Andrew Noble is happiest when he’s creating something. Whether it’s outrageous photography, furniture, artwork, or the home he shares with Rachael Mead in leafy Basket Range surrounds. Idle he ain’t.
By day, Andrew is an extended care paramedic with SA Ambulance Service. For 20 years he’s helped save and improve lives. “My job is treating people at home and avoiding them going to hospital,” he says. His four days on, four days off roster leaves plenty of time to paint, build, snap, and make.
“Andrew is into so many different things I can’t imagine him having to be just focussed on one,” Rachael says. “If he doesn’t have a major project on the go he’s an absolute pain. When a major project is drawing to a close that’s when I really have to come up with the next one. Like a couch in a tree.” She laughs and points to their twist on a tree-house. His pièce de résistance is a tiny writer’s cottage overlooking a lake on their three-acre property. Rachael is a freelance writer, accomplished poet and arts reviewer for InDaily. Andrew built the little hideaway for her and her author friends to use and enjoy. “Come on, we’ll show you.”
Their greyhound Des follows obediently behind as they lead the way past their 1880s abode to the cute-as-a-button retreat. “I built it all,” Andrew says. “Without plans really. We made it up as we went along.” Even the stained-glass windows.
It’s a delightful little space. All four-by-three metres of it. There’s a working fireplace and a desk beneath bay windows with a view of their lake. “I built a duck refuge in the middle of the lake so they don’t get bothered by the foxes.”
Inside, Rachael’s published books take pride of place in a little bookshelf and an old type-writer adds a touch of wordsmith romance to the scene.
“We have a little twelve-volt solar system so we can have power. It turns out writers don’t really use old typewriters. They use a laptop and the laptop goes flat!” The tiny building was an exercise in salvaging second-hand materials. “I split the shingles myself. That’s part of the Grange jetty you’re standing on. They were re-decking the jetty and I bought the scraps off a friend of a friend. There wasn’t really enough of it to do anything with… unless you had a tiny doll’s house you wanted to make a veranda for.”
The walls are pretty pastel pink, green and white. He got the wood for next to nada. “Isn’t it mad. I’m a good client of the Adelaide Hills Recycled Timbers depot which is around the corner in Uraidla. They couldn’t give this stuff away because it’s all lead paint so you can’t strip it with heat or you’ll make yourself stupid. They pretty much gave it to me.”
He smiles. “I should confess, I just like making stuff up. If Rachael enjoys it and her writer friends can come and spend days here it makes me look good. We’ve done two of these now. A friend of Rachael’s [Rebekah Clarkson, author of Barking Dogs] said it was amazing and wanted one. Rachael said, ‘Andrew will build you one!’ So, I did. It’s totally different. I’m a one hit wonder. I don’t do the same thing twice.”
It’s a good thing, too. What, with so many hair-brained ideas up his sleeve.
“Andrew has done some amazing projects for other writing friends as well. The most recent one was floor-to-ceiling bookshelves (with a rolling library ladder) in a beautiful old place in Port Adelaide.”
Speaking of tomes, it’s time for Rachael to lead a tour of their home. First stop, her favourite room: the book-filled study. The writer also works at Adelaide’s Pop-up Bookshop in Adelaide Central Market. Words are her jam. “This library is my favourite part of the house. I love old things.” She thumbs well-worn pages with care. “I get so sentimentally attached to something I’ve read. If something has been going on in my life when I read it they’re inextricably linked and I can’t get rid of the book.”
“If it’s TV Week magazines you’re a hoarder, if it’s literature you’re a collector,” Andrew says with a grin. The shelves (built by him) are packed with archaeology books, feminist and environmental literature. The pair met during archaeology studies through Flinders University. “We were both archaeologists. We literally met down a hole. A shallow hole.” It was one of many former careers. Andrew even dabbled in ballet. “I went to the Australia Ballet School before archaeology,” he says. “In year eight I thought it’d help me fit in if I did classical ballet.” He laughs. “It turned out I had a natural aptitude for it. My parents were really supportive. I finished school in year 10 and went to Melbourne to live and go to the Australian Ballet School. If you want to succeed in something like that that’s all you do. I enjoyed it but it was so exclusive.”
