed him encounters with folks from very different walks of life to those he was used to.
“The area was home to all sorts – from old families who had come down to work on the Snowy hydro scheme to travellers from all over the world who ended up there by chance and fell in love with the place,” Kev remembered.
Kev also developed a strong appreciation for the land he was on and a bet ter understanding of what life in regional Australia was like.
As the project began to near completion, Kev couldn’t help but reflect on the physical and emotional journey the job had taken him on. “With some frustration over not being as efficient as I would have liked due to being in unfamiliar territory, I’m leaving this job with pride and a heart full of pleasant memories,” he said. “I recommend everyone would benefit from spending time alone in the natural world, and away from their usual support mechanisms.”