Lived-in and comfortable are two impressions you get when you enter Bannaua and Scott Brown’s Tighes Hill house. The sound of wind chimes and a plant-covered deck welcome you to the backyard with a hand-dug swimming pool that sons Rowan and Tobias make good use of in the summer.
“We were living in California before we moved back to Newcastle, Bannaua says.
“When we came back we couldn’t afford to buy anywhere but Tighes Hill, Islington and Mayfield.
At the time she was working as a proofreader for the Herald, and she saw what is now her current house come across her desk. She told Scott she had found a really funky house. They realised it was the only house out of all the ones they had looked at that they actually wanted to buy.
They’ve lived in the three-bedroom one-bathroom (with a second toilet downstairs) for 12 years.
Bannaua grew up in Patterson and Scott grew up in Clarence Town. The two are high school sweethearts who always hung around Newcastle.
Along with raising her boys, Bannaua makes jewellery through her company, Moolly, and her husband works in mathematical psychology at the university.
“He’s not a touchy-feely psychologist,” Bannaua says.
Her husband also clearly is up for a challenge when it comes to home renovations.
While the 1950s weatherboard house is pretty much internally as it was when they bought it, they’ve made some fairly physical investments to the exterior.
Bannaua said Scott was always going onto the deck and feeling like he was getting sunburnt.
He got quotes on building a roof, but decided he could do it instead.
Scott made the deck outward-facing so the house still caught the light.
“He did the whole thing with recycled tin and hardwood I-beams,” Bannaua says.
The boys swam every day in a tester pool they bought, so they decided to take the plunge on a real one. The Browns got some quotes from pool companies, but the options were expensive. The family realised that if they wanted a pool they would have to dig. The Browns were told to pay three diggers to work nonstop for a week.
“I remember standing in the backyard saying (to Scott) “you can dig”, Bannaua says. “So he went through layers of clay. He dug the entire thing.”
The Browns bought an above-ground pool that looks like an in-ground model. Scott dug for six months and had to do it after-hours and weekends. It was easy-going in the beginning, but got more challenging when Scott hit bedrock. They piled the dug-up dirt in their front yard and, at one stage, it was almost as high as the roof. They gave the dirt away to people on Gumtree. They used the clay to help fix a broken dam an hour away.
“He moved 40 tonnes of dirt by hand with a shovel and wheelbarrow. I never thought I would get my front yard back because I love gardening and plants,” Bannaua says.
Now her kids and the neighbours’ kids are constantly in the successfully installed pool, and Bannaua has plants everywhere.
Strawberry and Pickles are the hand-me-down guinea pigs and Polly the pirate is the family dog who sadly lost one of her eyes to glaucoma. For home decor, Bannaua loves a good op shop sale and she has several paintings on display from her cousin. Scott built both tables and the swinging bed on the deck. It’s a good place to sleep when there aren’t too many mosquitoes.
“There’s no real rhyme or reason or any of it,” Bannaua says. “If I see something I like it, that’s it.”
A very special painting in her lounge room is from Mayfield artist Doug Heslop. Heslop painted the Mayfield man in the doorway who was known and loved by locals. Affectionately called ‘beer man’ or ‘can man’, he was always sitting next to the bus stop with a can in his hand, until last year, when sadly he took his own life.
The boys enjoy living in the space as well.
“I like my room. I like the bed. I like the loft. I like the Lego shelf,” Rowan says.
“I like the pool,” Tobias says.