It’s a 4.5 to 5 hour drive from Melbourne to Buchan. Getting away from Melbourne after work by 6 means you’re not there til after 11pm. Its dark. You’re tired. It’s been a long week. Pitching a tent is the last thing you want to do! But you don’t have to, because there is Homeleigh!
Homeleigh is the heart and soul of caving in Buchan!
Homeleigh is the name of the cottage/lodge owned by the ‘Rimstone’ Co-Operative. From the early caving days in Buchan there was a rough shack they would bed down in called the top hut, but it was pretty grim. So, in the seventies a group of cavers got together and bought the building which was the original Buchan Pub and Hotel some 30 years beforehand. It was in terrible condition! They got it to a liveable state and since then they have been slowly renovating it. When I first went there in 2000 it was pretty rough. But these days it is really comfy, especially in the lounge room at the front with a fireplace and couches.
It sleeps something like 60 people at full capacity. It has two kitchens, with four fridges. It has a large dining room with a wood fired heater which is GREAT in Winter. It has a large toilet and shower block with 6 showers and men’s/women’s toilets, and a washing machine. There are two standalone bungalows for couples (or individuals) that want some privacy. And out the back is a bath tub and hose for washing down your gear at the end of the weekend.
So how does it work?
Rimstone still exists and is stronger than ever with many members, including a lot of individuals and families who used to be cavers, but have given up caving but still come and stay due to the amount of natural attractions in the area (Lakes Entrance, Snowy River, Caves Reserve Walks, The Show Caves, Fishing in the rivers, scenic driving, four wheel driving, etc). So, to become a member you purchase $100 worth of shares in the Rimstone Co-Operative. They are yours. Then you pay a $50 joining fee, and then $50 a year after that. So initially it is $200 outlay, then just $50 a year. However, it halves the price of staying. For visitors it is $25 a night for individuals, and for Rimstone Members is it $12.50 a night. Other prices are in place for families.
To stay at Homeleigh there must be a Rimstone Member present. His or her role is to collect the fees, and supervise the cleaning process at the end of the weekend, allocating jobs and quality controlling everything. If you are caving regularly it pays for itself pretty quickly. There are guests there probably three weekends out of four, but it’s rarely full and you almost always have your own room. There are many different configurations of rooms with everything from a 12 bed dorm, to 6 bed family rooms, to queen size bed rooms. The accommodation has to be booked at least 2 or 3 days in advance by email. The favoured method of payment is cash, although there are facilities for credit card, but given there is a hefty fee for using card it is discouraged. The cash is generally collected on Sunday morning. There is no ATM in town so bring cash with you. The Rimstone member that looks after the place for any given weekend is known as the MIC (Member in Charge).
For many years there was a caretaker that lived there, but Rimstone finally decided that given some minor changes, including the rule of a member being required, that the place can look after itself. It has been without a caretaker now for about 12 years without any serious incidents. Having the caretaker was nice as she was able to monitor the intentions board, but as long as you have a call out person to check in with there is no difference.
The intentions board
Homeleigh is also where the ‘intentions board’ is. It is at the front of the building and this is where all caving trips must be written up, including names of participants, licence plate numbers, club they belong to, which caves they are going in, and what time they are due back. However – The board is NOT regularly checked by anyone automatically, and you need to have somebody to check in with when you get out of the cave. If the intentions board has the same trip on it for a few days running it would probably be noticed but by this time it’s probably pretty serious. Always remember to rub off your intention before leaving town!
For the ‘call out’ person, if the party doesn’t call in within a couple of hours of their intended time, simply call the police. They will do the rest. And for the people going caving – take the time you estimate you’ll be out, and add three hours to it. Trips always take longer than you think. Homeleigh has 4G Telstra reception (and thus also has the other networks that piggyback off Telstra too). It does not however have a phone so bring your mobile, or alternatively use the phone booth in town.
Parking for vehicles is either out the front of the building which fits about 5 cars, two spots in front of the front bungalow and another 2 spots (in a squeeze) at the back beside the woodshed.
If you go in Summer expect bugs! Big bugs and lots of them! And if you go in Winter expect brutal cold, and more often than not in July/August the pipes freeze overnight. Heaters are banned after an electric heater tipped over and burnt the carpet, setting off the fire alarm. So, in winter just bring thermals and rug up! Pillows are provided but not bedding. There is town water and tank water, and both are perfectly fine to drink. There is also a large BBQ outside and an outdoor setting for the smokers.
