It’s been sixteen years since we first moved to Upper Mount Gravatt; the house in which we live is our second one in this south Brisbane suburb. Our kids have grown up here and attend school nearby, Tina’s parents live five minutes away, and most of the working days of that sixteen years I’ve cycled north-northeast into Brisbane city, then back home again, along Norman Creek, past Toohey Mountain, and wearily over the saddle between Toohey Forest and Mount Gravatt, a round trip of around thirty kilometres.
The panorama from the top of Mount Gravatt itself is spectacular, encompassing the skyscrapers of Brisbane’s Central Business District, the vast wildness behind it of D’Aguilar National Park and, to the west, the islands of Moreton Bay. On a clear day you can see north to the Glasshouse Mountains, some 75 kilometres distant, and even further south, as far as Cunningham’s Gap, 110 kilometres away.
Get me off this mountain
The area has changed in the last decade and a half, however, and so have we. Parking overflow from the nearby Garden City shopping centre is beginning to encroach on some of the surrounding streets, and ten-storey apartment blocks are going up not far from us, adding to the traffic load. Other than the mountain itself (and maybe Toohey Forest and one or two other spots) this area has long since stopped being interesting to us. Alienation is setting in, sadly. It’s true, we have friends here, but as you get older you spend less and less time socialising, so that’s cold comfort. We keep reminding ourselves that the only reason we moved here was because Tina’s parents had, and that’s no longer enough for us. We started looking for a way out.
Tina began to browse real estate websites in her spare time, looking at places that were within an hour-and-a-half radius, came in at somewhere around the value of our current house, and didn’t look as if they’d need a real man (which I’m not – I work in IT, remember?) to fix up. There was no shortage of half-decent candidates, and we sought to combine Sunday drives to the country with fact-finding missions. One poky little place we went to lay beyond Cunningham’s Gap in a town called Yangan but, much as we wanted to get away from the city, it felt too much like the middle of nowhere for us. At least we had a nice meal in the Killarney Hotel and got to drive home via Queen Mary Falls.
Still Tina looked. Around the turn of the year she came across a beautiful-looking property with a spectacular view down near Rathdowney. We knew that small village with the Irish name – we’d been to it the previous year when we did the Lower Portals bush walk on Mount Barney. The asking price of the property made us think we didn’t have a chance, but at the very least we’d get a nice day out seeing it before the end of Christmas break.
As we pushed further into the area called Barney View the day we drove down, sure enough the views of the eponymous mountain, and indeed Mt. Maroon, got finer and finer. Maroon in particular, with its schist-like drifts of light-grey and blanket forest reminded me of being at Ben Lettery on the last stretch of the Galway road before reaching Clifden. At 1354m in height, Mt. Barney itself is the biggest mountain around here, and a good deal higher than the highest thing we’ve ever been up, Mount Snowdon in Wales (1054m). It’s not for the faint of heart or the lame of knee: even the great Allan Cunningham couldn’t complete it when he tried scaling it with fellow adventurer Charles Fraser and infamous martinet Captain Patrick Logan two hundred years ago; Logan ended up bringing it to heel it on his own.
An estate agent called Drew, sporting a debonair Errol Flynn moustache and clad in expensive looking jeans and RM Williams boots, showed us around Wyuna, as the house we were looking at is called. Drew had played polo professionally when he was younger, getting as far as Ireland at one stage. I for one had no idea such a colonial sport was ever played at home; I’m pretty sure it never took root in Connemara.
Barry and Jen were the couple who owned it, and since Jen was an artist there was a lot of framed watercolours, oils, and acrylics on the walls. We once stayed in a place in Federal, NSW, not a million miles away, that was similarly festooned with framed paintings. Good stuff, mind. Original work by names you’d recognise. What I remembered from that house was the haphazard arrangement of the pieces – they were just crammed in everywhere. Wyuna wasn’t quite that chaotic, but it had the same energy. A good start.
On a desk in one of the rooms we noticed a genealogical chart. Seemed Barry was compiling his family roots – apparently Irish, Welsh, and Scottish. When we got the tour of the grounds we were shown a ‘Celtic’ stone circle in the back paddock. Six stones, each around a metre square, formed a ring around a large pile of cabbage palm fronds and hoop pine deadwood. Good bonfire potential, we were assured. For the life of me I can’t remember if stone circles attract or keep the faeries at bay. Suppose we’d find out in due course in the unlikely event we were to end up the owners.
