A PLACE IN THE COUNTRY
THE OLD STONE COTTAGE
Our plan when we first emigrated was to buy a house that did not need any work done on it! The last house we lived in for 20 years was a continuous ongoing project, inside and out and I did not want to go through that again. By the time we had finished it we emigrated.
We spent about the first eight months renting a property and looking for a permanent one nearer to the school the boys were attending. We only looked at new or nearly new houses but fell in love with this village and of course this old cottage came up for auction, we went for it – and got it!
The cottage was built about 1870 and is solidly built from locally sourced old stone, with a veranda all along the front. It nestles in the gully, protected from strong winds and it has always amazed me to think how cleverly they designed it and where to position it all those years ago. The front is north facing so the large veranda shades the windows. The walls are 18 inches thick, the windows are not too wide, all of this helps keep the cottage cool in the summer and warm in the winter especially with the three fireplaces inside .It only starts to get hot when we get consistent temperatures over 35 degrees. The only extension is the kitchen which was not solidly built however it was placed against the outside wall, this makes a lovely feature.
The house retains many of its original features, with three fireplaces and mantle pieces, the large skirting boards, the wooden floors and ceilings. Some of the doors had been replaced which were not solid and did not match the other doors, so we have replaced them, some rooms did not even have a door so we replaced them as well. My husband is really gifted at doing lead lighting and he has replaced most of the windows in the old cottage with a lead lighting feature. On the front door he made the window with a kookaburra in the centre.
The kitchen needed updating, that is almost complete, the bathroom has been demolished and we have progressed no further. Luckily my husband turned a large store cupboard into a walk in shower with a wash basin!
To accommodate all of my husband’s aviaries, the garden has been a priority. The garden used to be one steep hill with a lot of trees. We had an expert come and recommend which trees we should remove and informed us that the mulberry tree and the old rose bush to be about 100 years old. We had an engineer assess the garden and it was decided to level it into two main parts with a smaller one at the top. We had that done and it is amazing to see the transformation, my husband has planted numerous native trees and fruit trees. We cannot believe how quickly things grow and flourish here.
We have beautiful views of the hills in the front of the house and when you are at the top of the garden the views are even more spectacular. Our neighbours have horses in the fields behind us, it is lovely seeing them grazing near the fence, the only problem is the bulldog gets a bit excited when he sees them however they just ignore him.
Our first year at the cottage we had to clear a lot rubbish left by the previous owners, old car parts, windows, corrugated sheets etc. We were of course aware of the danger of snakes and under the last sheet of corrugated steel my husband gently moved it with his booted foot and there was a loud hiss! When the snake away people came the next day there said they were Tiger snakes. What amused me so much was that they looked like crocodile Dundee, I was so impressed with the way they handled the situation. After talking with them for a short while it turned out they were both pommies! Came here as children.
For our 25th wedding anniversary a few years ago we purchased a circular seat that surrounds the base of the large old apple tree that is almost at the centre of the garden. My husband and I have spent many occasions sitting under the shade of that tree enjoying the views and having a nice cup of tea!
Article by Kate Caldecourt
THE OLD SCHOOLHOUSE
What on earth possessed us to leave the city for the country life at our age!
It all started with a dream (mostly Libby’s initially). For as long as I can remember she has wanted to have an acre or two, some sheep, chooks and a donkey! Our eldest son, his lovely wife and their boys made the move to five acres at Dawesley about seven years ago which only heightened the desire for a shift to the country.
Libby’s enthusiasm for country was infectious and I too caught the bug (albeit it somewhat secretly; knowing we could not afford a move to acreage in the Adelaide hills). Libby would connive and scheme ways in which we could extend the mortgage to claim the dream, only for sensible me (mostly scared out of my mind at the prospect of increasing debt at sixty plus years) to put a kybosh on the idea. I had huge doubts that I could continue working to age one hundred plus to pay off the farm!
