When Brad Cranfield and Lara Welham moved their belongings out of their Melbourne terrace this week, they were greeted by fans waiting outside, some close to tears, calling their names and asking them to pose for photographs.
A year ago the couple were also avid viewers of television series The Block, but this year they have been thrust into the limelight as winners of the fifth season, with the South Melbourne property they renovated selling last week for $1.62million, which was $506,000 over the reserve.
They also took home the $100,000 winners’ prize, taking their total winnings to $606,000.
The East Maitland couple, given the moniker Blara, garnered a reputation as the hard-working, down-to-earth and easygoing competitors and were awarded a Suzuki Kizashi after they were voted by the audience as winners of the ‘‘Good Sports’’ competition.
They still can’t believe their good fortune.
‘‘It’s funny, I think it’s sunk in that we’ve won The Block but the actual amount of money hasn’t hit home yet,’’ Cranfield told H2 Review from Melbourne, before the couple left the city on Wednesday afternoon to drive back to the Hunter.
‘‘It’s more than we imagined we could ever win. If you win $50,000 or something like that you can comprehend that sort of money but when it’s $600,000, you can’t get a hold on it.’’
Cranfield and Welham met at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Merewether and started dating six years ago after they bonded over a common love of Bon Jovi, the Foo Fighters and sport.
Cranfield played representative rugby league for Raymond Terrace and Newcastle while Welham played netball for the Hunter Jaegers and the NSW Swifts.
Cranfield, a fitter and machinist in the coalmining industry, was born in Taree and moved with his family to Bundarra before they returned to the Hunter to operate pubs at Woodberry and Tarro and settle in East Maitland. Welham, a physical education teacher at Wadalba Community School, was raised at Rankin Park.
The couple travelled for two years before settling in East Maitland, where they extended and renovated their home over a period of three months. They also spent a year renovating a house that Cranfield’s parents had relocated from Sydney to East Maitland, a project they were working on when last year’s season of The Block went to air.
‘‘We said to each other ‘They’re not doing anything different to what we’re doing now, we should try and have a go and put in our application’,’’ Cranfield said. ‘‘But it was one of those things, we just thought we’d put in our application and never hear back from them.’’
But they did.
Cranfield left his job, Welham finished her temporary contract with the school and they moved to inner-city Melbourne in November last year.
‘‘One of the creators told us when she interviewed us ‘It’s probably one of the hardest things you’ll ever do’ and she wasn’t far off,’’ Cranfield said. ‘‘It was a lot harder than what I thought it was going to be.
‘‘I suppose we went in there a little bit naive and thought ‘Oh the wonderful world of television, there will be a fair bit of smoke and mirrors’ but it’s a hundred times harder than what I thought it was going to be.’’
They were one of the eight couples who competed in a 24-hour elimination challenge, with four going on to renovate one of four terrace houses in Dorcas Street.
The good-natured couple was given the first choice of terrace houses and chose the largest, finding it in disrepair, with no floor or back wall. The couples renovated one room each week, competing against each other for the judges’ votes.
‘‘We made a bit of a decision that we wouldn’t just take everything on board that the judges did and just chop and change according to what they said every week, because you had to stick to your guns and do what you wanted to do,’’ Cranfield said.
‘‘But you do take a little bit on board, it does add a little bit of pressure because you work your guts out all week and go to the judging and a lot of time they can be pretty critical. It can be a hard thing to hear that but it can be a bit of a reality check at the end of every week I suppose.’’
It was four weeks before Cranfield and Welham had a room voted better than the other couples – their bathroom.
‘‘It did feel a long time coming, we thought we’d be close on a couple of the other rooms as well, but it wasn’t to be,’’ he said.
‘‘To finally get that win was a bit of a confidence boost as well, to know that you’re on the right track and people appreciate what you’re doing.’’
It was one of the couple’s favourite rooms, along with their laundry/bar which led to a rooftop terrace complete with views of the city skyline. It too was voted by judges as the best of all the projects for that week.
But Cranfield said the project might also have been one of the most difficult periods of their time on the show. The entire 10-week renovation was physically, mentally and emotionally strenuous, with the couples working virtually non-stop to complete their rooms and orientate themselves with their new home city. Cranfield said the couple spent the first weeks travelling about 45minutes to Chadstone to a homewares chain store until they discovered there was another store two minutes away.
The four couples also shared one outdoor toilet and shower with the tradesmen until the plumbing was connected.
‘‘I don’t stress out, I’m not a stress head most of the time,’’ Cranfield said. ‘‘Lara can get a bit worked up at times over different things but I suppose I see it that if you go stressing or worrying or arguing or different things like that you’re only wasting time in the long run and I think you learn that pretty quick on The Block, you don’t really have time to waste, at all.