To find Homeleigh, drive through the township, over the bridge (The Buchan River) and keep going about 100m and Homeleigh is the last building in town on the left-hand side. It’s a big white weatherboard building with a big veranda. There is a code on the front door to get in, which you will be given when you book in.
The Buchan Pub
It’s worth mentioning that people often opt to go to the pub for dinner on Saturday night after a big day of caving. Especially on beginner’s trips when people are meeting for the first time and have shared such an adventure together. The pub is an easy five minute walk, and does a good meal and have EFTPOS to buy meals and drinks. Fair warning – Caving trips are often boozy affairs once the caving is finished. Although you won’t be judged if you’re not a drinker. There are TV’s installed, which is a recent addition, but they are strictly for showing caving related footage or kids entertainment. Homeleigh is about being social, not watching the tube.
Several times a year Rimstone gather for working bees, usually on long weekends, where everyone who can pitches in for the ongoing renovations. Even those with no handyman skills are welcome. It is by no means mandatory but its appreciated.
Homeleigh has just had a plaque installed on the limestone wall on the left-hand side of the building in memory of Agnes Milowka, Caver Diver who passed away in 2011 and was a frequent visitor to Buchan and Homeleigh.
The Rimstone web site is at: http://www.rimstone.org.au for all information including booking details.
Other options to Homeleigh
If you don’t have a Rimstone member in mind to come and be member in charge, my advice is to book well ahead of time, and tell the booking officer that they need someone from Rimstone to come down for that weekend if possible. They will try and accommodate you. And as I said, on average 3 out of 4 weekends have guests. But if you are unlucky, there is also a hotel, some log cabins, the campground (which includes a number of eco-cabins), so there are other options.
Usually the very big groups camp at the reserve, often scouting groups, university clubs, school trips, etc. I don’t know exactly why this is the tradition – perhaps it’s just easier for everyone to be independent in a tent and not have to monitor the guests treating Homeleigh with respect.
If you do stay at Homeleigh and have a boozy night at the pub, please remember to be quiet walking back. It’s a small town and the locals have had many incidents including drunk cavers letting horses out of paddocks and other acts of minor and usually unintentional vandalism.
Proximity to the caves
Homeleigh is within 15 minutes’ drive of the main caving areas (Murrindal and East Buchan) and about 45 minutes’ drive to the more remote caving areas (The Basin, New Guinea Ridge, and others). See the caves menu for details. Most roads are either sealed, or if they are dirt then in pretty good condition and New Guinea Ridge is the only good area that really needs 4WDs for access. There is a lot of cattle grazing in the area and it is not unusual to come across herds on the roads of sheep or cows. If this occurs just stop and be patient – chances are there will be a farmer at the rear with a couple of dogs moving them along.
A warning – don’t leave valuables in view when you park at the caving sites. There has been more than a few break ins. Generally, the practice is to hide the car key somewhere discreet so that if the car owner is injured another caver can drive the car back to Buchan to get help. And make sure Homeleigh is all locked up when you leave in the morning. Theft is very rare but can happen.
So thats Homeleigh and Buchan
It’s a tough little country town. The local footy team are called the Cave Men. The farmers are hard as nails but as down to earth as anyone you’ll ever meet, and they are a close-knit group! The head ranger’s father was also a ranger. And there are families who have had three generations grow up and live their whole lives there. It is a proud town with a lot of heritage.
Whilst the main income for the town is the show caves and the accommodation for visitors, and the locals accept this, unfortunately due to many incidents over the last 30 odd years, almost all the landowners with caves on their properties don’t allow access to VSA. VSA is actively working on this and is making progress, but it is so essential that all cavers who visit Buchan behave. One incident can cause years of acrimony. Don’t trespass. Close any gates you open. Don’t be rowdy late at night. Just the basic common-sense things.
The local club VLCT are well liked and trusted so they generally have access to everything. But VLCT are more of a friendship group and won’t necessarily take total strangers caving, especially onto land that is for locals only.
You will love Buchan, it really is lovely. Even if there were no caves it would still be a special place! Enjoy!