The small town of Bell looks out over the sprawling Darling Downs from its lovely vantage point in the foothills of the Bunya Mountains.
Somewhat immune from the heat shimmer below, the town of Bell catches the prevailing breeze. It is host to a delectable mix of tropical and temperate plants. Frangipanis grow happily beside bottle trees which offer their rich greenery as a counter to the wild purple of November’s jacaranda blossoms. It’s a pretty nice place, as tree changers Paul and Lesley Bryce discovered and acted upon.
Bell has had its glory days. Back when the railway line worked, the timber-getters and graziers contributed to a rich community there. But that was way back when. Times have changed. Now, Bell remembers. Still, many of its past aspirations remain on show – albeit in varying states of charm and dilapidation. Paul and Lesley Bryce were Sunshine Coast people for 30 years or so – the last couple of them beset by an increasing disgruntlement at the general over-crowding of their former paradise. When they found Bell by chance in 2010, they knew they had ‘come home’.
Lesley, in a spurt of impetuosity that still astonishes them both, paid the deposit on the (then) tumbledown 1912 stone bakery with her credit card. Despite its undeniably decrepit state, she loved the building from the first moment she saw it. In fact, it moved her to tears; it reminded her of a monk’s cave she had seen in Tibet. Now beautifully restored, it still has an almost holy ambience, generated no doubt by the natural feel of the raw stone inside and out. As a bricklayer, Paul’s was the huge challenge of restoring and renovating to make the space into a comfortable home. He has added a living area behind the main building with all the mod cons for simple living. The result is a charming, comfortable and functional home.
In the evenings, they enjoy sitting out ‘on the stoop’ – a bench outside their front door – and relish the sun setting over the plains below. Then the ‘wondrous glory of the everlasting stars’ replaces it, lighting up the world in a way that no longer happens these days on the Sunshine Coast.
During the day, as they beaver away at their various pursuits, Paul and Lesley are surrounded by breezes and fresh air, the sounds of birdsong and the swish of the occasional car going by on the main road. Their prolific vegetable garden provides for their table; meantime, their own roots delve into the rich soil of Bell, grafting onto a rich local history and satisfying the spiritual yearnings of these erstwhile gypsies.
Matching the sustainable lifestyle this pair is seeking, Lesley’s growing line of popular organic mustards, Bell Moutarde, which she sells at farm markets around the Downs, keeps her hopping. No pigs and no mud are in evidence, but these two tree changers are as happy as the proverbial in what has proved to be an idyllic setting.
Words Jane Grieve Images by Janine Waters