By Luke Voogt
Queenscliff’s former gasworks site has become a leafy haven for a couple who lost a property in the Black Saturday disaster. LUKE VOOGT admires their handiwork.
Pictures: Louisa Jones
Dale and Neil Trezise’s move to their Queenscliff home was more than timely – it was life saving.
They moved to their newly-finished house in February 2009 as a Black Saturday bushfire tore through their eight-hectare property near Kinglake.
“This place saved our lives,” Dale says.
“We’d have died like the neighbours did.”
The couple found the property – the former site of Queenscliff’s gasworks – in their 2006 quest to build a beach house.
The gasworks were Queenscliff’s only industrial site and supplied the town with gas from 1884 to 1960 – when the government tore it down.
“I found this little piece of land being sold by the State Government,” Dale says.
“It was vacant land, north-facing, with amazing views of Swan Bay.”
The couple bought two of the four blocks available and took them two and a half years to build their home, which mimics architecture of the original gasworks.
“It’s a modern architect’s interpretation of the buildings that were there,” Dale says.
Dale and Neil love their eight-bedroom house, which they designed as a coastal getaway for their children and 10 grandchildren.
“It gets busy but you don’t really notice because if necessary you can press the two kitchens into work,” Dale says.
But her pride and joy are her “pocket gardens”.
“The garden’s tiny but it produces a huge amount of produce,” she says.
While some might see its size as a limitation Dale says the lack of space was a perk. It took her mere weeks to get it growing.
“Some of the builders gave me some plants and popped them in,” she says.
“It wasn’t a great hassle. It’s a moveable feast and it’s manageable for old people. I can keep changing it rather than doing acres and acres like I did in St Andrew’s (the couple’s previous property).”
The 71-year-old loves moving through the garden collecting herbs for cooking.
She’s got all the “usual” herbs like thyme and parsley, and more “unusual” varieties like Vietnamese mints and cardamom.
“It’s a Zen experience, it’s so restful,” she says.
Dale grows a wild array of citrus and other fruits, which she uses in baking and to season local fish.
With onions, lettuce and avocados growing in Dale’s handmade compost, and her other garden in Ocean Grove’s industrial estate, she rarely has to buy produce.
One of the garden’s more unique fruits is a Japanese yuzu tree – believed to be a hybrid of sour mandarin and Ichang papeda.
“The taste is a cross between a tart mandarin, a lemon and an orange,” Dale says.
Dale’s favourite non-edible plants include her colourful wisterias and six special jacarandas.
The trees are a living memorial to all she and Neil lost at St Andrews – from their neighbours to the trees on their property.
“They were just tiny burnt sticks so we brought them down and planted them,” she says.
“They are very beautiful jacarandas. They were worth saving.”
Dale says people often mistake her house for a restaurant.
“People walk into the courtyard all the time – they just wander in to have a look.”
But the couple are happy to open their garden to the public officially, as they did one sunny morning last year to help the Uniting Church fund-raise for the homeless.
“We had 500 people go through,” Dale says.
“My husband’s an organist so we had a music recital as well.”
The couple plan to spend the rest of their lives in Queenscliff.
“It’s a brilliant place to live,” Dale says.
“From we live you can walk to the shop, the restaurants, the marina, and, dare I say it, the pub. And of course I can admire everybody else’s gardens.”