Creating something special

Renovating an old home is a grand problem-solving exercise – or rather, a spreading network of inter-related problem-solving exercises. Watch us – against all odds, we’re having enormous fun. We’re also working long and hard; hopefully sometime next year that will translate into profit when we find a buyer for whom Willow Bend is exactly what they’re seeking.

This is how the house looked when I bought it

This is how the house looked when I bought it

I’m Jaqi. Dancer, writer, occasional poet, vocalist, sculptor and now mosaic artist, I’ve been renting an apartment over the shops (lately bars and restaurants) in the main street of Redfern, Sydney for the last fifteen years. When a small family nest-egg fell into my lap, I looked to real estate to grow my capital. I was keen to do a reno – being a lifelong renter, I’ve had little opportunity since Mum repainted the family home and let us choose and apply our own bedroom colours. I wish she could see me now.

I’m reasonably handy for a girl, and not afraid of ladders, but I’ve a secret weapon. Renovation is just one stock-in-trade of my redoubtable partner in crime, Alan (“They call me Al”), a landscape gardener and handyman. Al’s a very laid-back dude and I’m hardly your typical property developer, so we didn’t embark on this venture unguided: I have coaching and advice from the experts at Results Mentoring.

Some months ago, after an extended online search, I at last found exactly what I’d been looking for: an old house in a small town in country New South Wales, in good condition structurally but in need of a makeover, in a place where house prices were low enough for me to afford but where the economy was healthy enough that the house wouldn’t take forever to sell. Welcome to Grenfell, a historic gold-mining town in the Central West, where Main Street hasn’t changed much in a hundred years, people smile at strangers and say hello, and despite the vagaries of a sheep and wheat economy, the locals run an annual arts festival.


One of our first tasks was to mend, clean and repaint the roof

The festival is in honour of poet and writer Henry Lawson, who was born here on the goldfields in 1867. Regional arts festivals have a charm all their own; this one includes guinea pig races. I think they count as a kind of performance art. In the early years, before arts festivals mushroomed in the cities, the Grenfell one had national significance; these days it has a more regional focus. I like the way no one cares about the tenuousness of the Lawson connection – young Louisa Lawson, later a noted poet, feminist and editor, was deserted here by her husband, and whisked baby Henry off to more auspicious parts while he was still an infant. But he did later mention Grenfell in one poem, so the town has a stanza or two of characteristically bleak and pithy verse to hang its claim on. I also like the way the festival opens up the countryside around Grenfell to investigation – indigenous history, bushrangers’ hideouts, heritage farms, quality providores of wine, brandy, apples and stone fruit, olives, locally roasted coffee, smoked fish and other delicacies, and Iandra – pretty much the only castle in Australia that isn’t a folly.

Up on the roof… Paint swatches can be quite misleading; we got the colour right with the second coat

But what I really love about this place is the way the locals have rallied round us with advice, support and friendship. Gifts that have been pressed upon us range from a freshly dressed duck to a weathered but magnificent early-20th-century door of silky oak and Kosciuszko glass. This door will eventually grace the front entrance; the duck is long gone but fondly remembered.

I guess all places divide between those who don’t like outsiders and those who welcome them. This town seems to have a healthy majority of the latter. I found this Sydney Morning Herald story on Grenfell from 2003, and things haven’t changed much. Prices have risen less here than in the cities, and the town’s not quite as universally “traditional” in its values as you might expect – there’s plenty of purple hair and critical thinking if you keep an eye out – but the friendliness is the same. So if you’re looking for a sweet spot to come to land (especially if you don’t need work or can bring your own), you might have found it. Browse our posts and photos, follow the ups and downs of the renovation process, and watch someone’s dream home taking shape. Who knows – it might soon be yours.
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Willow Bend Diary by JA Pascoe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.