After outgrowing their tiny Inner City cottage, Maquel and Elliot were searching for a first home with a unique set of requirements: a secluded place surrounded by the beach and bush, but still within commutable distance to Sydney.
Many first-home buyers are searching for more space. But in the case of Maquel and Elliot, the couple were “literally bursting at seams” in their current rental.
Maquel (a former climate scientist turned wildlife researcher who uses “drones to survey different populations of wildlife”) and Elliot (a marine biologist who "researches oysters and how they respond to climate change”) were very ready to move their chickens and rescue cat, Rocco (a.k.a. “the master of the house”) out of their small Inner City cottage.
It’s not surprising that being “closer to nature” was a top priority for the couple. “I really value being close to the water… somewhere I can go swimming, diving, kayaking and engage in marine activities,” tells Elliot.
But the pair were realistic about their options, with Maquel admitting, “we never expected that we could get somewhere next to the water. We were happy to suffice with a bush block.”
After searching for over a year, they spotted a beach shack on the shores of Brisbane Water in a small pocket of Koolewong (named from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘koalas there'). “The house has obviously been added to and modified by people over the years, but it has been here for about 100 years is our best guess,” tells Elliot.
Despite being a little rough around the edges, the cottage ticked all their boxes: it shared a boundary with the Brisbane Water National Park and was quite literally waterfront, complete with a shared jetty. “I would have sold my right leg to live here,” tells Maquel. Luckily, she didn't have to…
The well-worn condition of the home worked in their favour, with damaged windows and rooms filled with clutter putting many other buyers off. “One time when we went to check it out, the back door was wide open and there was brush turkey nesting in the house,” laughs Maquel.
“People thought we were mad… the only other person that was potentially interested was a couple that was going to completely demolish the house.” But the pair saw its potential: it was secluded, yet only 10 minutes away from the nearest major train station and just needed a bit of love and attention.
Like many first-time buyers, Maquel and Elliot were “a little bit intimidated by the process” of securing their first home. “Once we had engaged with the Pure Finance team, we realised there was nothing to be scared of. It was all quite a simple process in the end,” tells Elliot.
One of their biggest priorities was to make sure they were working with an ethical lender that aligned with their values. They landed on a loan from the recently B-Corp-certified Teachers Mutual Bank. As Elliot explains, “we know that climate change is a massive issue. Any financial institution that is working towards reducing carbon emissions and putting money in a place where it's going to help our environment means a lot to us.”
Despite the challenges of living in the bush, Maquel and Elliot couldn’t be more at home. “It makes you feel alive and like you’ve got this really special place that’s very private and very personal,” shares Maquel.
What makes this spot extra special is its easy access to the National Park, which “has a really high density of original Aboriginal artwork. Every time we go for a walk, we respectfully go and have a look at some of these amazing artworks… It’s a fantastic reminder of the original inhabitants of this region, and their continuing connection and custodianship of the land” shares Elliot.
As you’d expect, the pair have already put their stamp on the home, spending their weekends slowly fixing bits and pieces. “Everything we’ve done on this house we’ve done ourselves using recycled materials… when we can’t get the items we want, we go to a local recycled timber supplier (who gets recycled timber from local houses that have been demolished) and we use that to make our own furniture,” explains Elliot.
Keen to live a “low impact” lifestyle, the couple is currently “trying to decarbonise our entire home so we don’t use gas. We bought a very efficient induction electric stove and we have electric hot water.” Even the chicken pen they’ve made for their “two feathered friends, Bootsy and Ester” has been built from the trees they’ve needed to clear on their property for fire protection purposes.
As Maquel explains, “next on our list is [getting] a flow hive, so instead of actually having to take the frames out of the beehive and disturb the bees to scrape off the honey, you just simply turn a tap and the honey drains. It means the bees are happier and undisturbed. Unfortunately though, we have to wait until varroa mite sorts itself out, because we are in a surveillance zone.”
“We like to eat wild as well, so we like to harvest sea lettuce, Neptune’s necklace, different types of seaweed and we can pickle them and have them on sushi. We also love to harvest oysters and local, sustainable food sources”
It’s a one-of-a-kind property for a one-of-a-kind couple. “We genuinely wake up every day and cannot believe we’re here. I feel like I’m on a holiday,” shares Maquel.
Maquel and Elliot’s top picks for eating and drinking in their new neighbourhood
Young Barrons, Woy Woy - their favourite local cafe and deli (don’t miss the pork and fennel sausage rolls and daily pasta specials)
Nero’s Pizza, Woy Woy - for traditional, sourdough woodfired pizza
Upstairs Wines, Ettalong - for an excellent bottle of natural wine
Osteria Il Coccia, Ettalong - an Italian fine diner (recently awarded One Hat in the 2023 Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide NSW Awards)
Fisherman’s Wharf Co-Op - A central coast icon for the best takeaway fish and chips and fresh seafood
Are you thinking about making the move from renter to homeowner? Discover everything you need to know about securing your first home, and our tips for making the process as smooth and stress-free as possible.