Architecture

Lionel Buckett's spectacular Clifftop Cave

Lionel Buckett's spectacular C...
Clifftop Cave: The Blue Mountains offer exquisite views (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: The Blue Mountains offer exquisite views (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
View 40 Images
Clifftop Cave: (L to R) Noel McKeegan with Lionel Buckett and colleague Phil Tompkins (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: (L to R) Noel McKeegan with Lionel Buckett and colleague Phil Tompkins (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Copper pipe around the wood-fired heater's exhaust flue uses waste heat to make hot water (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Copper pipe around the wood-fired heater's exhaust flue uses waste heat to make hot water (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Baby platypus carving in the ceiling references the history of the property (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Baby platypus carving in the ceiling references the history of the property (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Lionel refers to this rock as his guard dog (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Lionel refers to this rock as his guard dog (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: The setting could not be more Australian (Photo: Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: The setting could not be more Australian (Photo: Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Totally exposed and yet totally private (Photo: Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Totally exposed and yet totally private (Photo: Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: The bathroom features a carved stone sink, ironstone toilet and its own glass doors (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: The bathroom features a carved stone sink, ironstone toilet and its own glass doors (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: The Blue Mountains themselves take center stage (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: The Blue Mountains themselves take center stage (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Noel and Nikela enjoy a stunning view (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Noel and Nikela enjoy a stunning view (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Even the kitchen drawers have sandstone facings (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Even the kitchen drawers have sandstone facings (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Carvings tell the story of Lieutenant Bowen and his aboriginal friend Billy Cotee in the 1830s (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Carvings tell the story of Lieutenant Bowen and his aboriginal friend Billy Cotee in the 1830s (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: The indoor shower features a nude carving (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: The indoor shower features a nude carving (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Hand-carved basin (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Hand-carved basin (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Carving commemorates the mountain lobsters, or yabbies, that Billy Cotee used to bring Lieutenant Bowen, the property's first white settler (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Carving commemorates the mountain lobsters, or yabbies, that Billy Cotee used to bring Lieutenant Bowen, the property's first white settler (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Copper pipe around the wood-fired heater's exhaust flue uses waste heat to make hot water (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Copper pipe around the wood-fired heater's exhaust flue uses waste heat to make hot water (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Sandstone kitchen (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Sandstone kitchen (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Sandstone kitchen (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Sandstone kitchen (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: The interior feels particularly cosy at night with a fire on (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: The interior feels particularly cosy at night with a fire on (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: The prehistoric feel of the cave's interior rhymes with the prehistoric feeling of looking out over the timeless valley outside (Photo: Loz Blain/gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: The prehistoric feel of the cave's interior rhymes with the prehistoric feeling of looking out over the timeless valley outside (Photo: Loz Blain/gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: An extraordinary feeling at night (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: An extraordinary feeling at night (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Round wooden door (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Round wooden door (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Interior in warm evening light (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Interior in warm evening light (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: The cave's arch frames the mountain range in the distance (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: The cave's arch frames the mountain range in the distance (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Carvings tell the history of the property from white settlement in 1830 (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Carvings tell the history of the property from white settlement in 1830 (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Kangaroo pelts make an appropriate bed covering (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Kangaroo pelts make an appropriate bed covering (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Wood fire offers ample heating. (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Wood fire offers ample heating. (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Mains power is there if you need it (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Mains power is there if you need it (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Outside shower lets you enjoy total exposure and total privacy (Photo: Loz Blain/gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Outside shower lets you enjoy total exposure and total privacy (Photo: Loz Blain/gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Ominous front doorway (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Ominous front doorway (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Dragon's tail exterior light (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Dragon's tail exterior light (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Stone window covers can be rolled aside (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Stone window covers can be rolled aside (Photo: Noel McKeegan/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: The Blue Mountains offer exquisite views (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: The Blue Mountains offer exquisite views (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Mt. Wilson and Mt. Irvine make a spectacular sight in the morning (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Mt. Wilson and Mt. Irvine make a spectacular sight in the morning (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Cloud rolls through Australia's Blue Mountains. (Photo: Loz Blain/gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Cloud rolls through Australia's Blue Mountains. (Photo: Loz Blain/gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Double-glazed glass doors can be completely retracted (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Double-glazed glass doors can be completely retracted (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Sliding glass door panels shield the cave in bad weather (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Sliding glass door panels shield the cave in bad weather (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Lionel Buckett points out where the local lyrebirds play (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Lionel Buckett points out where the local lyrebirds play (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Lionel Buckett points out where volcanic lava flow has solidified and sprouted a rainforest (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: Lionel Buckett points out where volcanic lava flow has solidified and sprouted a rainforest (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Lionel Buckett on the balcony of his extraordinary clifftop cave (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
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Lionel Buckett on the balcony of his extraordinary clifftop cave (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: A weathered and weary Lionel Buckett contemplates his latest creation (Photo: Loz Blain/gizmag.com)
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Clifftop Cave: A weathered and weary Lionel Buckett contemplates his latest creation (Photo: Loz Blain/gizmag.com)
View gallery - 40 images

