Susan McDonald and her late husband Bob have created a peaceful, shady hideaway from the heat on their cattle property in Queensland’s north-west.

Story + Photos Vicki Wilson

As you make your way up the short red-dirt driveway towards the Brightlands homestead, 65 kilometres south of Cloncurry, Qld, the thirsty landscape suddenly morphs into a curtain of towering trees and dense shrubbery in every shade of green. Occasional gaps in the foliage allow glimpses of the family home beyond, while long-established bougainvillea offers splashes of hot pink and white. 

Further, past the main arboured entrance to the house yard, a dangling tyre swing invites play and an old rain tree almost looks like it’s resting on its elbow, thanks to a year-long experiment using ropes and rocks to train one of its huge limbs into an archway over the road. As sheds and other buildings come into view, clumps of gigantic figs beg for a game of hide-and-seek in their mile-high roots and offer shade so thick you feel the temperature plummet.

Inside the yard, stands of bamboo, more figs, paperbarks and a host of other trees provide even more shade, while palms feature alongside smaller shrubs and flowers in beds and pots surrounding the Queenslander-inspired home. “When we built this house Bob and I said we want to look out of any window and not see brown,” Susan McDonald says. This was the only real plan they had for the garden and it has evolved into a tranquil retreat, often through trial and error as they learned what would grow and survive in the harsh local climate, with challenges including heat, lack of rain and the occasional frost.

This story excerpt is from Issue #123

Outback Magazine: February/March 2019