Bush Idyll On A River's Bend
Saturday April 7, 2007
Enjoy home comforts in a bush setting, just an hour from Melbourne, writes Karin Derkley.BEND OF ISLANDS 70 Gongflers Drive $690,000-plus Private Sale Agent Ray White, 9439 3800 Melway 24 K4TUCKED away in the bush on a tight curve of the upper Yarra, Bend of Islands, north-east of Melbourne, is an unusual community.The area was designated an environmental living zone in the 1970s, with the aim that its homes would have minimal impact on local flora and fauna. The effect is a tight-knit community whose dwellings nestle among the trees. Once people move here, they tend to stay.When Mark Nihill and his wife Sally moved into a Henley Drive home here 14 years ago with their two children and another on the way, they planned to stay a long time. The family had just moved from England, where Sally was from, and had read about the bush sanctuary in the newspaper.Mrs Nihill, an artist, loved the bush setting and the Yarra water here is clean enough to drink. It was also, Mark Nihill points out, the ideal place to bring up children. While apparently a fenceless bush wilderness, the neighbours' closeness brings a sense of safety and friendliness he had never experienced in suburban Melbourne."For the kids growing up here it was amazing," Mr Nihill says. "They'd spend their days wandering through the bush, visiting neighbours, building bush huts and canoeing along the river. It made them incredibly self-reliant."Having had a fourth child, in early 2000 the Nihills sought a bigger property and found a vacant bush block nearby on Gongflers Drive. It sloped down to a Yarra frontage. The river hugs the land on three sides, turning it into a peninsula.Architect and neighbour Ross Henry designed a home that would be environmentally friendly, accommodate a big family and suit the sloping block.The most distinctive aspect of Mr Henry's style might be the curves and spaces that make this house look like a friendly spaceship that's landed in the bush. But Mr Nihill says the design also works beautifully to accommodate a large number of people without them tripping over each other, and without noise moving through each level. "It's a bit like a conical shell spiralling up the side of the hill," Mr Nihill says.There are four levels: the top level has the three children's bedrooms, the next has a big master bedroom and bathroom. The middle level has a stunning high-ceilinged, open-plan living area and a separate living room and studio. The curving fireplace is sufficient, with two supplementary electric heaters, to warm the house.Downstairs is another room, used variously as entertainment space, guest's room and study. Scattered strategically through the home are picture windows that reinforce the home's bush context.After five happy years in the home, the next step was to create a two-bedroom garden studio, on the footprint of an old tin shed on the opposite hill of the 1.5 hectare property. The plans have been drawn up - once again by Ross Henry - and approved by the local council. The expanded home would have taken the Nihills into their retirement, Mark guesses, and given Sally the chance to expand her Misty River Studio. But it's not to be, because last year Sally died. Mark is moving closer to family, leaving another family to enjoy and expand their beautiful bush home.Despite its remote feel, the property is connected to mains electricity. There are two 20,000 litre water tanks, plus an 8000 litre header-tank.About BEND OF ISLANDS? Bend of Islands was established as an environmental living zone in the 1970s by environmental activist and artist Neil Douglas.? Homes and gardens in the Bend of Islands area must be designed for minimal impact on the environment. ? Gardens are unfenced and cats and dogs are not allowed.? Melbourne's CBD is roughly one hour's drive away via Warrandyte and the Eastern Freeway.? Nearby Kangaroo Ground has a store and a primary school. The closest secondary schools are in Eltham. Warranwood prep-VCE Steiner school is 20 minutes away.