An Artists’ Retreat


Easter 2013 was the first time I was introduced to the quaint, bayside town of Indented Head and the enchanting orange house nestled within. I flew down from Sydney, with my partner, to meet his mother for the very first time. She had just been diagnosed with bowel cancer.

Her name was Margaret, or ‘M’ as she liked to be called, and she was a poet and performer who dedicated her life to the arts. The stories I had heard about this fierce, independent, creative woman were far from ordinary and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect or how I would be received. I was nervous. The cancer, colostomy bag, and chemo only added another layer of intensity.

The moment I stepped through the red front door my nerves and uncertainty dissipated. A warm wave of calm washed over me like a childhood memory revisited. I have never felt so at home, and so strangely familiar, in a new environment.

This home was M personified: it was colourful, open and warm. Adorned with myriad artworks, books, and curiosities — collected over the years, from countries visited during her traveling shows, and countless thrift shop adventures — there was always something around to intrigue, entertain or inspire. Regardless of all this busyness, the house still managed to feel totally uncluttered, light, and spacious, aided in part by the bright white internal walls and polished pinewood floorboards.

Aptly named Crickneck, due to its bright ‘double-take’ orange exterior, M painted every inch of the house herself, many years prior. It was in protest of the new housing developments going up around her, which were limited to a certain range of (more neutral) colour schemes. This new development meant the demolishment of the local caravan park, a place where she had forged many friendships over the years.


We curled up on the sofa in the large, raised living room; warm and cosy inside Crickneck’s protective orange walls. It was a particularly cold Easter. We listened to the wind howl outside and the trees brush against the sides of the house — the only noises to be heard besides the crackling fire, dancing within the glowing potbelly. It felt like we could have been the only three people left in the world.


In autumn, and particularly in winter, Indented Head feels almost uninhabited, especially in comparison to it’s warmer months when it becomes a hive of activity. This peacefulness is partly why the colder months are my favourite time to stay; also because it is the setting of my first visit. The bay is at its most fierce in winter (which is still pretty calm) and is a more sombre, steely hue than its summery blue-green.


It wasn’t surprising that we felt like the only people in the town, located 110km south-west of Melbourne: the 2011 census recorded a total population of 920 people in the area of Indented Head, named after the shape of its coastline. The median age of residents was 52 years. On census night only 39% of the dwellings were occupied, indicating that about half were probably holiday homes. The town is so small no direct postal delivery is provided and residents must make their way to the general store — a large space stocked with the bare minimum: dry and frozen foods, wine and fishing supplies — to collect their letters and parcels.

Dinner was ready. Leading down from the lounge area was a warmly lit dining room and partially-walled kitchen. The differing levels helped create separate and unique areas while still maintaining an open and connected space. We sat at the long dining table, the bright red and yellow painting smiling happily on the wall behind us as we ate a meal prepared by M.


The peppery rocket salad accompanying our humble feast was picked fresh from M’s vegetable patch. We sipped water flavoured with wedges of sweet lemon, also from her garden. She informed us we had just missed out on sampling the golden flesh from her apricot tree, that her apple tree would be fruiting soon and that she had planted an infant cherry tree which she hoped would blossom in the summertime.

Summertime in Indented Head is brimming with life. The foreshore caravan park fills with ‘part-time’ locals who settle in for the entirety of of the warmer months. From dusk until dawn the bay is dotted with swimmers, paddle boats, jet skis and fishing ‘tinnies’ — as well as a local pelican or two.

The bay in summer (Photo from Australia For Everyone website)

Mainlanders flock over on the ferry, for day ventures, especially during the Portarlington Mussel Festival, joining the residents in the oceanic tastings and fun.

The wineries, in neighbouring towns, offer visitors more earthy gastronomic delights, coupled with stunning views of farmland meeting the bay.

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Basil’s Farm (photo from their website)

You can also go blueberry picking in summer or get a relaxing remedial massage  in a bell tent by the beach. There are many art galleries worth visiting and more thrift shops than you could ever hope for. The local garage sales are also a must and are where I have managed to pick up many unique treasures over the years.

A treasure which M procured, on one such adventure, was a rainbow kite. During my first visit we flew that kite down by the bay. The cooler climate meant we didn’t have to share the water’s edge with anyone except the pelicans and gulls. We offered the kite to the wind who ushered it up into the sky. The kite became a spec against the soft pink, purple and blue backdrop. In later years, we have been lucky enough to witness dolphins gliding through the undulating water, that same pastel palette behind them.

Pascal skies (photo by Elise Polito).

M lost her battle to cancer in October 2014. We buried her ashes under a tree, on a hill overlooking the bay. Her tombstone is crooked, as she requested, and reads simply:

Margaret Cameron
1955 – 2014

Margaret passed Crickneck on to my partner, her only child, who has ensured that her essence lives on within the bright citrus shell. It’s been special to be able to share it with others, especially M’s family, friends and the theatre company Chamber Made Opera, of which Margaret was a part.

Indented Head’s history goes far beyond my own personal connection with the place, past colonial settlement, all the way back to the dreamtime. For thousands of years the rightful landowners, the Wathaurong people, lived harmoniously with the beautiful and diverse landscape that makes up Indented Head and its surrounding areas.


All photos taken by the talented Lisa Businovski, unless specified.

~ In loving memory of M ~

Lady in Red (photo by me).