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June 20, 2024 7:20 PM

Hidden Valley an Oasis for the Gardners

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BY ALEX TIGANI

When you have a goal and focus, nothing is too hard for Nic and Julie Gardner.

That’s been the theme of Hidden Valley which they have called home for 28 years.

“We had a vision,” Julie reflected.

“When Nic found this block of land, he needed a water source while my requirement was I needed an oasis.”

Now proud grandparents, the couple peered out onto their beautiful green garden last month which is spoilt with picturesque views of their Sunnyside Lane property.

“I banged the dam in, that solved the water problem,” Nic added.

“So, we achieved our goal and we have never looked back since.”

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Nic and Julie Gardner stand before their home, garden and family flag at Hidden Valley.

Their home, which lives up to its name as one of the Upper Hunter’s most hidden treasures, proved to be two lifetimes in the making.

Nic grew up on a property near West Wyalong, observing his father’s welding skills on the farm before they moved to Sydney in his early teens.

He was an active adolescent who loved the outdoors and considered a career as a builder or carpenter before his vocational guidance councillor at Woolooware High School steered him toward another exciting pathway.

“She said you’re good at maths and you might want to look at surveying,” he recalled.

“It is an interesting business to be in because it balances outdoor and indoor work.”

MEANWHILE Julie’s rural journey had begun in the state’s North West. Her family’s property was only a light drive from Burren Junction and her sisters still have sheep studs that way.

Nic and Julie married in 1984, renovated a 120-year-old railway cottage home in Picton and constructed another home only two doors down a few years later.

Yet they both aspired to be on something not necessarily residential on account of their rural upbringings.

Therefore Nic’s move from Penrith Council to Singleton Council in the early 1990s proved to be a blessing in disguise as they stumbled across two opportunities when looking for a home.

The first was the block of land they discovered on Sunnyside Lane north of Singleton.

As for the second? A 1930s home with Art Deco ceilings situated across from the Sandgate Cemetery in Newcastle.

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The Art Deco ceiling caught Julie’s eye when the home was situated across from the Sandgate Cemetery.

They made the bold decision to bring the two together, transporting the home in three sections in 1994 after assessing the scope and the scale of the place.

Both recall the first trip as a bumpy one nevertheless the section arrived unscathed as props held up the ceiling with timber from the granite floor.

“One of the reasons we got it was this ceiling,” Julie playfully added.

“We said, if you break that we’re not having the house.”

Nic’s early dream of construction had become a reality as circular chainsaws, props and many other tools were put to work throughout the slow rebuild.

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It was time to transport the home to the Sunnyside Lane.

The floor was then joined back grain for grain and by Easter they had moved in.

“Nic got under the house in Newcastle and surveyed where the piers were,” she recalled.

He then set out the house along the ground and dug the concrete in the exact locations.

“So we just had to position the house over it, they sat it up quite high,” he explained.

“Probably 1.2m off the ground on timber and that enabled me to build the piers up with bricks to whatever level it was.

“Then they came back and lowered the house over the top of it.”

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The home was transported in three pieces and rebuilt on the property in 1994.

Nic looks back on the organisation, transport and slow rebuild with pride while Julie still vividly recalls labouring for all 91 piers.

Then came the garden which was extended to the dam when Julie retired ten years ago.

Admittedly, the features of her garden could fill a further three of our Not For Sale columns when looking at the back story of their hackberry tree within the driveway’s roundabout or the iconic passionfruit vine which expands off of welded trampoline frames.

“Julie is a good gardener and she wanted a yard so we filled that, overfilled it and then we extended it,” he explained.

“The issue we had was matching our water storage capacity with the amount of water you need for an oversize garden.

“With the drought, we were down to the last tank full of water with the dam so we cleaned it out and of course it has been full now for three years.”

The garden also features a flagpole with the Australian and Gardner family flags while a replica sculpture of the Charging Bull from the New York Stock Exchange can be found adjacent to the shed.

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The Charging Bull sculpture was added earlier this decade.

Julie even managed to add another garden during the lockdown period of 2020, commonly known as the covid garden.

“Once upon a time you would head up the driveway and see everything,” Nic explained.

“Now you travel up the road and ask, I wonder if there’s a home behind that garden?”

Prior to their arrival, Sunnyside Lane only had one resident. The late Ashley Hedges (1911-2006).

Remembered as a local dingo trapper, often wandering through their garden with a rifle in the late 1990s, he lived in his shack from 1962 until his passing at the age of 96.

His memory also features in their reflections of the property.

“If anyone else came along this road, he would pull them up and say what are you doing,” Nic explained.

“The Telstra line went straight past his house later on and they said they could provide free connection for pensioners but he asked why would I want it?” Julie shared.

“He was here one day, I received a call and after I hung up he asked how far away can you talk to someone on that thing?

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The view of the Gardners’ damn from the 1990s and a view from the same spot captured on Friday, November 25.

“I said anywhere in the world and he asked ‘what about Mt Royal?’ which was one of many memories.”

If the walls of the home could speak, the Gardners would expect multiple responses from “God, you’ve been busy” to “Don’t you people ever stop” and “Just have a relax.”

After three decades of blood, sweat, tears and memories, we can confirm that this home is not for sale.

“When you retire, the first thing people say is where are you moving to,” Julie explained.

“I’m not going anywhere, I’m not leaving, I can’t leave.

“To leave will be a difficult day and I pity our kids when they kick us out kicking and screaming because it is going to be tough.”

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