Ballarat bush squatter Nicholas Zounis says he will try to rebuild if authorities bulldoze his makeshift home

Nicholas Zounis at the area in state forest near Smythesdale he has tried to claim as his own. PICTURE: ADAM TRAFFORD

Nicholas Zounis at the area in state forest near Smythesdale he has tried to claim as his own. PICTURE: ADAM TRAFFORD

A BALLARAT bush squatter says he will try to stay and rebuild his makeshift home in the forest even if authorities bulldoze it.

For the past six months, Nicholas Zounis has been clearing out a space of state forest near Smythesdale which he calls his own.

"If the government comes and destroys the place, my home here… they're going to make me more dependent” - Nicholas Zounis

He has built a simple shelter with a fireplace, toilet and shower and has started work on two more permanent structures as well.

Mr Zounis said he believed he was part of a proud Australian tradition and that anyone should be able to claim public land as long as no-one else wanted it.

However, the Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) disagrees.

DEPI program manager of resource protection and management Jim O'Brien said Mr Zounis had been told his set-up was illegal and asked to leave.

"The land in question is unreserved Crown land with a bushfire overlay," he said.

"People cannot erect any structure on, or permanently occupy Crown land. The bushfire overlay also restricts occupancy.

"Health and safety concerns as a result of this illegal settlement include the risk of fire, or accident and injury to himself (Mr Zounis)."

Mr Zounis said he moved into the bush after a series of life setbacks, which included losing his job.

He said he was currently claiming welfare benefits, but did not want to do so in the long-term and was trying to pick up odd jobs as a handyman and become independent.

"If the government comes and destroys the place, my home here, they're going to set me back, they're going to make me more dependent," he said.

Mr Zounis posed for photographs with The Courier wearing a belt buckle with bullets, but said he did not own a gun and was a non-violent man.

He said if authorities did remove or destroy his shelter, he would simply film it and post the footage to YouTube.

"I don't think they're going to get themselves on camera destroying someone's home to be honest, but who knows," he said.

Mr Zounis said if that did happen, he would try to rebuild.

"This is my home. What can I do? I'll just set up again."

Mr O'Brien said DEPI had been in discussions with agencies regarding support options for Mr Zounis.

Inside Nicholas Zounis's shelter. PICTURE: ADAM TRAFFORD

Inside Nicholas Zounis's shelter. PICTURE: ADAM TRAFFORD

Creature comforts

INSIDE Nicholas Zounis's makeshift home, there's hot water on tap, a couch and a torch hanging from the roof for lighting.

The first part of the shelter, where he currently resides, was created around a fireplace he built mostly with bricks he found in the forest.

Nearby, Mr Zounis has poured two concrete slabs and started work on more permanent structures.

Mr Zounis said the hardest part of his journey so far was getting started as winter set in.

"Probably the first few days, getting started, because it was coming into winter. It still wasn't cold, but it was starting to get cold," he said.

“I set up a shower and I always keep clean and keep warm” - Nicholas Zounis

"Just the nights are difficult, everything else hasn't been too hard. I set up a shower and I always keep clean and keep warm.

"The main thing is to be out of the wind and have a fire, and you'll get through winter no problem."

Mr Zounis said he did get lonely, but wasn't too bothered by it.

"It is lonely being out by yourself, absolutely it is lonely. But what can you do? I have my chickens to talk to."

Another problem has been keeping the chickens safe. Several of them have been taken by foxes.

Each night Mr Zounis cooks in a stove in the fireplace. The night before The Courier visited he ate rice and tuna for dinner.

"Every night when I'm here I'll put some rice (in the fire) and it slow-cooks," he said.

"I was having more eggs when I had more chickens, but now I'm getting less eggs unfortunately."