So, he gave Australian archaeology a go. After meeting in a ditch evolved to dating, Andrew’s first gift to his future wife was an impressive cabinet (complete with a secret drawer) made using Redgum. He’s crafted useful romantic keepsakes ever since. Like the chair in her study: a reproduction of the Melbourne Library La Trobe reading room chairs. “That was for our fifth anniversary.”
The couple purchased their Adelaide Hills home in 1998 after returning home from travelling and working in Africa. “We were really poor at the time and the only thing we could afford was something that was completely condemned,” Rachael says. “We’d just started to look and this was the first place we went to. Everything was right about it.”
For these creative souls, the Adelaide Hills is the only place to be. “Growing up in the suburbs I had no idea what I was missing,” Rachael says. “When we got back from West Africa and couldn’t afford rent, we ended up moving in with Andrew’s parents on their property in Crafers. I was immediately in love. I knew there was no way I was ever going to live anywhere else than up here.”
Andrew grew up in Crafers. “We lived in tiny places for ages.” He points to the antique trunk in the middle of their dining room. “That was our dinner table. It was the trunk off the back of a horse and cart. We found it at the [former] Orange Lane Market. When we finally had the opportunity to buy and build we didn’t want to live in a small space. Though we still end up sitting on the floor to eat Japanese-style. That’s what we grew up doing.”
Breathing life into the derelict four-room cottage was a labour of love.
“We camped in a little room for six weeks while we renovated. We had a telly, a microwave and a futon. That’s it.”
Andrew built an open plan living and dining space and kitchen. “It took about two years to build the walls. I build it, Rachael decorates it.” Her taste is eclectic. Beautiful vintage pieces, trinkets collected during extensive world travels and family heirlooms take centre stage. “There’s a mix of styles,” she says. “If it all goes together it doesn’t matter if it’s from different eras.”
Mementos from trips to Iran and an old South Australian reference map are highlights. “One of the bookseller jobs I had was at Chapter Two in Stirling,” Rachael says. “When that came in I had to have it.”
Photographs from adventures in Antarctica, Ireland, Greece, Paris, India, Cameroon, Morocco, Ghana, Egypt, Nigeria and the Cook Islands line take pride of place on stone walls. At first glance, the home is also adorned with masterpieces by the art world’s greats. In reality, they’re Andrew’s handiwork. “We have a tradition going. For my birthday, I choose a favourite piece of art and Andrew forges it for me.” There’s a Grace Cossington Smith piece, Margaret Preston prints, and paintings depicting classics by Diego Rivera, and Vincent van Gogh. Andrew is quick to stress that a forgery is only illegal if you sell it with the person believing it’s by the artist. “Everyone [needs to be] clear that it’s not real.”
Original pieces by their artist pals share the wall space. Andrew also creates weird and wonderful photographs. His series based on repetitive use of body parts and a set of photos based on androids are mind-bending.
“On the drive into work ideas will pop into my head. Then you have to work out how to make that photo. You don’t just press a button and it happens.”
Luckily, he has the creative gene. “Art is just in the family. My dad [Denis Noble] is a water-colourist.” Denis was also an architect and built cars in his spare time: the kind of man who had two sheds. One for woodwork and one for metalwork. “
Andrew’s mum and grandmothers were art teachers. One exhibited in the National Gallery and the other a ceramicist. “It was always expected I was going to make things or build things,” Andrew admits. “I probably would have been ex-communicated if I hadn’t built stuff.” Next, his sights are set on the garden. “It’s a lot of work,” Rachael says. “The garden is very wild and unkempt. There’s plenty to do.”
As they settle down for a sundowner on their back verandah with a leafy view, the verdict is unanimous. “It turned out exactly the way we wanted it to.”