Meet The Locals: Professor John Dixon, Son Of The ‘Pole House’ Architect
Professor John Dixon spends as much time on the Surf Coast as he can, and has many memories about the building of the iconic ‘pole house’ that stuns many visitors to the region.
That’s because his father was behind this grand design.
I recently had a chat with Professor John Dixon about all things Surf Coast, including one of the country’s most iconic buildings.
Thanks for the chat, John. Can you give me a ‘potted history’ of your time spent on the Surf Coast?
My family started coming down for holidays when I was a young child. This was in the early 1960s when we had a place at Fairhaven known as the ‘Red Door House’. As a child, every holiday was spent down here.
As an adult, I’ve had a house at Aireys Inlet for 21 years. We also have a house in Melbourne and have, until COVID hit, luckily spent around half our time in each.
In 2020 and so far this year, we’ve spent even more time here, as it’s better to isolate here than in the city. I’ve ‘attended’ many international conferences from my little desk in the bush here.
I also have a lot of family with houses here. So, you could say that I have a very strong connection here!
What do you love most about the area?
I mostly love that there are plenty of outdoor activities – that’s why I’m here. I love bushwalking, cycling and surfing – though, thanks to a problem with my elbow, it’s mainly bodysurfing these days. I also ride a motorcycle that I call my ‘psychiatrist’.
I’m also a keen photographer of wildlife, landscape and architecture. My home is ideal for this as I have kangaroos, echidnas, wallabies and wombats all on my two-acre bush block.
My favourite spot – apart from my home – is Sunnymead Beach. It’s one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. You can’t see it from the main road and the landscape at each end is extraordinary.
Tell me about how the idea for the famous ‘pole house’ in Fairhaven came about.
My father called it the ‘house on the pole’. He conceived of it in the 1970s and designed, project managed the construction and built the top part between 1976-1978.
The story is that he first had the idea while stuck in the ‘Red Door House’, recovering from an Achilles tendon injury. He knew there was a block available between that house and the beach and knew that it was the perfect spot to build a ‘house in the sky’.
As soon as the block became available, he bought it. As he was both an architect and civil engineer, he was able to consider all aspects in his design. When we went to the Shire council, everyone was shocked but no one could argue with his detailed plans, so they said: ‘Yes, go ahead’!
What do you remember about the construction?
The pole is 25 meters long, though the front of the house is far higher from the ground than that. The walkway is 40 meters long. The house is designed to move and sway, especially in the fiercely strong south-westerly winds.
Just researching the market?
What people don’t realise is that the piles and mount underneath the ground is about twice what is on top. It goes down a long way. Though people are astounded by the building, there was never any doubt that it would be successful. My father had worked on buildings like hospitals so, to him, it was a no brainer.
By the time it was built, I had finished medical school. Mum and Dad lived there and we visited as often as we could.
What did you love most about the house?
Unsurprisingly, it’s the view! You can see right down to the Otways and the view is always changing.
You can see sea life, birds, whales, sharks, big ships and everything else that’s out there.
When there’s a big sea, it’s just you and the elements. There’s a feeling that you’re above it all but, once you’re inside with a woodfire going, it’s very snug.
To have the opportunity to see all that every day is very special.
Is the house still owned by your family?
Dad sold the house in 2005. He was in his 80s and wanted to live within easy walking distance of shops so moved to another house. Dad died in 2015 and my mum, who is 95, still regularly visits and still enjoys walking to the shops.
The people who bought the ‘house on the pole’ rebuilt the house and offer it for visitors to stay in. I haven’t stayed there since, though I have friends who have.
We don’t have any direct connection with the current owners, however, there’s enormous respect as they are really proud of what they’ve got and of the person – my father – who created it.
What’s the public reaction been like over the years?
The house was already well-known before dad sold it but it’s since had even more publicity. It’s featured in international magazines, even though at least one has got some of the details wrong, including saying that it’s on the west coast of Australia.
The number of people who stop to look at it and photograph it is enormous. This is such a common occurrence that the act of someone putting their hand up to their forehead to shade their eyes in order to look up at it is now known as the ‘Fairhaven salute’!
John, I salute you! As someone who shares your love of the Surf Coast and its local architecture, I’d like to say thank you for sharing your memories of the ‘pole house’.
If you are keen to brave the walkway to enjoy the views on offer at the ‘pole house’, you can book via Stayz: https://www.stayz.com.au/holiday-rental/p7441355