A perfect hiding place

Seclusion worthy of a global celebrity envelopes Max Anderson at an outpost facing the Southern Ocean.

'What's her real name?" I ask.

Rick Fenny frowns. "It's um ... It's ... Ha! I can't remember. Anne? No ..." He shrugs. "Everyone just called her 'Gaga'."

In March last year, one of the world's most powerful celebrities disappeared for four days. She'd left Brisbane after playing her Monster Ball Tour show and was on her way to play Perth. After crossing into Western Australia, her private jet detoured to Albany Regional Airport to land under the cover of darkness. She was driven 30 kilometres east into Fenny's private ocean-side retreat, Maitraya. Nobody knew where she was.

Including Lady Gaga.

With only the light from the moon, she arrived oblivious to the 200 hectares of farmland, the ornamental lake stocked with marron and the carefully tended lawns with giant date palms. Even the Southern Ocean - a wrecker of ships and playground of whales - was just a sound, the peel of waves on a beach at night.

"It took her a day to venture out of the homestead," Fenny laughs. "She didn't believe there wouldn't be people waiting outside, hiding in the bushes ..."

If it sounds like he's being indiscreet, he's not. Fenny is a practical, equable sort of bloke, a vet by profession, and he's not saying anything the star hasn't since shared on American radio.

Like the 25-year-old diva - and here all similarities must end - I'm staying at Maitraya. Unlike her, I'm afforded a dusk preview.


Fenny opened the property as a self-catering retreat in 2009 but the homestead was built in the 1990s - a homage to the great stations of Australia, with a return verandah skirting its Donnybrook sandstone walls and Spanish slate roof. It is perched 70 metres up on a chunk of headland, a sliver of civility on a ledge of the wild west.

The lawn ends abruptly at a great fuzz of peppermint trees, saprophytes and bottlebrushes. Beyond are beaches - beaches and beaches and more beaches, extending in looping curves for about 40 kilometres, out to a promontory called Mount Gardner.

On the morning the New York pop star woke in Maitraya, the only mobs outside her window were the kangaroos nibbling the lawn, the only screams were from wheeling gulls.

Bewildered? Most likely.

And quite possibly a little wrong-footed by the room.

It's big and elegant but Glamsville it is not. There are no Gucci taps, no Versace drapes. In fact there is no television.

It has cream shagpile carpets underfoot and pastel colours on the wall - and if it's a nod to 1980s cool it's purely accidental.

For most of us, however, Maitraya packs plenty of wow power. The polished jarrah footprint is a monstrous 1500 square metres, with some of its nine guest rooms located so far from the front door you need the string of Theseus to find your way back. (That master room has a sliding ceiling panel so you can lie on your king-sized bed and watch for comets.) There's a 20-seat theatre, a glass atrium with fernery and koi pond, plus another atrium with a Greco-Roman swimming pool. There are Norman Lindsays on the wall and the tiles surrounding the spa have been painted by John Olsen. For all that, it feels like a home. A very big, very well-appointed home.

The biggest surprise is that I can afford to stay here. I don't earn $90 million a year, nor am I capable of topping the Forbes Celebrity 100 list, but I can find nine other friends to share the $2300 a night tariff to have the run of the main house while staying in the atrium wing.

For those with deeper pockets, local chefs such as Amy and James Gunston will take up residence in the kitchen. They'll bring provisions and prepare the like of poached marron (fresh from the lake), organic Dorper lamb and quince tart with Ravenhill double cream, accompanied by Plantagenet Wines from the region. The couple are as grounded as you'd expect of country WA people but their menu is decidedly A-list. They catered to the Gaga entourage and recently impressed the visiting two-Michelin-starred chef, Shane Osborn.

The evening meal is served in the warm red surrounds of the formal dining room, hosted by Fenny and his wife, Christine, and as is the way of a friendly table in lonesome surrounds, the night has plenty of energy. (Fenny, it turns out, is the vet who treated Red Dog - the itinerant kelpie made famous by Louis de Berniere's book - and even has a walk-on in the forthcoming film.)

In the small hours, we find ourselves around an old upright piano, which one of the party asks to play. It's an old family piano, in need of tuning and missing a couple of keys but Fenny admits it now has some recent provenance courtesy of his famous guest.

"One night she couldn't sleep," he recalls, "she had these songs in her head ..." Seized by the muse, Lady Gaga sat at the piano and began working out her ideas on the ivories. Recording equipment was sent to the room and by morning she'd laid down the bones of three tracks.

"It's a nice story," Fenny says, "but Maitraya has that effect on all sorts of people. It's the kind of place it is."

Suddenly, he snaps his fingers. "Stefani!" he says. "Her name's Stefani."

Max Anderson travelled courtesy of Tourism Western Australia.


Getting there

The major airlines fly to Perth from Sydney (5hr, from $240) and Melbourne (4hr, from $300). Then fly Skywest Airlines to Albany (75min, from $175). Fares are one way including tax. Albany is about five (scenic) hours' drive from Perth.

Staying there

Maitraya is booked for exclusive use only from $2300 a night, with a range of rates per person depending on the size of your party and which part of the house you choose to occupy. It can accommodate a maximum of 20 guests. Costs include use of all non-motorised facilities on the property, including kayaks, putting green, gym, tennis court, bikes, surfboards, fishing gear and cricket pitch. Minimum stay two nights. Maitraya is self-catering but chef and provisioning services can be arranged. Phone (08) 9361 9044; see allretreats.com.au/maitraya.