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Unsung Heroes: Australind couple create show-stopping garden

Headshot of Breanna Redhead
Breanna RedheadSouth Western Times
John and Lilly Wooding have been working on their personal paradise since 1999.
Camera IconJohn and Lilly Wooding have been working on their personal paradise since 1999. Credit: Breanna Redhead

Most retirees spend their days relaxing after years of hard work — but not the Woodings.

The Australind couple have used their retirement to transform their acreage property into a personal oasis.

Fronted by regal gates is an exquisite garden of lavish greenery, unique hand-crafted statues, pavilions and garden “rooms”.

One could easily confuse Lily and John’s South West property for a botanical garden.

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Dotted among the trim lawns and rainbow blossoms carefully selected and tended to by Lily, are her husband John’s towering steel statues.

The larger-than-life artworks breathe life and character into the gardens through their detailed, expressive faces.

Becoming fairly well-known throughout the South West for their green thumbs, their long-serving careers pre-retirement show they are dedicated to giving 110 per cent in everything they do.

South West born and bred, 68-year-old John was raised in Collie before moving inland to Wagin to take up an apprenticeship in panel beating.

He soon returned home to work in the field, where he stayed for four years before discovering “the money” was in mining — finding a role at the Collie open-cut mine and “never looking back”.

Throughout his 39-year stint at the site, John held several roles in production and loadout.

Lily also clocked up more than four decades in her career, working at Bankwest Bunbury for 45 years.

The pair, who met later in life, bought the then-empty plot of land in 1999, close to Lily’s family who grew up in Glen Iris.

“We decided to build this house ourselves and drew up all the plans,” John said.

“We lived in the shed for while, we were going to just do it as we could afford it, but resorted to take a loan out and finish it off.

“Now we’ve been here 22 years and slowly developed this.

“You’re supposed to keep bush blocks bush, but that wasn’t very exciting so we started to just take on little bits over time ... and here we are.”

Sitting at just more than an acre, John said they worked backwards from his ideal “final picture” to create the garden paradise they live in today.

“The idea of the whole place was to have a place where you could walk in and sit down on a bench and the birds come around ... it’s good,” he said.

“We get all sorts of birds, but we didn’t have them until we we put the shrubs in ... it’s a good atmosphere.”

The garden is broken up into five sections — a hidden vegetable patch behind John’s work shed, a tropical garden to mimic the humid rainforests of Cairns, a vast lawn, and a winding path leading to a whimsical pavilion, the perfect reading nook.

The final piece de resistance of the yard is undoubtedly the planted island, a grand roundabout for guests to easily enter and exit the residence.

It boasts the statue of a dapper gentlemen on a fully functional penny farthing bicycle, and behind that — warding off unwanted guests — a life-size replica of infamous bushranger Ned Kelly.

Like many home DIYers, the idea for the sculpture came up at a garden show, with Mr Wooding thinking to himself “I could make that for cheaper”.

“The first one I did was pretty rough,” he admitted.

“I just got some mesh, and wrapped it. I did the head and put clothes on them but as they developed, I actually used steel for the whole lot.”

The impressive figures take anywhere between two and three months to create — the retiree teaching himself all the necessary skills, using spare scrap metals to inspire his designs.

“It’s just a matter of when you’re retired, you’ve got time,” he shared.

“Sometimes when I get going, when I’m hammering and grinding ... I could be doing that for eight hours of the day.”

It is a passion and craft he never expected to get into.

“I didn’t think I’d do this sort of thing,” he said.

“But I sometimes go to the computer and just get a printout of something.

“As long as you can transform that into steel, sometimes ... it is a bit of a challenge, but it just depends on what you’ve got as to what you can make.”

Not all of his creations are as bold as the life-size figures.

He often uses odds and ends — like horse shoes, shovel heads and old tools — to make all sorts of garden figurines, from animals to miniature machinery reminiscent of his time at the mines.

The show-stopping garden has also caught the attention of some gardening celebrities, including West Australian legend Sabrina Hahn, who once hosted a garden show at the property.

But, as expected, a garden of such grandeur does take time and effort to maintain.

“We’ll move on probably later on, because it’ll get just too much for us,” John said.

“But at the moment, we’re still pretty active and we get into it and keep it ... but it’s a challenge keeping it going,” he admitted.

“I used to walk around with a beer and admire everything, but now I see it and think to myself, ‘Jesus I’ve got to cut that hedge, do this, do that’.”

While the couple may look to cross that bridge in the future, right now, there is no place they would rather be.

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