I’d been been a reader of Frankie magazine for some time when they contacted me about photographing the Old Schoolmasters House for Spaces 2: Where Creative People Live Work and Play – a book that focuses on resourcefulness and individual style. The editor Leta Keens visited Hill End one hot summers day and the article she wrote is reprinted below
Hill End is the end of the road – there’s literally nowhere to go once you get to the old gold mining town, an hour-and-a-half’s drive through hills from Bathurst in central western New South Wales. For a while in the 1800s, it had a population of 8000, dozens of pubs, an opium den and an oyster bar. Now, there’s empty land where many of the buildings used to stand, and only around 200 people, many of them artists, live there permanently. Goats wander the streets and paddocks. Some of the miners’ cottages are now artists’ residencies – the town has an ever-changing population as poets and painters, sculptors and potters draw inspiration from their surroundings. It’s the sort of place where people are friendly but give each other space, where neighbours drop in for a chat and the pub is a centre of social life.
A couple of years ago, photographer/designer Ingrid Weir was visiting friends staying at one of those artists’ residencies and fell for the place. There’s something about the landscape in that part of the world, she says. “It’s raw and authentic, not pretty country.” She’d thought that one day, a long time in the future, she might have a place in the country, but found out on the grapevine that the Old Schoolmaster’s House, surrounded by an acre of land, was for sale. The house is up above the town; the school, now with only a handful of pupils, is across the road. The house is high enough off the ground and solid enough to be protected from the summer heat and icy winter weather.
As a designer and photographer, and avid Instagrammer, the Old Schoolmaster’s House appeared to Ingrid as a blank canvas, a place to try things out. She thinks of it as a laboratory for creative ideas, and one that will soon partly pay its way through short-term rentals. When she first saw it, she says, “I didn’t see it as a house, I saw it more as a project, of what it could be – there’s a lot to play around with.”
It’s out the back, too, that Ingrid has made an outdoor dining room, protected by a wall with an opening in the centre. This frames a view to the church across the hill and, at twilight, mobs of kangaroos contemplating the evening air. It’s here she comes to first thing in the morning for a coffee, and often for lunch or dinner, especially when friends are visiting. “I’ve just discovered the word ‘sobremesa’, which is that thing of sitting round the table for hours, talking after a meal,” she says. “There’s time to do that here in a way that’s not possible in the city. This house has added a dimension to my life.”