Lionel Buckett squats barefoot on the stone outcropping that forms a natural verandah to his latest extraordinary creation. Weathered and weary with a shock of curly orange hair, he's looking out across a magnificent, pristine valley in Australia's Blue Mountains range, a view that probably hasn't changed in thousands, even hundreds of thousands of years. "It's an interesting thing with passive solar design," he muses, "that a cave facing north is probably the first passive solar building that humans ever lived in."

He'd know a thing or two about passive solar design. Buckett's company Australian Hardwood Homes was decades ahead of its time in terms of energy efficiency. "I had a company with up to about 15, 16 fellas working for about 25 years. We used to specialize in passive solar design, alternative energy systems, doing the right thing by the planet, all that sort of thing … Yeah, we won pretty well every energy award that you could for New South Wales over five or six years, and the boys in the company were master builder of the year probably 10 years ago now."

Lionel Buckett on the balcony of his extraordinary clifftop cave (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Lionel Buckett on the balcony of his extraordinary clifftop cave (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)

The business is long gone now, and Buckett has come into possession of the extraordinary piece of land we're now looking over – 600 acres of prime bushland that's been in his family since the 1950s.

"It's part of an original land grant from 1830 to a fella called Lt. Bowen. He came here and he had 17 convicts, and he made a road right down into that gorge, he built a dam and a water powered sawmill. The reason my father bought it was because in that rainforest was heaps of coachwood – highly valuable timber. It used to be a major industry here in the 40s and 50s for furniture. There's still heaps of it there, it's probably worth more than what the property's worth."

Rather than logging it, Buckett has decided to use the land as a canvas for his own creativity, creating a series of eco-friendly holiday cabins that showcase his imagination as well as his exceptional tradesmanship. Starting out as a carpenter, he began building his first house at 17 before qualifying as a bricklayer and builder. The woodwork in the cabins is exquisite, which makes it all the more remarkable that his latest creation uses almost no wood at all.

Clifftop Cave: Totally exposed and yet totally private (Photo: Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Totally exposed and yet totally private (Photo: Gizmag.com)

Clifftop Cave: Ominous front doorway (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Ominous front doorway (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)

The cllifftop cave is a concrete and steel construction that's been built onto a natural rock platform. Opening a small, round wooden door that wouldn't be out of place in Hobbiton, you step through onto a neat little landing featuring a sandstone kitchen.

Moving down a short set of stairs brings you into the main living space, with a wood space heater, a bed covered with kangaroo skins, and a hidden TV cabinet with a sliding stone door – "there'll be a TV in there," Lionel grins, "…probably." A copper pipe winds around the heater's exhaust flue, capturing waste heat and using it to heat water on its way up to a tank on the roof.

