WHEN Bernie Ryan says he's in the construction trade, don't think boring bricks and mortar.
Sure, he’s worked in the industry for much of his life, but his most recent creations are of the oddball variety. Drive down the Paynesville foreshore in Gippsland and it’s easy to spot his unconventional constructions.
On one side is his new home – built with wife, Ruth – painted sunset red, combining rusted steel, rounded corrugated iron lift shafts, with cladded recycled timber, a butterfly roof and with an overall impression of randomly stacked boxes.
So impressive is the building – which he helped design and build – it recently featured on the cult TV show Grand Designs.
Directly across from this home, and perhaps Bernie’s most unconventional construction, is a corrugated iron tin shed, a replica of a stockman’s hut.
No ordinary shed, this one was built in 2009 on floating pontoons with a 44kW Yamaha motor on the back and, moored on McMillans Strait, is becoming Paynesville’s greatest attraction.
When Bernie and Ruth aren’t using the tin shed as a cruiser around the lakes, the shed sports a dance floor and is home to a variety of bands – most of whom are Bernie’s mates – who hold rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly performances on balmy evenings, or during events, including the Paynesville Music Festival from February 22-24.
Not content to leave it at that, Bernie – in fits of creative madness – has added mind-boggling modifications to the shed. When a show ‘n’ shine car rally was held in Paynesville, he created a fire-engine-red hot rod – out of an old car frame, Glad Wrap and fibreglass – and stuck it out the back of the tin shed to give the impression it had crashed.
There’s been an Easter egg on the roof, a crashed Santa sleigh with elf and a boat sticking out the side.
The talking point in the town was the day he made an outback dunny, attached it to a floating pontoon behind the shed and, in a comedy skit fit for the Marx brothers, blew it up – even using special effects from a smoke machine.
Best of all, the tin shed is, as Bernie says "an Ikea shed" because it folds into a travel-friendly flat pack.
Given his creations, it’s difficult to say whether Bernie is a nutty eccentric, a big kid, a subversive or an artist. "I play the fool," says the 62-year-old with trademark dry wit.
"People are too serious. You can walk down the street and not get boo out of them. If they can get a bit of a laugh out of it then that’s a good thing.’"
Whether constructing his own house, or items for the tin shed, Bernie’s laboratory is a giant shed – more like a hangar – at the rear of the Ryan home, which is in the industrial waterfront zone of Paynesville.
Hanging in the rafters is the half hot-rod, Easter egg, a plane that he scavenged and hopes to put to a use at a later date, and an array of construction machinery.
He jokes that in order to organise his grand-scale productions, he’s on a committee – "of one".
"It’s much easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. 'Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise'," he says with mock sincerity.
"If you want to do anything these days you need a permit. Or if you ask for permission to do something, generally the answer is ‘No’.
"It’s much easier to just do it yourself and make it a success."
The father-of-three learnt the hard way about bureaucracy when he launched his first tin shed in 2007. Taking it for a spin on the water he was pulled up by the water police and fined $280 for not having the correct safety equipment. Bernie rose to the challenge and designed the current shed, launched in 2009, to meet all safety requirements.
He admits his outlook on life is left of centre, adding that the older he gets, the easier it is to be off-beam.
"Who’s to say what normal is? I’ll look at something and say, that was a bit different, and I’ll wonder whether it’s perhaps art," he says.
"I reckon I’m all right. It’s the rest of the country that needs to have a think."
Paynesville Music Festival
- February 22-24; Grand Designs on The LifeStyle channel via FOXTEL and AUSTAR, lifestyle.com.au