Eltham mud-brick house tour 2023

Words by Andrew Evans

Andrew Evans and Jane Hinwood at home discussing its history and their passion for mud-brick living

Live Event vs. Virtual and why we are where we are at now …

Longer term residents of Nillumbik will remember the Eltham and Panton Hill Mudbrick House Tours as lively annual events. These first began in 1964, and continued in an unbroken line until the Kinglake Black Saturday fires.  Since 2010, 300 mud-brick tourists have gathered at Montsalvat on an October Sunday to tour 5 carefully chosen mud-brick homes on a magical mini bus tour.  Eltham High School turned out 80 volunteers each year to keep it all running smoothly. Huge fun!  

But …

Then came the pandemic. The tour organizers were faced with all kinds of risks and uncertainties.  Homeowners were unhappy to host 300 people on a day. How to even search for houses within a 5km from home radius? Would people be able to come? Would there be another snap lock down? What would happen if homeowners were sick on the day?  Would the shuttle buses facilitate a mass spreader event?  Where to find home owners willing to participate? The answers to these questions are still not all fully known. From 2020 through to 2022 the tour was cancelled, as the health and organisational risks of a live tour were just too great.  

As conditions eased somewhat, the tour organizers set about reigniting our almost 60 year old tradition. However, our world is not returning so easily to 2019 settings.  All across Victoria there is a dearth of volunteer effort in the wake of the pandemic. By mid-2021 up to two thirds of volunteers had disappeared from the community. Sports clubs, schools and community organizations are all still struggling to attract enough volunteer effort to run fixtures and events. Eltham High School stepped away from working with the tour to preserve diminished volunteer effort for school sports and music performance programs.

What to do?  

Clearly we needed a format that is not so volunteer intensive and reduces health risks for homeowners and mud-brick tourists alike.  Zoom? Teams? Google Meet? Nillumbik Shire Council, the tour’s major sponsor, transferred the event funding to the Nillumbik Mud-brick Association for the 2023 event and introduced us to Jamie Robertson at Greenlight Media.  Jamie is a professional videographer with experience in staging online open days for several large education institutions. We were on our way to a virtual tour. 

Lisa Hatfield and Sam Cox

Seven volunteers, not 80. Homeowners visited by one videographer, not 300 mud-brick tourists.  Just seventeen people together on one day to stage the event online.  No mass spreader event! Low risk and low carbon footprint! But who to headline such an effort? Enter Deputy Mayor Geoff Paine. With his long film and television career, he is an MC extraordinaire!  Thank you Geoff! 

Our biggest challenge? 

How to convince our seasoned mud-brick tourists and volunteers that virtual touring has merit. Many former participants remained charry of the virtual format, but online we were able to attract a far wider audience. We began by selling tickets locally around Eltham. Then moved on to sell tickets across Victoria and into NSW, WA and then finally in California, Germany and France, as our social media promotion gained traction. Suddenly we are worldwide!  Long committed sponsors stepped up again: Morrison Kleeman, Bendigo Bank, R. Bliem & Associates, and M. Young Builders.  Sunday 21st May was our big day. Our online watchers have now exceeded 220 for the event, beating our 2010 and 2011 attendances.

The best part is … even with the virtual broadcast now over, we recorded it!  So our audience continues to grow.

Still unconvinced

See for yourself!  Have one on us. “Book” a ticket on Trybooking.com, click “buy tickets” and search “Eltham Mud-brick House Tour” and use the promo code FREE to take a free look at what you may have missed. For more information contact us via mudbrick.org.au.

Here is what Bek Naim said “Thank you for the wonderful virtual tour today, it was simply brilliant. I honestly don’t know which version is better, the virtual one or the live version I went to pre-pandemic!”

Thanks Bek! High praise indeed!  We think it was great too.

So live or virtual next year?  

None of us are going back to 2019.  In our new world, online is here to be part of whatever we do. However, we do hope to see you on a shuttle bus sometime soon and online, maybe even both simultaneously … Who knows?  You will only find out if you buy a ticket next year!

Andrew Evans is Treasurer of the Nillumbik Mud-brick Association