Sticky Beak: Rural idyll crafted in timber set amid balm of nature

Headshot of Lisa Favazzo
Lisa FavazzoGeraldton Guardian
Max Royce and his dog dusty.
Camera IconMax Royce and his dog dusty. Credit: The Geraldton Guardian

For three years in the 80s, a local furniture maker carried most of his worldly possessions — like his fishing and diving gear, surfboards, fancy dress, and woodworking tools — in a Kombi and trailer, which he drove around the country.

Max Royce returned to Greenough “full of beans and ideas” in his early 30s, inheriting a patch of paradise passed down through generations.

Mr Royce’s grandfather first purchased the land in 1935, clearing 200ha for farming. His brother took over the farm, but each of his siblings got their own piece of the land. Now, five generations of the family have called Greenough home.

The loft’s new second bedroom.
Camera IconThe loft’s new second bedroom. Credit: The Geraldton Guardian

The self-described “bit-of-a-hippy” reckons he’s pretty lucky to have his own 6ha plot.

“Mum and Dad helped me put in the water and power and said, ‘It’s all yours’,” he said.

As a young man, learning about and developing the property became his next big adventure.

The result is effortlessly cool, with its character falling somewhere within the glorious grey area between rustic and luxurious.

The kitchen upstairs.
Camera IconThe kitchen upstairs. Credit: Lisa Favazzo/The Geraldton Guardian

The property, nestled off Brand Highway, is complete with a chicken coop, a cottage, and treehouse, which his kids Ruby and Banjo loved in their youth. But, the coolest part of the eco-abode is his workshop and adjoining loft, which, like everything, Mr Royce built himself.

It was originally used as a two-storey gallery, but now he calls it Greenough Nature Stay, renting it to holidaymakers and honeymooners who are looking for an off-the-grid getaway but don’t want to forgo comfort and style.

Naturally, almost every piece of furniture — wardrobes, bedframes, tables, mirrors, desks and cabinets — was handcrafted by Mr Royce in the workshop next door. Although each piece is different, they generally feature soft wavy wood, natural shapes and dark lacquer.

Max Royce’s eco home in Greenough.
Camera IconMax Royce’s eco home in Greenough. Credit: The Geraldton Guardian

The two-storey loft wasn’t born from a master plan. It was the most logical thing Mr Royce could think to do when he stumbled across a few big timber trusses engraved with Roman-numeral carpenters’ markings at a Geraldton salvage yard.

“They were salvaged from a warehouse in Port Hedland ... I believe they were built in England and shipped over here in the late 1800s,” he said. “I think I got them for $80 each and they were more expensive to get down here.”

The top floor of the loft.
Camera IconThe top floor of the loft. Credit: The Geraldton Guardian

Once the shape of the roof was established, he began work on a big entertaining deck.

When the sun sets on the property, orange light streams through the organically shaped jamwood railings, framing the landscape and mimicking its natural texture. It then travels into the loft through an abundance of windows and reclaimed wooden doors with stained-glass detailing.

The deck serves as a homage to all the things Mr Royce finds quirky, comical or fun.

I haven’t visited every semi-rural deck in the Mid West, but I feel confident this is the only one with a fireman’s pole, rainbow hammock and functional wooden davit. Mr Royce said he had always been a little fascinated with old-timey davits.

The davit on the balcony
Camera IconThe davit on the balcony Credit: Lisa Favazzo/The Geraldton Guardian, Lisa Favazzo

“In the old day ships used to have these hoists to pull cargo up,” he said.

“I found this thing in the bush that was just the right shape and made a hinge for it.”

It came in handy when Mr Royce used the space as a gallery, allowing him to bring his artisanal furniture to the building’s top floor.

For guests who are too risk-averse to slide down a fireman’s pole and not accustomed to travelling by nautical hoist, there is a set of steep stairs, with railings made from seasoned paperbark found along the river.

An illustration of the loft by a visiting backpacker.
Camera IconAn illustration of the loft by a visiting backpacker.

“The stairs are actually from the original Geraldton Flour Mill,” Mr Royce told me, along with countless other tidbits about how he rescued parts of the loft from the pages of local history.

Upstairs is the designated soiree area, featuring a TV, kitchen, barbecue, desk, sound system and dining table. Mr Royce disclosed he’d thrown more than a few raging shindigs in his time at the loft.

Conversely, Mr Royce built the downstairs for rest and relaxation. The first floor features a bathroom and two roomy bedrooms. The walls are made from rammed earth, with wooden ceilings and beige tiles.

The subdued colour palette makes an appropriate canvas for the Royce family’s crafty accents. Mum Valerie Royce’s colourful stained-glass creations frost the doors and bathroom windows like whipped icing on an otherwise dense chocolate mud cake.

A stained glass window in the toilet.
Camera IconA stained glass window in the toilet. Credit: The Geraldton Guardian

Mr Royce and his friendly three-legged red kelpie Dusty offer guided tours around the operational workshop next door.

He said guests always commented on the special experience.

“Dusty always gets a mention and they love just a quiet stillness,” he said.

Get the latest news from in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails