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Engineering the perfect retirement

May 6, 2020

The first time that Phil Robertson visited Rushall Park was in 1986 to find a solution for a roofing problem in a home in Henty Avenue.

Thirty years later and Phil moved into the Benjamin Barnes’ cottage next door to the very home he helped to fix.

“It was serendipity, I think,” Phil said.

Phil has loved the village since his first visit. Initially it was the architecture which attracted him and since moving in, it is the community spirit, its philosophy, the sense of history and purpose.

“I used to bring clients to the village to show them how Victorian architecture had changed over the years. It is such a special place with a rich history,” Phil said.

“When I started thinking about where I might want to finish up living, I had always hoped it would be Rushall Park. It is a peaceful place, I can get on with living without worrying about having to maintain the garden or keep up the house,” he said.

Born in Sandringham, Phil has mostly lived and worked in Melbourne in the building or engineering industry. His childhood focused on riding bikes, being part of the scouts, and being part of an extensive family.

He left school to become an engineering apprentice at his uncle’s factory in Sandringham where he discovered a love of mechanical engineering. At 20, Phil moved into the sales’ division of James Hardie and Co and in 1971, moved to Tasmania to work on a start-up business. He was persuaded to return to James Hardie to run their roofing department and was part of the company’s drive to reintroduce fibre cement roofing into Australia. He was headhunted again for a building company in Sydney and then moved to Orange.

It was during this time that he met partner Liz Montgomery, and the conversation turned to thinking about the future.

“We decided to put our names down on the waiting list, and four years later were lucky when a cottage became available,” Phil said.

One of the first things that they did after moving in was to buy a new stove.

“We both love cooking, and wanted to have a stove which was ideal for baking as well as turning out roasts,” he said.

The irony that he lives in Benjamin Barnes cottage is not lost on Phil.

“Barnes was one of Victoria’s earliest engineers and I rather like the fact that I am living in the home of someone who was in the same industry as me,” he said.

Barnes arrived in Australia aboard The Earl of Charlmont in 1853. His first job in Melbourne was to look after the engine and machinery at Smith and Kirk’s tannery on the Yarra for 35 pounds a year.  No stranger to hard work, Benjamin left this job after twelve months and walked to the Ovens goldfields near Beechworth to make his fortune. He didn’t, and returned to Melbourne and joined Enoch Chambers in building up an engineering business. Barnes was the engineer for the construction of the iron bridge over the Murray River at Echuca, where he lived until the bridge was completed

“For reasons which are not entirely certain, Barnes bequeathed 1400 pounds to build a cottage at the Old Colonists’ village in Rushall Park, and 400 pounds to endow it,” Phil said.

“It is a lovely home, filled with character and it is a privilege that for a while, I am able to live in it.”

Today Phil lives a productive life. He is on the Rushall Park residents’ committee and convenes the Men’s Lunch Group.

“Our home has always been a place where family and friends are welcome.  Our cottage at Rushall Park is no different and the community of friends here is important to us and that’s why their work is part of my art box,” Jennifer Barden said.

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