Melon’s makeover

Melon’s makeover

An amazing couple who have given so much have been on the receiving end of a good deed.

Jodi and Peter Simpson established Melon’s Cottage in Kalimna in 2012. It was set up to assist Victorian families who have children with cancer or are bereaved, to have some much needed respite. It is run in conjunction with Challenge –Supporting Kids with Cancer.

Melon’s Cottage is named after Eli Simpson - Melon to his parents - who was diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia at 15 weeks old. Unfortunately Eli passed away on November 16, 2008, aged just 13 and a half months.

The cottage relies heavily on donations and fundraising activities to cover costs to ensure families can stay without the worry of finances.

Over the years the cottage has been refurbished and disabled access provided, but the backyard has been in desperate need of a full renovation.

Just over a year ago a plan was drawn up to create an area that allowed for play areas, a reflection garden, parent’s retreat and an activity zone as well as becoming all accessible for the disabled.

Finally, in early May this year, they marked out the beginnings of the project.

Then on June 27 the Simpsons, Richard Hay and all their helpers put in a big day laying out the areas and backfilling with dirt. Jodi had no idea they were preparing the site for something special to happen.

Unbeknown to Jodi, the Simpsons and their team of helpers were not going unnoticed and Channel Nine program, Open Homes Australia, heard about the project.

The network had been wanting to do a program on the Gippsland area after such devastating times and one of their presenters, Bessie Kay, asked for a recommendation.

They wanted to give the Simpsons a little love and promote the area that has been so badly affected by drought, bushfires and COVID-19.

The program has filmed at Traralgon and Loch Sport as well as bringing celebrity chef, Adam Swanson, to do a cook up with local produce at Rivendell at Tambo Upper.

The program will be titled Taking the Next Step to Rebuilding the Region and will be the first episode of the new season. It will be aired early in November.

“We went into preproduction work in April, but with the COVID-19 outbreak, this had to be postponed,” presenter and coproducer, Bessie, said.

Richard Hay had been doing an amazing job helping Jodi coordinate the initial project. He had donated his earthmoving equipment and time to Melon’s Cottage, but with a television program getting involved, Rebecca Bishop, from Elite Building Services in Maryknoll, took on the job as project manager.

She had two weeks to pull the secret project together before the big day.

This included coordinating every aspect of the project and she did a mammoth task.

By the day of the build she had put together a team of professionals who donated all their time, products and energy as well as coordinating the volunteers.

“I am so grateful to be in a position to do this sort of thing and have the backing of some generous companies,” Rebecca said.

“This has been two weeks of hell getting it together, but it is all worthwhile.”

Rebecca’s husband, Nick, and their son, Harrison, have been right there with her.

“I feel happy that my son gets to help and witness how fulfilling it is to help others,” she said.

Producer of Open Homes Australia, Sam Behrens, put a mountain of work into the project and was also under the pump.

“The pressure was on as we were hoping to do the reveal to Jodi on Thursday morning, but it had to be done at 4.30pm on Wednesday,” he said.

“I’m happy that we could put together such an impressive team and see everyone helping out.

The team included landscaper Dave Franklin, who has worked on The Block doing garden plans, presenter James Treble, a building and interior designer who worked on The Living Room for many years, celebrity chef Adam Swanson and Bessie Kay, a producer and presenter, all working hard to pull the day together.

The site was a hive of activity all day, but by the late afternoon on the Wednesday everyone was rushing, but keeping their distance to adhere to COVID-19 rules.

It was like a synchronised dance of tradies and wheel barrows.

Hand sanitiser was abundant and signing in was mandatory.

“I would really like to thank all the neighbours for their patience on the day,” Jodi’s husband, Peter Simpson, said.

“There were lots of trucks and cars cluttering the street.”

Peter was in the thick of it helping out.

“Over the past few months we have just been pottering along with the backyard. We have friends of the cottage that also come in including Bairnsdale Apex Club, Bairnsdale Freemasons and the Rodsters,” Peter said.

Peter had kept the secret well and told Jodi he would be working in Orbost all day, even giving her a call from “Nowa Nowa”. He arranged for her to come down to the cottage at 4.30pm as Richard Hay had found someone to help with the renovations.

When Jodi arrived she first noticed Richard’s truck and all the cars and wondered what was going on.

“I was so surprised when I walked in, someone whistled and everyone stopped working, my heart was thumping, it was breathtaking,” Jodi said.

“Jane Kingston explained what was happening and I must have said ‘holy s***’ a million times.

“I wasn’t aware of the cameras rolling, I just couldn’t get over what had been done, it was the most humbling thing.

“I looked around and noticed the people that had been at the Saturday working bee, they had wheel barrowed so much dirt that day and I was stiff after that, and here they were back there on the Wednesday.”

Jodi was humbled by what was done.

“We are probably two years ahead from this. I was hoping to have just the swing up by September and we would plug away at the other zones,” she said.

“We have been very aware that our community is in recovery mode from the bushfires and contractors and tradies are busy in this area. Plus all our helpers who have been here since day one, some who run small businesses that have been affected financially by the coronavirus.”

Jodi said she feels like the biggest weight has been lifted and pointed out that this project is all for the beautiful families that come to stay as they are the most important.

Jodi thanked all who donated or helped in any way.

“The team from Open Homes Australia interviewed me the next day and I had a chance to just stroll around and look at what had been done, I am truly humbled,” she said.

“The presenters and producers were all so lovely and funny, I couldn’t believe they had done all this. We are just a tiny cottage, very low key, we do what we have to do with no glitz or glamour.

“Presenter James is from Sydney and chef Adam is from Adelaide and they will both have to go into lockdown when they return home.

“I said ‘you did that for us’ and they said it is all worth it.”

IMAGE: The team from Open Homes Australia and a group of dedicated locals gave Melon’s Cottage – a small respite home for children with cancer and their families – a complete backyard makeover last week, surprising the cottage’s founder, Jodi Simpson (inset). PICTURED: Celebrity chef, Adam Swanson, cottage founders Peter and Jodi Simpson, Rebecca Gibson, of Elite Building Services, Open Homes Australia co-producer and presenter, Bessie Kay, Harrison Gibson and designer and presenter, James Treble. K345-5805