A VISIT to Faye, PICTURED, and Wally Duke’s Mildura home is akin to going into Aladdin’s cave, such is the vista of curious creations and collectables on display.
The ‘Duke and Duchess’ (as they are affectionately known to friends) have established a wonderland of extraordinary artworks which have to be seen to be believed, most of which have been single-handedly crafted by Faye.
At the heart of the property’s display is Faye’s garden which is her pride and joy, and it’s here that the fascinating tour of her property begins.
The garden is full of artistic structures, all handmade by Faye during the past four years, which is hard to believe, given she has created it all in a relatively short period of time.
“There’s hardly anything new in the garden apart from some of the plants,” Faye said. “I get my inspiration from just looking at things anywhere and everywhere, and I pick up bits and pieces from Aroundagain, op shops, garage sales – wherever I can find things.”
One standout feature is a teapot ‘pouring’ tea into a cup.
“I like the artwork in the garden, a lot of people comment on the teapot, it’s one of my favourite works as well,” she said.
As we made our way toward the side of the house, a decorated fence came into view, this was Faye’s first project, the objective of which was to remove an eyesore in the yard, namely an old, grey tin fence.
“I started looking out my kitchen window at the drab grey tin fence which I hated, and one day I was looking on ‘Pinterest’ (a website for recipes, home ideas, style inspiration and crafts), and I saw an idea where they had these wooden boxes on the wall of the house with plants and other things in them,” Faye said.
“From there I started decorating the empty fence with boxes and gum boots and all sorts of things, and it just grew from that, and it’s continued all the way around the yard.”
Faye’s husband Wally’s recollection of that first project is still very vivid.
“I woke up one morning and went looking for my rubber boots and they had disappeared, only to find they had been screwed to the fence and had plants growing out of them,” Wally said with a laugh.
The couple have lived in Mildura for almost 20 years, having moved to the region from the Flinders Ranges town of Quorn in South Australia.
“Wally chose to take a redundancy package from energy company ETSA, which was planning to scale back its coal-fired power generation in Port Augusta where he worked,” Faye said.
“Originally we were going to relocate to the Barossa Valley, but we found the people there not to be very friendly, then one day we visited Mildura on our way to Melbourne to visit our daughter, and we stayed overnight.
“We went out for a walk after dinner, and I said to Wally, ‘I like this place, I can feel a real peace about it’.
“We came back for another look, and in the meantime we had sold our house in SA, and quickly found something in Mildura, and we’ve been here ever since.”
Faye’s project to create her ‘magic wonderland’ began in 2014, and she’s been working non-stop ever since to complete it.
“It’s just about finished, I don’t think I can fit too much more in,” she said.
Somehow looking around and knowing how Faye just keeps on creating, you can’t help feeling there will always be something new to see.
As you walk around the yard, a number of prominent themes are apparent. As already indicated, Faye loves teapots and cups and saucers, they’re everywhere in one form or another, the other favourite subject is native animals, of which there are many.
Crafted out of all sorts of things, there’s everything from a stumpy tail lizard, pelicans, crocodiles, to a platypus and of course a kangaroo and koala!
The display goes on and on, and a collection of mosaic artwork also features prominently in the backyard, while the couple also have a beautiful 10-seater outdoor table, the top of which has an amazing ceramic mosaic, a fine example of Faye’s skill in this craft.
“Some of it is made of old tiles, and I’ve also used broken pieces of saucers and mirror bits to create the mosaic and the bird images are inspired from photographs I took down by the river,” Faye said.
A water feature at the back of the house provides the “peace and tranquility” that Faye enjoys so much, and she and Wally love nothing better than to sit outside having morning tea, listening to the gentle flow of the waterfall.
Faye’s love of gardening and greenery is further on display in her shade-house. It was originally a fernery, but has now been transformed into a lovely retreat where she spends time watering the plants.
A curious sculpture that makes an immediate impression is the ‘pot-plant’ lady on an exercise bike – something that only Faye could have dreamed up!
“That’s my pot-lady, and over here is a poor lady who died with her legs in the air,” Faye said, pointing to a pair of legs, feet up, sticking in the ground!
Naturally no garden would be complete without fairies, and Faye doesn’t disappoint with her very own ‘fairy garden’ set up in a corner of the yard, with a collection of miniature fairies and elves, literally at the bottom of the garden.
Just what this eclectic collection would be worth is anyone’s guess, and Faye isn’t really sure either.
“I’ve got no idea what everything is worth, I mean you do pay for all the bits and pieces, although they are reasonably cheap compared to new, but it would still add up to quite a bit I guess, but it’s hard to put a value on it all,” she said.
Faye passed that comment before she opened the door to a special shed in the middle of the yard, revealling the most incredible collection of dolls, soft toys and other hidden treasures that you could imagine.
“I was into making teddy bears and I also loved dolls, and my sister in Port Augusta used to make porcelain dolls and I would have liked to do that as well, but it was too expensive, it’s a very costly hobby if you do it properly,” Faye said.
“Then I saw some dolls in an op shop that needed some tender loving care, and it went from there.”
Faye started collecting nearly 18 years ago, and what’s on display is the result of that labour of love, which is quite amazing.
“I’ve basically picked them up from second-hand stores, garage sales, op shops, Ebay and some are from antique stores, others were purchased from overseas,” she said. “I have modern dolls and also some very old ones, including French dolls from the 1890s, there’s also dolls from Germany, England and America, the Pacific Islands and a huge collection of bride-dolls and babies.”
Apart from the dolls, Faye has some wonderful scale models, including a horse-drawn wagon, a Superman doll and an antique-style, curio-cabinet full of collectable ornaments.
Faye said she was always interested in artistic endeavours, but has mostly concentrated on craft work.
“I learnt at a very young age, my mother taught me how to crochet and I made my first woollen jumper when I was eight,” she said. “I just went from there into different crafts which interested me, I enjoy a variety of crafts, I like doing lots of unusual things, and get bored doing the same thing for too long.”
Faye said she has had a few tours come through, but her wonderland of curiosities and doll collection remains largely unknown and unseen.
“I had a lady come here for a garage sale, and she saw my bottle tree, and she just loved it and I said to her, ‘Would you like to have a look at the rest of the garden?’ She said, ‘Yes please’.
“She looked all around and asked me if I would be open to having people visit.
“Since then I have had people who go on the Council mystery tours come through, and they always seem to enjoy it, and it’s grown from there, and now other groups and tourists make appointments to visit.
“I usually put out a donation tin and the money collected goes to Our Lady’s Mission Group at my church, and they work locally with people in the chemotherapy ward and women’s shelters, so it’s put to good use.”
People wishing to visit Faye and Wally’s ‘kingdom’ can do so by appointment, just contact 5022 2526.