By Emilie Ng
NATALIE Barnard always had an eye for beauty.
As her closest friends and family would say, beauty also described her perfectly.
She hated the idea of spending her last days in a stuffy hospital where she couldn’t soak up the sun in her own garden or spend time being a domestic goddess.
Battling adrenocortical carcinoma, a cancer that only affects one in two million people, and barely in her mid-twenties, hospital life was, for Natalie, the antithesis of beauty.
She found a sanctuary in a small cottage in East Toowoomba, just two hours west of Brisbane.
The cottage contained all the essentials for living a “normal life” – a fully-equipped kitchen, three bedrooms – and while it wasn’t “state-of-the-art”, it was comfortable and most importantly, beautiful.
It was Natalie’s refuge, a place where she would “play house” in between travelling to Sydney for medical treatments and, to her delight, preparing for marriage.
Natalie lived in the cottage for just over one year, “smiling” through the cancer, rarely complaining, though suffering enormously.
Catholic friends living in Brisbane held prayer vigils, asking God for a miracle.
Inside her cottage she planned her fairytale Catholic wedding to fiancé Timothy Barnard, who visited from Brisbane regularly, eager to get “a quiet moment” in front of the television or in silence, which was just as, if not more, special.
The couple were married on January 2, 2014, by Jesuit Father Gregory Jordan at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Toowoomba.
Natalie couldn’t resist helping others, even when the cancer was advanced and her energy was low.
Friends came for sleepovers, many lived with her, but all left inspired to turn their lives around, moved by their dying friend’s incredibly selfless love.
Natalie died on May 2, 2014, aged 24, and had been married four months to the day.
Her mother still sits in the cottage, surrounded by memories of brave Natalie.
The cottage had been Mrs Robinson’s first home when she moved from Melbourne with her daughter.
After marrying in 2011, Mrs Robinson sold it to a doctor who worked near St Vincent’s Hospital.
In 2012, when Natalie was diagnosed with cancer, Mrs Robinson looked for a place in Sydney where the family could stay while Natalie received treatment at Royal North Shore Hospital, but hoped for other options so her daughter could still live independently but be close to family support.
To her amazement, the old cottage went back on the market.
“It was a definite sign that it was meant to be Natalie’s,” Mrs Robinson said.
And 12 months since her death, the cottage will continue being Natalie’s when Mrs Robinson opens the house as a tribute to her daughter.
Yesterday (May 2), Mrs Robinson was to open Natalie’s Cottage, a family-friendly alternative to motel accommodation.
Natalie’s Cottage will be open to the public and bookings will be available at www.nataliescottage.com.au, for overnight or weekly stays up to a maximum stay of three months.
Mrs Robinson said everything in the cottage “has Natalie’s touch”.
“You can really feel her love in this cottage,” she said.
And best of all, Natalie’s selfless love lives.
Natalie’s husband Tim remembers Natalie’s detesting of “hospital accommodation”.
“I think (Natalie’s Cottage) is a great idea, because she hated to stay in hospital accommodation,” Tim said.
“She liked her own space because she could modify it and I remember she would be out in the garden.”
Natalie’s “little cottage” was where she and Tim had their “own time” together “to do normal things” as fiancés and for four grateful months, as husband and wife.
Tim said Natalie “glowed” on their honeymoon in Tasmania.
“She was the most amazing person,” Tim said.
“I asked her to marry me before she was sick, and when we found out six months later, I stayed with her.
“She was an incredible person, loving and caring through all of it.”
And while “a little lost” without Natalie by his side, Tim is supported by a loving family and friends “who loved her like I love her”.
“In the last two months she slowly faded, but she kept strong, and wouldn’t give up,” Tim said.
Natalie’s Cottage will be available to the public especially those needing to attend medical treatments in Toowoomba, and is welcome to families visiting relatives and friends in the nearby hospital.
For more details, contact Mrs Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her mobile on 0406 884 866.