Amigo’s Castle, Lightning Ridge
We drove out into the middle of nowhere and this was the scene that was not only surprising but nothing you could picture beforehand. A castle, or at least the beginnings of one. Walking toward this dramatic structure there was a certain amount of jaw dropping especially when we found out it was all down to one man, Vittorio Stefanato. Known locally as “Amigo”, opal miner and castle builder, he began this project in 1985 when he started getting tired of opal mining. Initially he sourced his stone from his mining lease but soon had to travel to all areas around Lightning Ridge as his castle grew in size.
From this angle – stunning and massive.
We walked to the main entrance and found an impressive collection of memories. Amigo was born in Meduna Di Livenza near Treviso in northern Italy where his father’s family came from. He was named after his uncle Vittorio who died on the Russian Front during the Second World War.
Pictures of the construction of the castle.
Incredulous scaffolding – the Council squeaked health and safety........
On the 10th of November 1996 the Sun Herald reported: For the past fifteen years, Italian-Australian, Amigo, has been illegally building the fifteen metres tall Amigo’s Castle in Lightning Ridge, a giant Romanesque construction made from more than twenty thousand ironstone boulders-each carried out from the bush in a rucksack. He intends it to be a home for a princess he has yet to meet. In the meantime he lives in a caravan at the back.
Not just the scaffolding the Council complained about. Apparently Amigo doesn’t own the land he chose to build on, he just leases it. The authorities also refused permission for the roof to be added, unhappy about the structural integrity of the walls and lack of lintels over the windows.
In 1984 a historian and poet Bruce Smith wrote a poem about Amigo and his castle.
He has no plans,
his tools are few,
he just builds,
toiling in the winter warmth,
shaping the elements of Australian wilderness
into mixed reminders of another world
deep within himself.
Like a bizarre dream it relates
absurdly to everything
save the one whose dream it is.
But herein lies the sense for from his dreaming
in this outback world
others still unborn will come and dream.
Excerpts from an article that featured in the Australian Women’s Weekly reported in February 1997: Amigo worked hard for eight years but the only thing the unforgiving earth surrendered to him were rocks, rocks and more rocks. So in 1981 this nuggetty man decided to do the best he could with what he had. He built a rock castle.
Amigo said: “My hands have touched every stone so the castle became a part of me. When I started building I used rocks because they were free. I only wanted a small
house to live in, but once I started, I really liked the way the rocks looked, all fitting together, so I kept going.” Amigo has no building qualifications and didn’t follow any plan. Instinct was his only guide, design being created just one rock at the time. Amigo had tunnelled about six metres below his castle, creating a labyrinth of cellars which provides cool solace from the scorching sun. “I have to use my energy on something,” says Amigo. “When I went back to Italy in 1980 my parents were disappointed that their son who set off to make his fortune found no opals and no wife. I think that is the real reason I am building a castle. I thought I’d better have something to show for my time here. If I had found my fortune I wouldn’t be building a castle but now I’d rather have the castle than a million dollars.”
“As a child I liked to explore the ruins of the old Roman fortification in Italy where I grew up. The secret passages and the mystery of it all fascinated me. At the age of twenty-two I read in the Reader’s Digest about Lightning Ridge opal. I suppose that article changed my life. I came to Australia in 1970. In Tennant Creek where I played soccer, people did not know my name so they called out Go Amigo. The name stuck and everybody knows me now as Amigo, which in Spanish means a friend. In Italian a friend is Amico. In Tennant creek I met Klaus, A German opal miner, who showed me the first opal chip bottle. He was going to Lightning Ridge so I packed my camping gear into my land rover and went with him. I lived on my own in the Ridge for 28 years. I have little in common with people in my home-town; I have little in common even with Italian community in Australia because there are few Italians in the Ridge. I am closer to Australians than to Italians who never left Italy. Now I have a friend from home that has travelled a similar road I travelled. We can go right there to our beginning and share the memories of our growing up as well as the reality of our becoming Australians.”
“I cannot even honestly say what I think and feel about the people I like and about those that come to see me. I have to maintain propriety so I can continue living with these people. I need these people because we share bits of our private selves with each other. Being discrete and tactful stops me from being completely honest. It does not matter if someone writes the truth about you after you are dead. You can no longer hurt anyone and you no longer need anyone. It is even harder to talk about my own private intimate thoughts and feelings although these thoughts and feelings make me who I am. My thoughts and my feelings are the most precious part of me so I am careful whom I share that with. Perhaps the private me is not as solid as a rock. Today I swept my castle and I found a honeybee in the corner. It looked dead. I took it in the sun and it flew away. A thought came to me that I am much like that bee.
Like a honeybee
Caught in the winter wind
With a frozen wing
Where is your sting?
Where is my sting?
I had enthusiasm, plans, energy and dreams but at the moment I feel no urgency to create. I have no sting. My castle is waiting unfinished. I see no purpose. Perhaps my feelings will soon change.”
ALL IN ALL EXTRAORDINARY BUT VERY SAD IN SO MANY WAYS
SUCH A SHAME HE’S NOT ALLOWED TO FINISH