Going natural.

“Hey. Hey! Check out my water feature.”

The Ideas Man rips back the bedroom blinds and I’m smashed awake by the sun. Toast in hand, he grins out at the water.

“Look. Look. Check it out.”

This awakening is the tail end of the five-year project that is The Ideas Man’s most epic idea to date: a 15m x 15m natural swimming pool that has been plumbed and pimped within an inch of its life.

It began as a fleeting desire to install a pool, a desire that quickly waned as summer passed. Living in the unpredictable Victorian climate, we decided not to invest in a pool that would sit green and untouchable for the best part of the year. We settled on a natural swimming pool, a no-maintenance splash-about that would please the senses all year round with its delightful appearance and acoustics. And, given that project costs were upwards of $60,000, The Ideas Man would build it himself.

As with anything The Idea Man attempts, this pool was to be no amateur puddle. He sent away for a ‘Build Your Own Natural Swimming Pool’ DVD in which an Englishman walked him through the construction of a plunge pool. He also consulted a friend, a hydrologist, which in layman’s terms means a person who knows stuff about cleaning waterways. Research done, The Ideas Man got to work digging a crater five times the size of the one in the DVD, with a concrete lap pool in the centre highlighted by bubbles and redgum capping. Understandably, this process took time, sweat and tears.

“I’m going to start a gym.” Year three of the project. The bulk of the pool had been dug by machine, but The Ideas Man is sweating profusely, shaping the half-baked crater around the lap pool by hand. “I’ve moved that many barrows of dirt. I’m sweating. It hurts. That’s a workout, right?”

Yes. But I don’t think you can pass the crater off as a gym.

The Ideas Man disagreed. He has a plan. He waves his phone in my face. It is a Gumtree ad fronted by Mr T dripping in gold chains, jamming a finger at me. The words “We Want You” are plastered underneath him. Then this:

“Sick of your man boobs? Don’t want to pay ridiculous gym fees? Want to learn new skills? This is for you. I will teach you how to swing a pick and use a shovel. I will work alongside you, mentoring you on how to push a wheelbarrow full of dirt. These are basic life skills you need and guess what? You get fit while doing it. All of this is free of charge. Class is filling fast so give me a call and I will see if I can fit you in.”

“No way. You actually posted it?”

The Ideas Man nods, impressed with himself.

The next morning someone has responded “Legend”, then the phone proceeds to ding non-stop with notifications that the ad is getting a high number of views. The Ideas Man has the high-pitched giggles. His finger and thumb are jammed in his eyes, having brought himself to tears.

The pool hole is dug and shaped over the next six months, then, because our soil is exceptionally porous, is lined with geofabric plastic liner, sand and pebbles. A raised rain garden is built and layered with gravel, sand, soil, rocks and plants, through which the pool water is pumped and filtered.

There are more than 150 plants in the rain garden and surrounds of the pool, using up the nutrients that might otherwise cause algal blooms. The plants also create prime conditions for microorganisms to flourish and process pollutants. Coupled with aeration, our water will eventually be clear.

While we wait for that to happen, The Ideas Man continues to pimp the pool. From the beginning, the project has been a live game of dominoes with one idea triggering another.

“Hey. Hey. Look at this.”

The Ideas Man dumps an ancient clawfoot bath on the verandah. After two years of shifting it from one place to the other, the bath is finally installed beside the pool. The rain garden water is plumbed into a copper coil running through a wood heater and into the bath. You can either sit in it and gloat, or pull the plug and duck under the drainage pipe overhanging the lap pool to let it run over your weary shoulders.

It’s amazing. So amazing that I thought we were finally done. But alas, this is an Ideas Man project. Last weekend, there was a knock at the door. The Ideas Man answers it, then waves us all over.

“Hey. Hey kids! The turtle’s here!”


Karen Casey is a Ripplebrook resident, journalist and author of The Misadventures of The Travelling Quirkus and The Extraordinary Gum Tree children’s book series, which supports farmers through the Aussie Helpers charity.

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