When a friend of mine said that they knew someone who lived in a tree, my first thought was that they either knew an Ewok or that they consumed too much wine at dinner.
It wasn’t until I was driving past Fyshwick on the Monaro Highway and that friend pointed at a large tree and said ‘That’s where he lives!’ that I took them seriously.
Thank goodness I did because if not, I never would have gotten to visit that tree and seen the DIY abode Phillip (Pip) has constructed*.
However, this story starts many years ago in a different time and with Pip in a very different profession – one that hardly had him climbing trees. As someone always good with his hands, Pip was building things out of wood under his father’s guidance from a young age. But his education and subsequent career took him away from craft, instead seeing him become a mechanical engineer and then a business management consultant who travelled the world.
Years of corporate meetings, tailored suits and standard rat race living pressures took a toll on Pip’s happiness, so he chose to address it head-on and seek a different life – one that brought him to Canberra and saw him take up wooden boat building as a passion and business.
Now well-established and based in Fyshwick’s Dairy Road, Pip’s Mountain Boats is now a perfect fusion of work and joy, with a sample of his handiwork currently attracting plenty of joyous onlookers and happy snappers on the Kingston Foreshore.
As you can imagine, Pip’s connection with nature means he has a different way of seeing the environment around us. To him, being free means working on what he loves, and living as naturally as he can alongside all the elements – rain, wind, sun, heat and cold – that many of us try to keep out of our daily lives.
It’s funny to think that when he was looking for a place close to his work, what stood out to Pip was not an apartment or home on a real estate website, but a majestic, leafy and large tree in a paddock.
Bruce, as he called the tree, appealed to him on a number of levels. He was grand, isolated and historically significant, having watched Canberra transform over the decades. Pip knew very quickly that Bruce was going to be his new home.
It’s here that the HerCanberra editorial team would like to acknowledge for legal reasons that we do not encourage people to set up homes in random trees for a variety of safety reasons, despite how charming it is.
While most of us size up the number of bedrooms, Pip sized up the length of the branches and the frame of the tree. Where we might check out the roof line and winter sun orientation, he checked the protective canopy coverage and the angle of sun exposure for his solar panels.
Now, you could be forgiven for calling his structure a cubby house – but to me, that’s like calling a king’s palace a house. This is no cubby house, it is a tree home – especially considering it has a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, shower, lounge, shed storage spaces and a viewing balcony of the surrounding native garden.
When it comes to creature comforts, Pip might not have a doorbell, air-con or washing machine but who needs that when you can knock on wood, the airflow is amazing and the ants clean your dishes. Also, it’s not like he sleeps uncomfortably strapped by a belt to a branch. Instead, he’s nice and comfy in his bedroom and living room recliner chair.
He has home décor too, like prints from his children and even a Georg Jensen vase. Yes, there are tough moments to living like this, such as when he has to bring in water and keep away snakes and mice, or go to the bathroom in the middle of the night in winter. But the flip side is that he has pure peace.
All up, there are three lessons for all of us to learn here: one is that we should trust our friends when they say weird things. Two – we should take a look at our homes in a whole new light; and three – not all cubby houses are cubby houses – some are cubby kingdoms.
* Pip recently moved out of his cubby kingdom to seek new digs.
Photography: Ashley Feraude