Elsewhere there were lemon trees, orange trees, pomegranates, mulberry bushes, and olive trees that, unlike the purely symbolic one we had in our back garden in Upper Mount Gravatt, looked as if they might actually yield some edible fruit. There were recently planted peaches, plenty of tomato vines, and even capsicum and aubergines. Picking up some nuts from the small macadamia tree I realised why that native fruit is so expensive: to get to the good stuff, you have to split open an outer green husk, then crack open the inner shell. There was even a trio of chickens flapping around their coop in consternation at what must have been a stressful day for them what with all the potential buyers coming and going. Equipped with an eggcup and nutcracker, a chap could survive out here for a long time.
In-between being indoors and outdoors there was an enclosed area called The Iron Bar with a decent bar counter and camp cooking area. The sort of place you’d whip up some damper and billy tea early in the day, then later on chuck on some snags and skol a few tinnies.
The name Wyuna, incidentally, is an Aboriginal word, meaning ‘woman’. It refers to a rocky section of the western slopes of Mount Barney which, as seen from the east, looks like the profile of a woman. After ten years in Wyuna Barry and Jen were selling up to move to Labrador, on the Gold Coast. We’d thought about the coast too as somewhere to look to buy, but there were just too many people vying for too few spots, and our budget wouldn’t have got us that much.
We were definitely impressed by the house itself, its garden, its Celtic stone circle, its bar, olives, chooks, and nuts. Above all, though, we were enchanted by the view. Encouragingly, Drew reckoned the fact we had kids would stand us well in the running, although he advised us to make a serious offer. As in, exceed the asking price by a fair bit. Well, he would, wouldn’t he? But it made sense – there had to be a lot of people looking at this place.
Back in the red again
Over the next few days we established that we could take out a new mortgage for Wyuna using our current property as collateral. At that stage we’d only been mortgage-free for six months for the first time in twenty years: now we were up to our necks in it again. As well as the loss of peace of mind from having no large outstanding debt another casualty of this project was going to be our beloved Tucana campervan, only 9 months in our possession. We found a buyer from New South Wales who came by one sunny morning and towed it away. A sad day indeed. A couple of days later we called Drew and put in our offer.
The morning a week or so later that we heard from him that we’d been successful was one of those moments where despite knowing your life has just changed, you know it wouldn’t sink in for a while. We were at the Big Apple, outside Vincenzo’s, just north of Stanthorpe, at the beginning of a two-day New Year’s break we’d decided to take as a consolation for having our second annual driving trip to Sydney cancelled because of Covid (this blog – being largely about our travels – has temporarily dried up, for that very reason). Down there in the Granite Belt we tried not to think too much about what we’d just done. At the end of our two days’ break we drove across the bottom of the Scenic Rim, past Maroon Dam, to meet Barry and Jen (who we hadn’t actually met yet), who were going to give us a more thorough run over the place.
On the weekend before the house ‘settled’ and was officially ours, Barry and Jen invited us to come down again, this time to meet the neighbours. Of course we (and the boys) could spend the night. They thought it was important that we at least know some of the people who lived around us. We agreed. In the event we all sat around drinking in one of the outdoor lounge areas near The Iron Bar talking to people who’d lived there for years – decades, in some cases. Many of them were a fair bit older and had some crazy stories to tell. They all couldn’t have been more welcoming, and this little community made us feel like we’d bought more than a house – we’d become part of that community by taking over Wyuna.
We can’t just up stumps and move to Wyuna permanently. Our kids go to school in Brisbane, and we work here. Actually, Tina works in Amberley, but since we only have one car, Brisbane’s home for the time being. Our immediate plans with respect to Wyuna are simple: to get down there as often as we can, given all those constraints. From now on long weekends we’d normally spending up in Maleny or in Hervey Bay, and certainly the entire Easter break, normally reserved for camping trips, will henceforth be spent in Barney View.
As I write this, south-east Queensland is stuck under a malevolent, slow-moving rain system dumping a biblical amount of rain on us. Alexander and Eoin are taking turns in our front studio (tiled floor, thankfully) to scoop up the water our sandbags out front can’t stop into a bucket and dump it out back. The plan was to go down to Wyuna this weekend, but under the circumstances that’d be madness. Beaudesert is cut off. As soon as the roads clear and the creeks subside, though, we’ll be heading down to Barney View.