Right at Home

Originally bought as a holiday escape this West Gippsland property is beginning to help its owners feel right at home. 

To get to Robyn and Jane’s country haven, you drive a couple of kilometres down a dirt road through picturesque countryside, smatterings of native bush and the ever-present range views in the distance. It is this view and the ambiance of the 37-acre West Gippsland property that drew them to purchase it in 2007.

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“It reminded me of my parents’ house in Main Ridge; it had the same high water tank with the wisteria growing up it. The house perches beautifully among the trees.”Originally the home, an early-1900s soldier’s cottage, was small and typical of the era in which it was built. Today it is a clean, contemporary and efficient home thanks to a spacious double-storey extension that makes the most of the views over the expanse of lawns, across a small vineyard to the nearby ranges.

Surrounding the house is an impressive collection of tall trees planted around the same time the house was built. The collection includes several liquidamber trees, a copper beech, pin oaks and a favourite of the couple’s – a magnificent cypress tree that cuts an impressive figure within the lawn. Parallel rows of poplars line the former driveway that led down to the old dairy and farm buildings.
“It is more like a park than a garden,” said Rob, who takes charge of the lawn mowing, including the decorative work in the centre of the driveway. The round driveway ‘lawn art’ was inspired after they saw the lawn and maze at Wychwood Garden in Tasmania. “The number of people that come down and say, ‘how did you do it?’ I just did it. I thought if I got it wrong it would only take a couple of weeks to grow back.”

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The couple had looked for quite a while for their country retreat. Other regions were either too expensive, overcrowded or too dry. A friend pointed them in the direction of West Gippsland. “We didn’t really want any more than five acres, but the agent said we should come and visit this property. I think she just knew. We came up to the gate and walked through, and it was like it was talking to me,” said Jane.

“It was just a little grey house really. It did need a bit of work. It was the trees that were important.” Of the striking copper beech tree she said: “It is amazing when you have a black thundery sky behind it, I can come out here and think wow.”

“The first thing was to get a guy with a bulldozer and straighten it all up. The big pine trees needed to be cleaned up. And, we extended the lawn beyond the horizon line,” said Rob. They removed the “higgledy piggledy” fence around the house to include the big, beautiful cypress tree within the garden, and they removed some of the overcrowded poplar trees. The easy-care, perennial garden beds were established around the house. Low maintenance was a major factor when putting the garden together as the couple divide their time between Gippsland and their family home in Camberwell.

“A hardy garden, that was really important. I’m not a gardener really, I just like dabbling. I don’t want gardening to be a chore. We like to travel and we just didn’t want to have the worry of a big garden,” said Jane.

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Over 12 months the extension and renovation was complete. The overall design was inspired by the views and the main brief was to have an upper-storey main bedroom and library. The original cottage is reserved for the bedroom wing which is ideal for when family and guests visit, and the dining, main living area and kitchen are all open-plan, with large double-glazed windows to bring in a garden vista from every angle.

Through the large kitchen window is an outlook to the small orchard at the rear of the house, where the large trees bordering the property have created a microclimate in which the fruit trees flourish, including a large avocado tree laden with fruit.

For Jane and Rob the property has achieved its purpose. “We don’t have any passing traffic; it is wonderful. It is so peaceful, sometimes we get the sound of the odd tractor but that is about it.”

“We are never quite sure when we pack up to go back to Melbourne if we are leaving home or going home,” said Jane.

“It is still a holiday home really. We can’t quite work it out yet. We love it because it feels free here,” added Rob.

WORDS Rebecca Faltyn PHOTOGRAPHS Celeste Faltyn