A bush haven

As far as Michelle and Jim Neilsen were concerned, it was the best-timed cup of coffee in history. Having just returned from hosting a fishing trip for his underwater diving and spear-fishing business, Jim took Michelle to a Brisbane cafe to catch up on their time apart. The newlyweds were happily living in Jim’s house in Brisbane’s south and weren’t even looking for a property but, as luck would have it, Michelle picked up a paper and spotted an ad for a bush haven, 13-acre (5.3-hectare) semi-rural property on the city’s western periphery.

A bush haven backyard

“It was 2003 and I had not long returned from Germany,” Michelle recalls. “Something about this rustic house nestled in the hills resonated. Jim was less than enthusiastic when I suggested we go and have a look. In fact, he listed the negatives all the way to Brookfield … too far from the city, too long to commute, too far from amenities. He pretty much kept it up until we drove up the steep driveway and the house revealed itself. We put in an offer almost straight away.”
The Neilsens became the proud owners of the brick house with its 360-degree views of the surrounding bush and mountains in the distance shortly after. Since then, Emma, 13 years, and Liam, aged nine, have joined the family. In the ensuing years, they’ve converted a corrugated-iron former shed into guest accommodation and added an extra sunroom on the western side with a view to a swimming pool that replaced one built in an old water tank. “People are gobsmacked when they learn that the main house was actually built in 1990,’’ Michelle says. ‘‘The original owners, Anne and John Brown, took great care to ensure that it looked much older.”

a bush haven dog a bush haven door

A former TAA (Trans Australian Airlines, merged with Qantas in 1992) pilot, John was also a talented artist and a keen DIY expert. “The high ceilings, big windows and open fireplaces are all suggestive of a 19th-century build,” Michelle explains. “The Browns went to great lengths to source ripple antique glass, door handles and other fittings that lead even builders to assume the house is much older than it really is. The kitchen has a lovely country feel thanks to the tiles that Anne collected through the years and used for the splashbacks.”

She adds that the main house contains only two bedrooms and bathrooms, which is small compared with the mega mansions that are the norm in this part of the world. “It’s very European for Brisbane,” Michelle observes. “The main house opens onto a courtyard that has a huge poinciana tree in the middle. At certain times of year, it’s like a big red umbrella over the courtyard. When the jacarandas are flowering, there’s a carpet of mauve as well, which makes it a great entertaining space.”

a bush haven glass

The guest wing forms the other side of the courtyard and visitors enjoy views of the main house via French doors in one direction and the mountains on the other. The latest addition to this compound is a huge timber pavilion where the pool used to be. “The big stone firepit is the centrepiece and it means we use the Viking hut, as Jim calls it, year-round,’’ Michelle says. ‘‘It’s party central when we have visitors at Christmas and other events, as it’s close to the house, but far enough away to feel remote from it.”

a bush haven lounge room

Although the bones of the garden were there when the Neilsens arrived, Michelle says Jim has devoted countless hours to developing it. “He’s a natural entrepreneur,” she says. “Give him a task and he will get into it until it’s done. The first task was to clear away lantana that clogged the views. Then he set about establishing an orchard than now has 120 fruit trees including lots of mangoes and citrus varieties. He also established a huge vegie garden. We take excess to the Brookfield produce swap and trade it for things like sourdough bread, dukkah and jams and chutneys. Another project was planting liquidambars along the driveway. They look absolutely spectacular in the autumn months.”

a bush haven table a bush haven chair

With his business, Adreno, expanding exponentially and warehouses opening in most state capitals, Jim has recently found the garden a bit much, even for his boundless energy. “So we’ve turned it into a sort of community garden where locals who don’t have gardens of their own can help with planting and maintenance,” Michelle adds. “It’s a very close-knit community and we’ve made good friends. People entertain in each other’s homes and attend events such as Bite Night at the showgrounds. The children have also settled well into the area. Liam goes to the local state school and Emma has just started high school in Indooroopilly. We can’t ever imagine leaving, and I’m just surprised that more people aren’t moving out here. When I look back on it, I think it was the luckiest cup of coffee we ever had.”

a bush haven backyard

The complete story was originally published in Australian Country issue 22.1. Click here to subscribe to our magazine

Words Kirsty McKenzie

Photography John Downs

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