Meet the travel agent multi-tasking as caretaker of a century-old tower

Meet the travel agent multi-tasking as caretaker of a century-old tower

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Ben Deering’s workday starts with a coffee and a commute into the clouds.

While his office — a century-old tower on the side of an old volcano — may not have toilets, elevators or air-con, the multi-tasking travel agent has found the perks come from working 190 metres above sea level.

“You can’t really get past the view,” he said.

“It’s not normal to have a sinkhole that’s on the side of a volcano, which has a lake in it and a tower on top with this view. It’s really, really special.”

Mr Deering has relocated his family and business from Adelaide to become the new caretaker of Mount Gambier’s Centenary Tower, the highest landmark in the regional city in South Australia’s south-east.

His work address is still a novelty — despite the steep climb he makes on foot each day.

“It’s definitely keeping me fit. I’ve had to make a couple of notches on the belt to tighten it in,” he said.

“Everyone thinks I must be sweating and lonely up here, but the walls are about two foot thick so it’s actually beautiful in summer.

“It obviously has the best view in the whole of the south-east.

“I’ve got power, I’ve got Wi-Fi so my job runs fine.

“Probably the only thing it’s missing is a toilet and everyone wonders about that … but I’ll let you figure out how nature works on your own.”

Becoming ‘the tower guy’

Although the isolated setting may seem perfect for an introvert, being a ‘people person’ is a key requirement of the role.

Mr Deering’s first task each morning is to raise the flag on the tower’s roof, signalling it is open for public tours.

On his busiest days, he can greet up to 100 visitors who stop for a chat or to climb the tower for a small fee.

The local community already knows him as ‘the tower guy’.

“It’s a real honour,” he said.

“Everyone feels like they have an emotional tie to the tower. The lake and the tower are the two things that make Mount Gambier feel like home.”

Until this year, he was just one of the many curious hikers who could only admire the tower from the outside.

The last caretakers left in early 2016 and with no-one to fill the role, the doors remained locked to the public.

“I was desperate to get inside,” Mr Deering said.

“I’d been coming here for years and everyone used to say it’d be open when the flag flies. But the flag was never flown.

“I think I ended up as caretaker by asking the questions at the right time.”

High hopes for tourism potential

Built by locals and finished in 1904, the tower was originally designed to house a telescope gifted to the city by the State Government in the 1800s.

The combination of its history and prominence on the top of the hill has made it a much-loved landmark among locals.

Shirley White, whose grandfather Henry Hosking served as the tower’s second caretaker from 1935-1954, was thrilled to see it had re-opened.

“I just have great memories of him and I hope a lot of people appreciate the tower when they go to visit,” she said.

“He would think that was great because everybody looked for the flag to be flying at the tower. He loved showing them all the scenery around it.”

Mr Deering could not put a timeframe on his stay but hoped to spend it building up the tower’s tourism profile, especially internationally.

“It’s a stepping stone to really putting this place on the map from a tourism perspective, and letting so many people appreciate what we have here,” he said.

“I really think people will come from all over the world to see it.

“I have been dubbed as having a castle as a work office, and when you look at it from the outside it’s pretty hard to deny.”

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