A mountain refuge becomes a monument to friendship

The Gantner Hut’s location was inspired by a bushwalking expedition that took place in 1959. At 16, Vallejo Gantner (OM 1960; front) and classmates Daryl Evans (OM 1960; rear), John Paul (OM 1959; mid) and Peter Druce (OM 1960) decided to test their skills by venturing along the Howqua River, up the Howitt Spur, then across to Macalister Springs. The final location was chosen by Neilma Gantner, together with friends Michael Sedgley (OM 1960) and Christopher Game (OM 1960). Photographer: Peter Druce Image courtesy of Daryl Evans

The history of the Vallejo Gantner Hut is one of friendship, dedication and love. 

The striking A-frame refuge hut, which offers shelter to the thousands who venture into the Victorian High Country each year, stands as a monument to the life of Vallejo Gantner (OM 1960) and the relationships that have endured since his passing at age 19. 

This year, Vallejo’s brother Carrillo Gantner AC (OM 1962) and close friend Michael Sedgley (OM 1960) reunited the community that built the Hut in order to celebrate its fiftieth year. For Carrillo, this was a moment to mark “an extraordinary source of companionship and memory”. 

“We re-created the original service that opened the Hut in 1971,” Carrillo explains. “It was a way to say thank you for the contribution and friendship of those who’ve helped maintain it all these years, from the core team through to the Melbourne Grammar LGR Society students who visit regularly. Wherever I am in the world, I meet people who say they’ve been to the Hut, and it gives me an enormous sense of pride.” 

Image credit: Alex Cohen, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Hut’s construction was a true team effort, led by Vallejo’s mother Neilma Gantner, from the input of architect David McGlashan, who listened closely to Vallejo’s story before beginning his design, to the contributions of local resident and builder, Jim Beha, who made at least 79 round trips to the building site. 

Guests at the 2021 service reflected this broad community. “We had the ranger who used to bring my mother in to see the Hut, representatives from Parks Victoria, Jim Beha’s widow, and someone I didn’t recognise at first, who turned out to be the original plumber!” Carrillo says.

Andrew Tulloch (OM 1986), President of The Old Melburnians, represented the Old Melburnians at the event. Andrew Baylis (OM 1979), Director of Learning and Research, represented the School.

During the service, Carrillo quoted his mother Neilma’s words: “This Hut reflects Vallejo’s shining quality and his strength. We often thought how Vallejo would have loved working on it and what a shock to his modesty it would have been to have found his name on the plaque.” 

For Michael Sedgley, a lifetime spent maintaining the Hut has been a natural consequence of his connection to the Gantner family. “I’ve done all this because after Vallejo died, Mrs Gantner became one of my best friends,” he says. 

“Mrs Gantner relied on us to build the Hut,” Michael adds. “About 40 of us camped nearby over several summer holidays for two to three weeks at a time, moving rocks to create its foundation. I’ve been involved in its maintenance ever since. It’s a place to connect with others and a place that’s created many wonderful memories.”

Another of Vallejo’s school friends, Daryl Evans (OM 1960), shares this appreciation for the way the Hut has brought people together over time. 

“In visiting over many decades, rarely have I been there without enjoying the company, however briefly, of fellow travellers of all ages,” he says. “It’s a haven—a site for a farrago of conversations, a hut with a reputation for architectural design and a strong history of professional and volunteer construction, all set in spectacular scenery.”

Volumes of the Hut’s long-running visitor logbook are now held in the State Library of Victoria. Perhaps this recent entry sums up its legacy best: Ventured here for a few days trying to find my soul. I think I’ve found it.