SA: The Shearing Shed - Steve and Jill Coombe
- Steve Coombe is the Project Manager of the Eastern Hills & Murray Plains Catchment Group, a community managed environmental organisation.
- Jill Coombe is the Business Manager of Bridge Clinic, one of the largest private medical practices in Australia.
Jill and Steve Coombe returned to Murray Bridge in 2000 after an absence of 15 years due to a change of work commitments. Searching for a local patch of scrub on which to build resulted in a find on the southern edge of the town with services and the requisite native vegetation.
There are a series of east-west running sand dunes laid down after the last ice age that appear from Murray Bridge down to the Lower Lakes. Farmers have wisely left the mallee vegetation on most of them to prevent the sand from blowing, and we arrived at the perfect time as this former onion farm was being subsumed by the expanding Rural City of Murray Bridge. Our patch is in the centre of the subdivision and is 5.4 ha in area with around 3 ha of Ridge Fruited Mallee (Eucalyptus incrassata) woodland typical of these sandy rises.
Oblivious to the McMansions going up all around us we decided that we wanted to build something that suited the two of us and that could not be easily tagged with a particular period. Jill set off, camera in hand, to photograph local shearing sheds, whilst Steve was left to deal with the way the building was to work. Jill in charge of form, Steve, function.
What resulted was a house that has polarised the locals; they either love it or hate it. Orientation, windows, insulation and overhangs provide us with a house that is comfortable to live in and suits our busy lifestyles. The house has featured a couple of times in Sustainable House Day to show the less courageous, just what can be done.
Even before the house was started we began the planting with local native species to bulk out the existing vegetation. Establishing anything, even weeds, in the clay swale between the dunes has been an interesting exercise, and battling against the drought that blighted the country for several years also provided a challenge.
A feral proof fence was a must after a stint at Earth Sanctuaries in the mid 1990s but the full height was not appropriate in this situation, so a compromise was met with a lower height topped by two electric strands. Bettongs, potoroos and wallabies followed and were brilliant fun at the time, but incursions by foxes and bureaucratic restrictions on control measures in a quasi-metropolitan situation has meant a strategic withdrawal from the marsupials. And I miss them.
There is plenty of life on the block though. A myriad of bird species provide entertainment, although the front yard becomes a no go zone while the spur-winged plovers breed each year. We generate a couple of dozen pacific black ducklings from nests hidden in the grass beneath the trees each year and the crows, magpies, honeyeaters and others seem to benefit from the absence of introduced predators.
Our little waterhole attracts all sorts in an otherwise dry landscape. This includes an impressive list of reptiles too. The occasional glimpse of a goanna, or shingleback or bluetongue is always welcome. Even the eastern brown snakes are left to their own devices, but it does mean every footstep must be watched. We had to evict one from the shed one day, much to Jill's relief. My argument that it was doing its bit to control the mouse plague apparently didn't cut it.
In August and September as the wattles bloom and the wildflowers appear we start looking for the half dozen species of orchids recorded on our patch. It is the best time of the year in the mallee.
But it isn't perfect and the challenge is to find the time to maintain the fence and control the weeds, but we both love it here and want to maintain and improve the quality of the habitat while it is under our stewardship.