William Ricketts Sanctuary

This place is definitely worth a trip; I have never seen anything like it! On a weekend drive to the Dandenongs we discovered the William Ricketts Sanctuary, a truly incredible park full of tall eucalypts (plural of “eucalyptus”) and tree ferns, and with sculptures around every bend in the pathway.

The park was created by William Ricketts, who dedicated his life to preserving the forest (some people wanted to use the trees commercially for wood chips) and to remembering the Aboriginal people who once lived here.

Although he was ethnically European, Ricketts made frequent trips into Central Australia to live with the Pitjantjatjara and Arrernte Aboriginal people, whose traditions and culture inspired his sculpture; he considered himself part of the Pitjantjatjara nation.

Along with the sculptures, which are ceramic, but look like they are carved of wood and stone (in fact, they look like they are growing out of the trees and stones in the forest) are poems and songs and prayers carved into the pieces, all about Ricketts’ experience of spirituality and imagination and creativity and living in ecstacy . . . and including some stories about Aboriginal worldview.

The written inscriptions reminded Jim of the workshops in Big Sur, where one “gets in touch.”

A plaque at the entrance told visitors that the Sanctuary was dedicated to Reverence for All Living Things. I had to remind myself that children’s expressions of reverence (playing in the mud, fiddling with the ferns, stomping about), are different than adults’.

Mr. Ricketts (an Australian National Treasure) passed away in 1993, at the age of 95. He had not retired; was still working and had plans for projects to keep him busy for years.

His last pieces seemed to be more social statements (mean-looking men with guns, and crowns of bullets, men hanging on crosses) than the earlier, more etheric people-and-animals-growing-out-of-trees pieces.

How to get there: take the Burwood Highway east out of Melbourne to Upper Ferntree Gully. From there, take the Mt. Dandenong Tourist Road (Hwy #22) northeast (it winds around a lot) to the town of Olinda (where you can see the National Rhododendron Garden, if you’re so inclined).

From there it’s only another 2 or 3 kilometers north on 22, and you’re there. All told, it’s less than 40 kilometers from Melbourne. You can see the Healesville Wild Animal Sanctuary the same day.



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