Large, double-glazed glass doors can roll out to seal the cave off in bad weather, but Lionel prefers to retract them right out of view – they make the place look like some yuppie Sydney Harbor mansion, he reckons, and the experience of the cave is all about connecting with the outside world rather than shutting it out.

Clifftop Cave: Noel and Nikela enjoy a stunning view (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Noel and Nikela enjoy a stunning view (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)

The bathroom, complete with hand-carved stone basin and a one-piece ironstone toilet seat over a long-drop composting "dunny," is set off to the side. But if you're feeling particularly at one with nature, you can use the shower on the outside wall and enjoy a rare blend of total exposure and total privacy looking out across the stunning valley.

The cave's interior is dotted with carvings that reflect the history of the settlement of the land. "We've done the story of the property," says Buckett, "maybe it's a little bit the story of Australia. So there's the ship coming, the tall sail ship. That's white man's arrival, and the next figure is the first settler on the property, Lt. Bowen. The next figure is Billy Cotee, an aboriginal fellow that he became friends with on this property back in 1830. Those two used to have lunch together and get about together because the Lieutenant liked the company of the aboriginal fella better than he liked the company of the convicts and the soldiers, according to his diary. And the aboriginal gave him presents of baby platypuses, so they're in the roof here. We've stuck a mother platypus in too.

Clifftop Cave: The interior feels particularly cosy at night with a fire on (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: The interior feels particularly cosy at night with a fire on (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)

"Every now and then I'll go bushwalking on this property and look for spots and think about what would be a nice thing to build in a particularly good spot. Every now and then I find a particularly amazing view. This spot … I would've walked past it for 5 years probably. One day I went off into the bush and I climbed back up this cliff face and came out on this rock face here, and thought 'wow, amazing, what beautiful thing could be made here.'

"It takes me a long time, because I actually get a bit disturbed that I'm changing what's originally here. That'll slow me down, because I don't want to change or destroy what originally attracted me to the area."

Clifftop Cave: (L to R) Noel McKeegan with Lionel Buckett and colleague Phil Tompkins (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: (L to R) Noel McKeegan with Lionel Buckett and colleague Phil Tompkins (Photo: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)

A cave cabin could easily descend into Flinstone-style farce, but Buckett and his team have done a good job keeping it honest and cosy. The bush itself takes center stage at all times, revealing several different characters as day turns to night and misty cloud boils and flows through the valley. The sky's so clear at night you can see the colors of the Milky Way. Watching a storm roll in across the mountains is a jaw-dropping experience, Lionel tells us, and the cave's glass doors give you a warm, dry, front row seat.

Clifftop Cave: Outside shower lets you enjoy total exposure and total privacy (Photo: Loz Blain/gizmag.com)
Clifftop Cave: Outside shower lets you enjoy total exposure and total privacy (Photo: Loz Blain/gizmag.com)

Visitors wanting to spend some time in the cave have a while to wait yet. Lionel tends to get attached to each building as he makes it. But once a few of his favorite regular guests have "buttered him up" and convinced him to let them stay there, it'll likely go up on the Blue Mountains Cabins website as a holiday option for others. When it does, it deserves to be a hit.

Enjoy a full tour of the spectacular cave cabin in out photo gallery.

View gallery - 40 images
5 comments
Bob Flint
That's a "Man Cave"
Well done, best natural setting and accomplishment in many recent years, BRAVO
Could it work without mains power?
kalqlate
SPECTACULAR!! One correction though: The caption of photo #24 reads: "Carvings tell the history of the property from white settlement in 1830." Shouldn't that be "white invasion"?
Edwin Austin
Was #12 based *ahem* on Betty Rubble? Yabba Dabba Do!
The Skud
The man is a fellow of many, many talents! I hope he gifts his property in perpetuity to the National Trust or something before greedy developers ruin his vision. A few eco-cabins should not be an excuse for eco vandalism!
S Michael
I have no problem how a man spends his money that he legitimately earned. Looks great. Now all he needs is a "Jane".