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William Ricketts Sanctuary – incredible art in a natural setting

Enjoy a glimpse inside the William Ricketts Sanctuary in the Dandenong Ranges through these images but we hope you’ll be inspired by the photos and visitor’s tips to make the trip up there.

Large mossy pottery sculpture at William Ricketts Sanctuary featuring  children

Temporary closure: In June 2021 the sanctuary was extensively damaged during a major storm event. Many large trees and branches are down, there is damage to over 30 of the sculpture works and much of the infrastructure including the original residence, stone studio and kiln, public toilets, paths, handrails and fences. The extent of the damage means the sanctuary will remain closed throughout 2022. We will update you with a reopening date when we can.

If you are spending some time in the greater Melbourne area we highly recommend a trip out to William Ricketts Sanctuary in the Dandenong Ranges.

You don’t even need a perfect weather day to visit, we drove up through the range from where we were staying in the Yarra Valley on a misty autumn morning. Some rain overnight and the dampness from the air created a wonderfully moody feeling on the drive and at the sanctuary, the tree ferns glisten with water droplets, and the whole area has a fresh and earthy scent after a bit of rain.

It would be very hard not to enjoy a visit to such an incredible spot but to really experience the serenity of the location we suggest arriving early. We had the place to ourselves at opening time and were able to contemplate many of the works with only birdsong in the background.  Later in the day, the tour buses will arrive and your experience will be different with the energy of lots of curious visitors.  

The giant Mountain Ash trees loom overhead throughout the Dandenongs including the William Ricketts Sanctuary, filtering the light and the damp, the shaded environment is perfect for sustaining the moss that grows here giving life and definition to the sculptures.

I’d first seen a photo of William Ricketts Sanctuary online several years before our visit and added it to our ‘must-see’ list for when we had a spare day in Melbourne.  I’m really thankful to whoever posted that gorgeous photo and inspired our visit. It would be worth the trip out from the city for this garden alone, let alone the many other attractions that the Dandenong Ranges and Yarra Valley region have to offer.

Sculptures of William Ricketts Sanctuary, Victoria,Australia
Sculptures of William Ricketts Sanctuary, Victoria,Australia

Who is William Ricketts

William Ricketts (1898-1993) was a jeweller by trade but it’s his legacy of kiln-fired clay sculptures on his property in the Dandenong Ranges that he is known for.  

He was inspired by his frequent visits to central Australia in the 1950s and 1960s where he spent time with the Pitjantjatjara and Arrernte Aboriginal people of the areas.  In 70’s he visited India on a spiritual journey which he claimed influenced him profoundly and its influence is seen in his work and philosophy.

He settled on the property on Mount Dandenong in 1934 where he started the works seen today in the garden and continued to work on them until his death in 1993.

Interestingly I’m told Ricketts wasn’t considered a technically great potter and sculptor, something that I understand relates to his technique resulting in cracks in some of the works.  He was, however, able to evoke emotion and meaning from a lump of clay and for that, in my opinion, he was truly gifted.

The sculpture garden

As with all art, it’s what the viewer takes from it that matters and that will vary from person to person.  I personally enjoyed the William Ricketts Sanctuary and his work immensely and found it to reflect a strong feeling of spirituality and his respect for nature and all people.  

There are 92 pieces in the garden that represent his life experiences and beliefs, each one could be discussed at length or simply enjoyed for its beauty and natural setting.

Sculpture at William Ricketts Sanctuary, Victoria, Australia
Sculpture at William Ricketts Sanctuary, Victoria, Australia

In 1961 Ricketts agreed to transfer his property to the Victorian Forests Commission and the gardens were opened to the public in 1964.    The Commission built him a new home, studio and kiln on the property.  Both the original cottage he had transported and placed on the property and the other newer building are partially open along with the garden.  

He continued to live and work from the property until his death and his ashes remain there today scattered around the Tree of Life sculpture, returned to the earth as part of the cycle of life he so strongly believed in.

Sculpture at William Ricketts Sanctuary, Victoria, Australia
Sculpture arch in William Ricketts Sanctuary

Visitor Information | William Ricketts Sanctuary

Address   1402 Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, Mount Dandenong VIC 3767

Opening Hours  10 am to 4.30 pm daily (closed Christmas Day).  Weather-related closures may occur from time to time.

**note the Sanctuary is closed in 2022 while storm damage is repaired. There is currently no reopening date but please check the Parks Victoria link if you are planning a visit in 2023.

Entry Fee  Entry is free but a donation to the upkeep of the gardens is appreciated

Time Required  Allow 1-2 hours to explore the meandering paths and hidden sculptures.

Facilities  Onsite is a visitors centre and public toilets.  You are asked not to take food and drink into the gardens, it’s unsuitable for picnics and is designed to be enjoyed as a stroll garden and in quiet reflection.

However, when you finish at the gardens we can recommend a short walk further along the road to the Brunch Cafe.  This adorable little cafe has seating indoors and in the gardens with a delicious range of drinks, snacks and meals, it’s a great choice for a cuppa after exploring the William Ricketts Sanctuary or as a break when driving through the Dandenongs.

Brunch Cafe - Dandenong Ranges, Australia

Just a short drive away both the Alfred Nichols Gardens and the National Rhododendron Gardens are free to enter and are suitable spots for a picnic lunch or to continue your visit to the Dandenong gardens.

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Pottery sculpture at William Ricketts sanctuary of children with forest backdrop
Pottery sculpture at William Ricketts sanctuary of a man with forest backdrop

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Arnold Frenaij

Tuesday 4th of October 2022

I've been there, you can feel the spirit through your whole body! It felt so sacred, I didn't even dare to touch it. Even taking pictures felt like sacrilege! It is said that William Ricket created this park without the knowledge of the outside world. It was only discovered after his death!

Toni Broome

Monday 10th of October 2022

Although he continued to live there and add to his collection of works, the Victorian Government purchased the property from him and managed it as a public park for several decades before his death in 1993.

Chloe Buoton

Wednesday 30th of August 2017

Visited these through Broome Kimberley & Beyond and it was a great adventure


Thursday 17th of August 2017

It looks like a very interesting place to visit. IT reminded me a little bit of Bali


Thursday 17th of August 2017

Really interesting sculptures. Are they made of stone? They almost look carved in wood and really blend in well with the garden.


Wednesday 16th of August 2017

Wow, that's a gorgeous place! It's hard not to fall for those sculptures.

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