Words Jacqui Greig / Photos Zanna Gale
Outback living is never short of hardships, but that doesn’t mean design and style have to be compromised – as evidenced by the charming oasis Zanna Gale has created with her traditional station homestead West and beyond.
Situated near Milparinka (north of Broken Hill), Pincally Station is home to Zanna and Matt Gale, and their three daughters Bella, 15, Lucy, 12, and Millie, 11. The 162,000-acre property runs Senepol/Santa Gertrudis cross beef cattle, self-replacing multi purpose merino sheep, and goats. When Zanna arrived at the property as a new bride 21 years ago, the homestead – built in the early 1900s – was essentially in its original condition, bar some additions in the 1950s.
“The older end and the newer end are joined by the traditional large breezeway that many people had in those days,” explains Zanna. “The northern and southern sides of the breezeway were lined with frosted louvres that could then be opened to let the breeze flow through… although I found that more dust came in than breeze!”
The red dust that is so iconic for rural Australia is also one of Zanna’s biggest challenges. That, and the fact the homestead had no insulation – making it hot in Summer and cold in Winter. But it is the property’s isolation that posed one of the biggest problems when it came to renovations.
With Zanna’s deft touch and design nous, the homestead has undergone major structural changes over the years, including replaced windows, the addition of a swimming pool, a renovated bathroom, roof replacement and the addition of insulation and the demolition of almost a quarter of the house to be rebuilt into a much larger kitchen/living, pantry and outdoor entertaining area.
“When renovating we did everything in blocks,” says Zanna. “I knew the kitchen was going to be a major renovation and extremely hard to find a builder and cabinet maker that would be interested in going bush for as long as it would take to get the job done. That has always been a major hurdle for families out here… finding the right builder that wants to leave town and come and build in the outback without town conveniences!”
Zanna found her dream team with Mildura-based Ideal Fabrications, owned by husband and wife team Aaron and Kelly, who then recommended builder Andrew Welsh, whose catch phrase of “There is always a way Zanna” firmly lodged him in Zanna’s affections. “After numerous trips to Mildura, which is six hours away, to sit with Kelly and work on our designs for the kitchen we eventually came up with the perfect kitchen/pantry area that included a gorgeous study nook and boot room,” says Zanna.
Although studying with the International School of Colour and Design, this was a learning curve for Zanna, who had never tackled a project this large or involved. Her thoughtful design choices resulted in a large kitchen/living area and a three-metre wide spotted gum deck that runs along the length of the kitchen with a covered entertaining area.
Boasting plenty of natural light, clean lines and copious space, the kitchen is now one of Zanna’s favourite rooms in the home and easily accommodates the four-meter island bench and the statement dining table.
“My husband bought the table years ago at a mine auction in Broken Hill for $100. Since then it had been used in his workshop, but I’d always had my eye on it. Basically I planned the kitchen around this table; it has so much character.”
Character is something Zanna values when it comes to interior design. “I had always wanted an old fan from a windmill on a wall, but little did I realise that our fans were far too big, stretching from the floor to the ceiling height or taller! Eventually Matt found an old windmill fan on a farm in SA where we had sheep on agistment, and it now sits above a couch. I love the colour and patina of the blades on the fan – it gives a rustic appeal to the whole space.”
Zanna has a sophisticated take on the typical country aesthetic, which is evident throughout her home. Rustic elements such as timber furniture and ceramic vases filled with wildflowers, work well within the parameters of the renovation’s modern finishes.
Zanna is drawn to earthy textures, especially handmade and nature fibres. Her colour scheme works mostly with shades of grey; “Every now and then I feel like I need to add more colour… but as soon as I try it I go back to neutrals, I feel like it creates a calming atmosphere.” The style of the home is perfectly imperfect; nothing appears overly polished or unduly precious and it’s obvious comfort for the family is paramount.
The homestead’s garden has also been a work in progress that has evolved over the years. With just a patch of lawn to start with, Zanna and her mother and a friend added garden beds and developed a cottage garden look with roses and perennials. Although the garden was growing beautifully, it was also a lot of work – especially with the addition of children to daily life and the realities of the harsh outback climate.
“I eventually started to change the garden by planting tougher plants such as succulents, and more trees for shade – which I should have done from the very beginning,” says Zanna.
“A few years ago we were in Tibooburra for a gymkhana and on arriving home found that a gate had been left open and cattle had gotten into the garden and trashed everything! I was beside myself, but looking back it was the best thing that ever happened. I simplified the design and now have more of a Mediterranean-style garden. I chose heat tolerant plants to cope with our severe summers and more trees on the lawn for shade. Succulents are a winner and have the most gorgeous shapes and colours, and I’ve planted rows of olive trees on the northern side of the house, which helps protect from dust and hot winds. Olive trees have the most beautiful foliage and are my go-to tree for greenery in the home.”
Zanna appreciates the sense of coolness a green garden adds, and loves that it gives the feeling of a private sanctuary in the middle of nowhere, especially in times of drought. And it’s not uncommon on a scorching Summer afternoon for youngest daughter Millie to have let her pony onto the lawn to enjoy the pop up sprinkler system!
For Zanna and her family, the home they have created perfectly suits their lifestyle and it’s one that Zanna would never give up. “It sounds like a cliché, but I really do love the wide open space – it gives you a sense of freedom. It can be hard at times, but so rewarding in so many other ways,” smiles Zanna. “I love this lifestyle for our family.”