IN the small hilly and leafy suburb of Highfields is a beautiful communal dwelling where six family and friends have mastered the art of sharing, creativity and collaboration.
All share the houses and property, but have their own zones. Carly Phillips, Sami Hussein and their 15-month-old daughter Zena sleep upstairs. Their housemate and friend Tamara Perez lives downstairs. Carly's sister Nissa Phillips lives in the granny flat out back, and behind her is Pete Parslow's tiny house he built himself.
The main house was built in the '60s or '70s, and at one stage was owned by prominent Italian family, the Zeninis.
"Sami, Nissa and I moved in October 2017," Carly says. "Then Pete moved in May 2018, and Tamara moved in July 2020."
Carly, Sami and Nissa previously lived together in Cooks Hill. They decided to look for a bigger house to have a larger community and for Sami and Carly to start a family. They also wanted a garden and not be an isolated nuclear family in the suburbs.
"We wanted a space where we could have separate spaces from each other and still live together," Carly says.
They've all got different interesting stories and careers.
Both Tamara and Carly are primary school teachers. Tamara is Canadian, but originally from Chile. When Tamara's not teaching she's also a circus performer, hence the yoga dance space and costume corner.
Sami is a GP. His family is originally from Iraq, but based in the UK. His immediate family hasn't been able to meet Zena in person yet due to travel restrictions. Zena has a map of the world in her bedroom; her parents want to encourage exploration.
Nissa works with Hunter Homeless Connect and is a trained herbalist. In the garden, along with vegies, they have plenty of medicinal herbs including echinacea, lemon balm, garlic and thyme.
Pete works for local sustainable building company Goodwood Constructions. Goodwood Constructions recently built their beautiful deck out of reclaimed hardwood.
Pete's tiny house is made out of all reclaimed materials. He built it on weekends over a couple months. He always thought it would be fun to build one.
"Half of it was from a house I was working on and the other stuff is stuff that I've hoarded. It was a time in my life when I needed to build one," Pete says.
They all loved how the house had easy access to Glenrock Reserve. It's a 45-minute walk from their house to Burwood Beach through the bush. They aren't far from the Fernleigh Track either, and it's a short drive to town.
As they moved in, they started making changes to brighten up the place and give it more nature and character. Newcastle artist Ellie Hannon painted the bright mural on the granny flat. They also have thriving vegie gardens and plants everywhere.
In the main house there's a costume corner, a yoga and dance area and plenty of colourful art and painted walls.
They have lots of bikes, adventure gear, chooks and two adorable pooches. There's a rainbow staircase, an outdoor shower, a pizza oven, a spa, a sauna, worm farm, the list goes on and on.
They have tips and tricks for successful sharehouse living, including owning a dishwasher, having separate bathrooms, and a rotating dinner-making roster. They also all enjoy spending time together.
They regularly have BMC (bad movie club) nights. They agreed they did well during lockdown, making lots of sourdough, painting, cross-stitching and becoming "little homesteaders."
"It's a big house; there's enough space for a lot of things to happen. Just last week we were having a big creative meeting," Tamara says.
She points out that Zena is also further ahead with her language development because of all the people around.
"It'd be really beautiful for her to grow up knowing that she has not just a lovely mum and dad, but a lovely community," she says.
Carly and Sami plan for this to be their forever home. Having a good community around them makes it easier. Sometimes it has its challenges but it also has real benefits. Carly can't imagine having to cook every night.
"People are really surprised how Sami and I have let people into our homes," Carly says. "They say, 'I don't know how you do it.' I say, 'I don't know how you don't do it'."