‘‘You’ve got dramas, you’ve got to quickly get over them and find a solution so you can just move on, but in saying that it is a pretty stressful situation so it’s hard to stay calm all the time.’’
Welham said her partner helped her to stay focused.
‘‘Brad laughs and jokes about nearly everything,’’ she said. ‘‘If we were having a little bit of a fight or argument he’d make a bit of a joke and lighten the situation.’’
It wasn’t all work and no play, with many light-hearted moments and singalongs captured on camera.
Cranfield said the portrayal of each competitor was ‘‘pretty spot on’’ and Welham said while it took some time to get used to being filmed, the crew were very supportive.
‘‘We became really really good friends with the camera crew and the sound guys and the producer so in the end they made it a lot easier for us,’’ she said. ‘‘You didn’t really see them as a camera, because we were friends with the people behind it.’’
They also enjoyed sharing the experience with the other couples and grew close to Melburnians Sophie and Dale Vine.
Cranfield would go skateboarding with Dale, while Welham helped Sophie paint the interior of her terrace when Dale was in hospital with blood poisoning. The couples are now considering holidaying together.
Welham took breaks from the fast-paced renovations through telephone conversations with her family about what was going on at home. They didn’t want to know anything about the show, preferring to watch it when it screened.
The couples finished renovating the terrace houses by March and Cranfield – who lost 12kilograms during filming – and Welham returned to the Hunter to resume working life.
Welham started work again as a casual teacher and Cranfield applied for a job with Rutherford-based Valley Longwall International, which understood he would be taking intermittent leave to travel to Melbourne for property inspections and the auction.
It paid off on Sunday night, when 2,969,000 viewers tuned in for The Block -Winner Announced in which the couple found they had raised the highest profit over their reserve.
‘‘Lara and I both said it’s been tiring and it’s been hard and there’s times when you felt like going home but it’s been a great experience, we’ve met heaps of really, really good people and we got to do heaps of stuff we normally wouldn’t do,’’ Cranfield said.
‘‘It’s been an awesome experience.’’
Cranfield said the couple’s success lay in their willingness to do a lot of the work themselves.
‘‘Lara being as hands-on as she was really helped, especially having the biggest house,’’ he said. ‘‘If she didn’t do as much work as she did we would have had to pay more people and that puts more strain on your budget and all that sort of stuff.’’
He said the couple’s never-give-up attitude, their renovating experience and understanding when to give each other space had been the key to working well together.
But he said the show hadn’t really changed them as a couple.
‘‘We’ve been together six years now so I don’t think it’s changed us too much, but I said we’d probably learn a fair bit about each other in a way in the work side of things and how hard we worked and what we can achieve. But I don’t think it’s strengthened us much – we were pretty good before we came in.’’
The couple said their terrace was probably the best house they would ever live in – ‘‘if we owned this house, this is exactly how it would turn out’’ – and while they would have liked to buy it and are sad to leave, it is currently out of their price range. They have planned one more trip to Melbourne before settlement to work on the much-loved property, oiling the decks and ensuring every detail is perfect.
‘‘They’ve just bought our house for $1.6million, so we’ve got to make sure it’s looking good,’’ Welham said.
They arrived home on Thursday and their attention has now returned to a grey weatherboard Federation-style house they bought before the competition for $1000 from a block in Frederick Street, Merewether. It’s been temporarily relocated – at a cost of $66,000 – to a commercial block in Rutherford. They are considering putting their winnings towards buying land – about 50 acres – in East Maitland on which to move the home.
They’re evidently not sick of tool belts yet, with plans to renovate the house and move in.
‘‘I’m looking forward to it actually,’’ Welham said.
‘‘We’re going to try and do a lot of it ourselves. We never tried tiling on The Block and we’re going to try and do that ourselves in the bathrooms and all the areas that need to be tiled.’’
The couple say renovating more houses may be on the cards, but ruled out any career changes. Cranfield will return to work over the next few weeks, as will Welham when term three resumes.
‘‘It’s going to be hard but it won’t be too bad. It will be a bit strange because it’s been so flat-out and such an exciting experience. Going back to work and all that sort of stuff will be a bit strange but I’m sure it will only take a few days and we’ll be back to normal,’’ Cranfield said.
Part of their winnings will also go towards a snowboarding trip to Canada around Christmas.
But their time in the spotlight may not be over yet. They are contenders to participate in The Block All Stars, which is to start filming in Bondi in November.
‘‘We’d have to get voted in to that but if we got voted in we’d definitely consider doing it again, we’d have a great time,’’ Cranfield said.
‘‘Newcastle really got behind and supported us and sent us lots of well wishes so we do want to say thank you to everyone for supporting us and voting for us.’’