The world of cubby houses

Cubby houses need not be confined to a small box in a tree. Take this little number I put together in about half a day with a few materials lying around the house.
Cubby houses need not be confined to a small box in a tree. Take this little number I put together in about half a day with a few materials lying around the house.

CUBBY houses certainly have changed a lot over the years.

Back in the day, old wooden packing crates provided our building material of choice.

There were always plenty of crates around what with dad often acquiring a mysterious load of fertiliser which “fell off the back of a truck”.

He must have had a sixth sense for knowing when a load wasn’t secured because he seemed to bring home a lot of stuff that had become dislodged from a loaded vehicle.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, my extensive construction skills were being developed back then as I hammered together boards and sawed out window cavities.

I guess it was a bit like Don Bradman hitting the golf ball against the tank stand with a cricket stump - he was just doing it because he enjoyed it, not to become the greatest cricketer of all time.

Well, I was just building cubby houses because I enjoyed it. Little did I know it would lead to a full time career of backyard construction and development, and the label of the “greatest gardening celebrity of all time”.

Cubby houses provide a great play area for the kids and show them responsibility, while also developing dexterity.

But don’t think that a cubby has to be a wooden panelled small house shoved up a tree. One’s imagination can lead to countless other designs and styles.

Here are just some of the cubby house ideas I’ve designed over the years.

The Igloo: Construction of this model was very complex, and a touch expensive. It required first building a commercial 18m x 18m cold room. I then bought a tonne (literally) of dry ice, and froze about another tonne of normal ice. With a chainsaw, patience, and a very thick jacket, brick by brick, I constructed an igloo. The kids absolutely loved it, however finding fresh fish to feed the penguins I imported became a hassle, and the electricity bill was huge to keep things cool. Still, Darwin was where the work was at the time.

Guantanamo Girl Guides: The Turrabunda Girl Guides in Western Australia commissioned me to build a special cubby house in the backyard of their meeting hall. The Guides raise money for good causes and wanted something to inspire them to continue on with the good work. So what better way than a scale replica of the famous Guantanamo Bay detention camp in the US, to remind them of the darkness in the world, that they can be a light for? Incredibly, you can buy razor wire which is 1/20th the size of the real stuff.

Monitor House: Taking action against the growing trend of e-waste such as computer parts and electronics, I decided to create an entire cubby house made from old computer monitors for South Adelaide’s Kids in Computers Club. When completed, it looked spectacular, with the screens gleaming at every angle. Complete with chairs made from old printers, a photocopier desk, and a retina-scan doorway security system, the little nerds thought they were in heaven. The club house was a little too close to the airport however and several airlines complained that the sun was being reflected off the 234 screens into the pilots’ eyes.

Paper Mache Mansion: The kids themselves got involved in the construction of this one, being made to tear, soak and apply every bit of the paper mache to the chicken wire frame. Giving them a time limit really spurred on the teamwork. It had to be big enough for four primary-aged children to stand up in. The great thing was that once dried, they could paint it whatever way they wanted to. At least, they could have, if they’d worked a little harder on the foundations and reinforcing, before the overnight storm ripped through and tore the thing apart. It was a valuable lesson for the kiddies to watch five days of work dismantled by Mother Nature in five minutes.

The point is to think broadly when it comes to cubby houses, but keep within council regulations. There’s no point building something that won’t meet final approval with the local laws, or so I keep telling people when I notice a poorly constructed cubby house in a backyard and immediately inform the planning and development department.

* Tip of the Month: Grinding out a tree stump can be a costly exercise. Why not let the planet do the work for you? Simply re-locate a few white ants from the nearby scrub to the stump to feast away. Now that’s nature in action.

Better Backyards with Gherkin JarvisSelf-proclaimed gardening expert and carpet enthusiast, Gherkin Jarvis, brings you his thoughts on Australia’s great lifestyle tradition, the backyard.


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