Everybody needs good neighbours

MINDFUL of the fact a builder’s back lasts, maybe, into its 40s, Tauran Gillie-Terry stretches every morning.

Sometimes it’s in front of the excavator guy. Or the plumber. “I’m doing yoga-type exercises, and these guys there on the job site are going: “Whaaaat…?”

This bloke is no dummy and in his mind, getting warmed up before work is just smart. He’s a Milwaukee tool man (disclaimer: so is the author) and the back of his Mazda ute shows a full kitted out tradie, everything in a shade of red. So’s the bricklayer, but not the plumber, he says, shaking his head a little sadly.

Back in 2020, when Tauran bought this house on Stephens Street in New Norfolk, it was not in good shape, the exterior and garden neglected and all kinds of stuff jammed inside. The real estate agent had been laser-accurate in the advertisement.

“Not for the faint-hearted,” it read. “The other potential buyer to turn up at an open house saw the place ahead of me turned around and walked away,” says the contractor. “He couldn’t stand the smell.” “But I saw it had good bones,” he emphasises.

Tauran’s property cost $220,000 in 2020, not long before the market in New Norfolk went haywire, along with the rest of Tasmania. The now 32-year-old has since put something like $80,000 into it, not including his own labour. Where possible, he’s recycled elements of the old into the new. Fireplaces have become outside brick paving.

“I got stuck into getting it cleaned up, and in a few months, I was making real progress,” he recalls. “But I also got myself into that position where you’re waiting on something like the windows to be delivered, and you start a little side project. Still in the same house, but a side project.

“Next thing you know, you’ve got 50 side projects, and nothing substantial is getting done. I call it the ‘Sea of Overwhelm.’“ The owner-builder was living in a motorhome in the drive, warming himself with a fire in a steel drum. If he needed a bath, it was the old-fashioned method of lighting a fire under the bathtub, outside. “But I met the neighbours this way,” he laughs. “They brought food in … didn’t ask, just turned up with something.

A guy called Kirk turned up with a pizza. Marion from down the street began bringing hot lunches. “A feller that called himself Charlie started talking to me one day … turned out he was a bricklayer from West Australia. “I could use a brickie, I said. Next thing, we’ve done a bunch of work together, and he’s now my best mate.”

It’s a pretty common story around the Derwent Valley. Tauran makes special mention of his fellow tradies, too, giving a shout-out to Jake Haines at Lekker Plumbing and Grace Reid-Simmons, of Something Cute Constructions. “When you live in a small place, and you need work done, who do ask for recommendations? The thing is that you’re accountable. You don’t do a bad job, because it’s going to come back at you very quickly!”

He’s also deeply thankful to Peter Williams, the historian, who’s furnished a deep appreciation of his new home town. Tauran also talks about the joys of everything being close in New Norfolk, and has been known to walk the three blocks from the Mitre 10 with a 4 by 2 over his shoulder. Someone has borrowed his truck, and he’s got to get it home. “Couldn’t do that in West Moonah, where I used to live,” he laughs. The interior is done now.

The last major job is the weatherboards. Under 17 coats of paint, they are in good shape, but getting them cleaned back is a lot of back-breaking work. His partner, Kate, is currently half way through a joint construction project, due for completion in about 18 weeks’ time. Whether boy or girl will remain unknown until that moment, and Tauran’s okay with that.

But right now, he’s got a lot of work on the books, a need to find an excavator and a plumber and not to mention those weatherboards are not going to sand themselves.