WORK, REST & PLAY Living the Clarence Valley Dream

by Elize Strydom


Luke Graf of GRAFBUILD Carpentry has found prosperity and balance in the Clarence Valley. After working 80 hour weeks for years on end, Luke and his wife Jenny are now enjoying a slower pace of life with just as much fulfilment. While he claims to be lucky, Luke’s commitment to quality workmanship and genuine service has ensured his success.

Landing in the riverside community of Harwood, Luke Graf and his wife Jenny never thought a short-term visit would turn into a permanent stay. After 13 years in Cairns, they’d sold their business and spent six months exploring Europe. About a month before they were due to return from overseas, Luke received a fateful phone call from his dad who lives in Ulmarra.

“He asked if we were heading straight back to Cairns and when I told him no, he said ‘Good, I have about three months worth of building work for you’,” Luke explains. “So we rented the house dad owned in Harwood and helped him out.” 

Once the work was complete, a cascade of events unfolded. One job turned into two, then two turned into three and on it went. 

“16 months later, we’re still here!” he laughs. 

There are some people who’ve always known how special the Clarence Valley is while others have to step out and experience the hustle and bustle for a time before they can truly appreciate all the region has to offer. Luke and Jenny’s decision to sell their Chiropractic business in Cairns was driven by a yearning for a different lifestyle. Continuing to pour blood, sweat and tears into the job was not sustainable and they were ready for a change. 

“We were working 14 hour days,” Luke recalls. “I used to spend all weekend doing paperwork to keep the business going.”

Now, Luke and Jenny spend every Saturday and Sunday surfing, fishing, mountain biking and enjoying the many natural wonders on their doorstep. It seems they’ve been able to strike the perfect work/life balance – something many people have discovered is possible in our region. Luke says the change was exactly what they needed.  

“We never wanted life to be 110% work but when you’re passionate about something, you do what you have to do,” he says. “I’m 40 now and life is moving quite quickly; I’ve realised the importance of balance.” 

Working in the Clarence Valley has allowed Luke to build relationships with people in the community. It’s that small town familiarity that he appreciates. 

“Someone offers me a knock-off beer most afternoons,” he chuckles. “My neighbours on the other side of Harwood are really nice blokes and I’ve been lucky enough to work on just about all of their houses.” 

Luke’s interest in carpentry started before he was a teenager. His parents bought land in the Blue Mountains and proceeded to build more than 30 holiday cabins. Luke hung around the construction site and began to help his father and the other builders. Once he’d finished Year 10 at school, the same group of builders offered him an apprenticeship. 

“I’ve always had a passion for making things; I’m not one to sit around playing video games,” Luke explains. “I’ve built houses, high rises, service stations – all sorts of things.”

“I’ve really enjoyed the last few jobs I’ve worked on, though,” he says. “Building pergolas, decks and carports has been both satisfying and rewarding.”

Luke prides himself on a high quality of workmanship and service. He’s well aware that news travels fast in a close-knit town, so happy customers are the goal.

“The job has to be done right, no matter what,” Luke says. “I take pride in what I do and I’ve found that goes a long way.” 

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