A Current Affair – The Johnson Family’s Backyard Rescue

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From the outside, the Johnsons are a typical Brisbane family. Brett (33), known as Johnny to his mates, is a boilermaker by trade; his wife Casey (25), a personal trainer. They love the outdoors, spending as much time as possible in the open air with their little boy Jack (1).

But in 2011 their lives changed irrevocably. Brett was diagnosed with cancer. 

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Brett has Ewings Sarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer with a low survival rate. He battled and beat the cancer twice. But last year, just days before his son’s first birthday, the doctors told him the cancer had returned, giving him 18 months to live.

For the Johnson family, this means living life “at full speed”, loving with their hearts thrown open.

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The family bought a house on an overgrown block in the Alexandra Hills, Queensland. Brett had big plans to renovate his backyard. Friends and family pitched in to clear it of trees and debris. But there was more to be done.

The Johnsons wanted to “live outdoors” – they wanted to create a space for a self-sustained, healthy lifestyle.

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That’s when A Current Affair stepped in. Together with stylist Beate de Camp, Zanui, Outdoor Secrets and a host of volunteer tradies, they made it happen. In just seven days, the Johnsons’ backyard was transformed into a truly unique eco-outdoor area for the family to enjoy.

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For the Johnson family and their friends, life before Brett’s treatment feels like a long time ago. Mates describe Brett as driven. He traveled frequently to remote parts of Queensland and Western Australia to build his business. Casey was studying nutrition and health + well-being.

But they have always been a social family. And with Brett’s diagnosis and the arrival of little Jack, their time has focused ever more closely around family and friends. Our team of inspired workers were determined to conquer the wilderness to create a brand-new backyard prioritises comfort and entertaining. This is the ultimate space to relax in the company of loved ones.

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Outdoor Secrets’ distinctive design provided the foundations for Beate’s natural aesthetic. With such an expansive space to play with, Beate concentrated on creating specific zones to increase its useability. The style is open-plan, modern and low-maintenance. It’s secluded yet intimate.

The use of timber (in the dining set, the playground and the fireplace) creates a sense of cohesion across the different areas and contrasts the granite-grey of the concrete finishes around the pool. The use of concrete references Brett’s former work, adding a personal touch to the landscape.

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“I love mixing different materials and allowing them to offset each other,” Beate says. “All the materials reflect the backyard’s natural tones beautifully.”

The house exterior and shed were painted white, with grey accents for added depth, and the outdoor furniture chosen in accordance with this palette.

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Beate dressed up the base with bold accessories in the cushions, candles and flowers to endow each zone with unique character. These pops of colour carry the eye across the garden and draw the space together.

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“The finishing touches are as important as the big changes,” Beate explains. “I really love how the red towels and flower pots offset the mosaic tiles and bath area.”

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The pool features raised decking with an entertainment area. And with an outdoor kitchen, TV and seating space, even an outdoor shower, it’s easy to believe that the Johnsons have achieved their dream of “living outdoors”.

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The garden exudes a simple elegance. Manicured lawn meets an idyllic kids’ playground area sporting a sandpit, wheel barrow and balance bike. The climbing pyramid + swing set is the focal point of the garden.

“At the reveal, the playground was instantly crowded with kids,” Beate says. “It was amazing to see.”

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An existing fountain was modernised and a sheltered area erected for entertaining. A bench that Brett built himself was incorporated into the lawn area, adding another spot for respite and quiet reflection.

When they peeled back their blindfolds to reveal their new home last week, Brett and Casey were overcome. “This is just outrageous,” Brett said. “Words can’t describe it. They really can’t.”

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With an outdoor gym, a landscaped garden, a firepit, a full renovation of the pool, a playground and a mini footy field for little Jack, this space truly is an “oasis”, as Brett says. It’s amazing what a group of mates and strangers can do when they set their minds to help someone in need.

Brett is currently doing Gerson Therapy, an organic plant-based diet that promotes the body’s ability to heal, so organic fruit and vegies are important. And now perhaps they can grow their own. There was even talk of investing in some chooks… How amazing would that be?

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When asked what he would want to tell his son, Brett says, “When he has tough times in his life, just to dig deep and pull through because that’s what his dad did.” For Casey’s part, she says she’s been honoured to share this journey with Brett. “I know Brett’s my husband and Jack’s dad, but he’s also my hero.”

Damn straight. This man is an inspiration. His strength, his love for his family and his perseverance can only be matched by the love and devotion of his wife and friends. You can follow Brett and Casey’s battle to take down Ewings Sarcoma here. We will be.

To the Johnson family: We hope you love your new outdoor home. It’s been an absolute honour for us to have met you and been a momentary part of your story. You are in our thoughts.

Watch the full episode on ACA here. Images courtesy of A Current Affair and Be Divine styling.

A huge thanks to our suppliers for their incredible generosity in being a part of this:
Plum – Climbing Pyramid with Swings
Twigz – Galvanised Steel Wheel Barrow
EPVY Design Studio – Totem 3 Piece Outdoor Lounge Set, Off White
Lavita – Litrenta Charcoal Outdoor Chair & Ottoman
LifestyleGarden – Catalina 7 Piece Outdoor Dining Set
Racer – Red Balance Bike

Kay is a feature, blog and copywriter. She collects empty jam jars, academic degrees and tawdry dreams in the hopes of turning them into something useful someday. Her work has been published in ACP magazines, ABC fiction, Overland, Brittle Star, Seizure, trade publications and online forums. Her creative writing has won several awards.