Ian Stapleton - founder
Mittagundi was founded by Ian Stapleton in 1978. Ian spent most of his working life amongst the mountains and their people. In the early days of outdoor education in the 1960s and 70s, he led all sorts of school groups on hiking trips, working with Outward Bound before spending six years as the first full time Hike Master at Geelong Grammar’s Timbertop campus.
In 1980, Ian left Timbertop to focus on Mittagundi full time. It was to offer young people a place to get away from the complexities of fast paced modern life, and take them to a place where they can live simply, work hard, enjoy good solid company and discover the mountains.
Built entirely by hand with volunteers, Mittagundi slowly grew into a pioneer style settlement, built in the traditional way and many miles from the noise and confusion of a big city. In 1988, Ian wrote ‘Something Small: The Story of Mittagundi’. The proceeds were used to purchase the remote block of land upon which Wollangarra, Mittagundi's sister organisation, now sits.
Ian and his wife Olivia now live in Harrietville, where Ian writes books about the characters and pioneers of the mountains, many of whom were a large part of the inspiration behind his work with young people.
Mittagundi started from scratch, with no Government funding. It relied upon the drive, passion, and dreams of a committed group of people and an enthusiastic and willing bunch of helpers. All the people that helped build Mittagundi saw the need to create a place that was simple, honest and happy. Where there were no watches, no timetables and no money. Instead where the opportunity exists for young people to live and work together in an environment where people mattered more than anything else.
From its earliest days the project attracted strong support from many people in the community - local farmers, cattleman and their families along with academics in Melbourne and everyday people from the city and the country came together to make Mittagundi happen. A lot of people believed in the idea of an outdoor education centre that provided opportunities for young people from all walks of life, and were willing to help make the dream come alive. From the start it was destined to be a special place, simply due to the diverse and strong support given by so many different people.
However even with such strong support the establishment of a camp in the middle of the Victorian mountains, with no funding, and only voluntary labour was always going to be a challenge. Mittagundi started slowly, first in canvas mess tents and old buses as sleeping quarters, but sure enough young people began to arrive, and things began to grow.
Young people came through school and youth programs and were involved in many activities ranging from outdoor pursuits like bushwalking, rafting, and skiing, through to the important jobs of building fences and cabins, and of course digging drop dunnies. Bit by bit the camp began to take shape and many young people had shared very special times working hard and exchanging stories around the campfire. After five years a lot of the building was complete and things were looking much more permanent and were certainly more weather proof.
Support and confidence from the outside world grew towards Mittagundi’s ability to offer safe and rewarding experiences for young people into the mountains. The proof was that several thousand young Victorians worked together to build a very special place. There were no contractors, no power tools, no government grants, and hardly any comforts at all. It was a two day walk in and out, there was no television, just a small diverse group of people to share life with and the dream of what can be achieved.
Today, Mittagundi is a strong as ever, and keeps evolving. Young people now come from all over Australia, some in school groups, but mostly by themselves to spend up to 10 days with 24 boys or girls, they have never met, helping to maintain the pioneer style farm and undertake an adventure. The new skills learnt in the garden, the joinery and the forge, the friends they make, the sunrises they see, and of course the campfires, its music, its conversation and the dreams and thoughts shared amongst it, all make Mittagundi a very special place for todays young people.
It certainly is amazing what young people are really capable of if given the opportunity to be involved with something that really matters and makes sense to them. Ian Stapleton the founder of Mittagundi once said that the youth of today are as good as they have ever been, its just the situations we are putting them in that need attention, and how true he is.