IT’S Saturday night. Heath and Katrina Maybery lie sound asleep.
Some dream of expensive cars, the perfect home, becoming famous or winning the lottery. Others, like Katrina, dream of shoes. She has a shoe fetish.
A car stops at the front of their Tyrendarra home. A few moments pass. The car door slams and the car speeds off.
Katrina sits upright, startled.
“It’s OK,” says her husband. “Someone just stole some shoes off the fence.”
Katrina sighs, settling back down into the warmth of the bed. Many would lie awake worried. Not the Mayberys. This is something they have grown used to.
As she drifts back to sleep, Katrina remembers her honeymoon in New Zealand, where she first discovered the unforgettable “fence covered in shoes”.
Juggling life as a businesswoman, wife, farmer, mum and housekeeper is hard. After the arrival of her fourth child, Katrina just didn’t want to go back to property management, so she decided to become a “stay-at-home mum”.
“I wanted to have the best of both worlds and be here for all of my children,” she said.
Not one to sit still, Katrina soon realised she needed something to keep her occupied.
“I like to be busy,” she said. “But with the family to run around after, I needed something I could do at home.”
And so it began — her online shoe sales business Little Soles Gallery.
Starting a new business is easier than ever before, with the internet providing affordable opportunities for all. The number of people buying and selling online continues to increase each year. Statistics revealed that in 2011, Australian businesses earned $143 billion from online sales — a 15 per cent increase in one year alone.
Kerri Jennings, owner of Portland business Millie Molly Moo, made the transition from the “traditional bricks and mortar store” to a solely online store in 2007, after reconsidering her target market and discovering the broad opportunities of the online world.
“I realised that there weren’t many stores doing online very well, especially high-end boutique, which was my target market,” she said.
“Online gives me the opportunity to expose my business to the world. I have customers from the USA, Canada, China, Indonesia, Beirut, Hong Kong, Singapore, Denmark, South America, South Africa.” And the list goes on.
Kerri’s years of online business success inspired Katrina and encouraged her to develop her initial ideas. Well aware of the effort and time that goes into website business creation, Katrina sought advice from those more experienced.
“I always said if I was going to do it I wanted to do it properly,” she said.
“My girlfriend helped me to actually set up the website, as she knows all the right people. So that was great.
“Kerri gave me advice on effective marketing too. She told me not to spend a lot on advertising.”
Thankfully, Katrina’s shoe-lover mind made her remember the unique idea she discovered some seven years ago on her honeymoon.
“We were driving around New Zealand and saw a fence covered in shoes,” she recalled.
“We stopped and had a closer look. The shoes had messages written on them, as well as the owner’s name and where they were from.
“We thought it was really cool.”
And so it began — the Victorian “fence covered in shoes”.
“We thought we would put some shoes on the fence and see what happened,” she reflected.
“We put four pairs of our shoes on the fence, along with the sign.”
And the results couldn’t have been better. Over 18 months the fence has continued to grow, attracting attention on a daily basis. A cheap yet effective advertising tool.
“It’s quite amazing the amount of people that stop and take photos or add shoes to the collection,” Katrina said.
Mowing the lawn is no longer a mundane chore but a novelty. Sitting on the ride- on mower is when Katrina discovers new additions to the “installation”.
The variety of shoes covering the fence always proves interesting and it seems it is not just Katrina with the shoe fetish.
“The effort some people go to with the shoes is crazy,” she smiled. “Some are painted, or covered in glitter. Others are filled with concrete or secured to the fence with chains.”
Situated six kilometres from the nearest town, the fence covered in shoes is an intriguing landmark, attracting the attention of at least 10 people every week.
“If people sat here for a week they would actually be quite surprised,” she said. “It’s amazing.”
Former Portland resident Roslyn Brooks has watched the fence collection continually grow. Relocating to become a prison officer meant a lifestyle change and Ms Brooks sought a subtle yet permanent mark of her achievements.
“I decided to add my first pair of work boots as a reminder of what I have overcome,” she said.
“I wrote my name on the boots, as well as the various prisons the boots had frequented.
“I hope people who stop will wonder what stories these boots could tell, considering where they have been worn.”
Although the fence covered in shoes is not entirely unique, with “the thong tree” existing in Echuca and “the bra tree” in Colorado, it proves a media attraction with outlets such as ABC radio, Western District Farmer and The Weekly Times all having featured Katrina’s “quirky new trend”.
However the most prestigious coverage is the inclusion of the fence in a film clip for an Adelaide musician.
Highlane films shot footage of the “mysterious fence” for the song Perfume, performed by Self Preservation Society.
The clip shows a woman taking note of each of the shoes, running her hands over the messages written by the shoe owners.
Katrina was over the moon when one of the filmmakers contacted her via the website. “I couldn’t believe the shoes had been included in a video clip,” she said. “It’s really cool.”
Although comments about the fence of shoes are usually positive, Katrina understands that you can’t please everybody.
“When it was featured on ABC radio, someone rang through saying ‘I think it’s an eyesore’ and all of that,” she said. “But I don’t think it is. It’s always kept neat and tidy.”
She says it’s no different to the wind farms or the big pineapple.
“Of course you’re going to look and say oh wow, what is that? But it’s not a hazard.”
Tyrendarra local Michelle Wilksch regularly passes the “artwork” and doesn’t see a problem with it.
“I think it adds character to an otherwise boring fence,” she said.
Victoria Police youth resource officer Lee-Anne Nelson doesn’t see the shoe gallery as a problem, but an interesting way to tell “a shoe story”.
But most importantly to Katrina, it makes her children happy.