Here’s me working as a rehabilitation consultant for SA Health, long hours, hectic pace and headaches with all the dynamics associated with injury management coming home to Hi darling, I’ve found a couple of places for us! The conversation would develop into how we could perhaps buy an old house and do it up, and how we could keep the current mortgage, or extend it a little. It might mean a move to a house block in Meadows and extra commuting for me to get to work, but we’ll be ok. What do you think?! The real dream was for a patch of dirt, not another house block with close neighbors! Deep down Libby knew that, but pined for a tree change. So, no go; would it ever happen for us? Looks like I continue to work to the grave; Libby being convinced that I would not make retirement age if I continued to work the long hours I did; something’s got to give!
In October 2012 I came home from work to find Libby on the computer, very excited (yet again) about a 3.75 acre property at Padthaway in the South East; an old schoolhouse which had been built on over the years. Padthaway! That’s miles away, get real!
Oh boy; then the mind started racing, the asking price was possible for us; we could sell our house, use some superannuation, have the property freehold, invest some and semi-retire!
Call the agent and let’s have a look! Yes, no………….. YES!
The rest is, as they say, history; on October 13th 2012 we drove to Padthaway looked at the property, saw the potential, stayed at Bordertown overnight and drove past the property again on the way home to have another look. We wondered about the close proximity of a canola crop, would it affect Libby since she is an asthmatic? So taking the bull by the horns I picked some and rubbed it in her face to see if she had a reaction! Luckily, no, sounds cruel, but we made sure she had her EpiPen with her. Then we looked at each other and said let’s do it! Equally both the bravest and possibly the most stupid (according to some) thing we’ve ever done!
From there things went into warp speed. Put in an offer on the property, about $45,000 less than the asking, accepted! Flexible settlement planned for 16th March 2013. Mammoth (I mean mammoth) amounts of work to get ours up to speed to sell; had heaps of help from our wonderful children; needed a ten cubic metre skip to clear thirteen years of junk!
Our house in the city sold on the first open inspection late November 2012; the buyer had sold her house, had cash and wanted to move in on the 20th December 2012! Our agent advised her we would not be able to do that! We said say YES, we can live with the kids for a while if we need to! Called the Padthaway agent advised of the sale, negotiated a new settlement date for us to move to Padthaway 20th December 2012. Bloody hell! Had four weeks to resign, pack up the city house and move! Impossible! Despite a speedy resignation my boss at work was tickled pink for us, knowing that we had wanted to move into the country for some time. Some years before she had spotted a property at Dawesley on the net for us and bought it to my attention, suggesting we buy it, knowing our dream! I said, can’t do, my son has just purchased it!
Again, wonderful kids and family all pitched in; trucks hired, boxes packed, final tandem trailer load of those last bits and pieces you just can’t leave in the old place loaded; reminiscent of the Beverley Hillbillies! We did it. On the 20th of December 2012 we were in our new place; two years ago December 2014, where did that time go!
What on earth possessed us to leave the city for the country life at our age?
The fulfillment of a dream; we love the lifestyle; we have the chooks, veggies and sheep (no donkey too noisy); the community has accepted us, lovely folk. We do miss the close proximity of our children and grandchildren, but they’re a few short hours away and the contact we have is great; we stay or they stay for a couple of days; quality time.
Stress levels? Much reduced. Blood pressure? Back to normal.
Would we do it again, you bet!
You can do it too, go on we dare you!
Article by Trevor & Libby Middleton-Frew
THE LITTLE RED HOUSE
My Mother always taught us to measure twice and cut once. Her philosophy in life was that if you were going to do something you made sure that you did it properly. The Fixers, Menders and Builders of yesterday all seemed to have that belief. Not surprisingly things made back then lasted much longer and sheds were full of tools rather than broken things.
The house that we bought in the country was nothing like you see in French Provincial Magazines. It wasn’t pretty or quaint and it didn't even hold notions of a 'renovators dream'. We bought and moved into a very practical, well built, square terracotta brick house. Which definitely doesn’t sound romantic or read as poetically as the iron lacing and period features of many country homes, but this one was solid and looked as if it could survive a tornado on steroids. Its builder, George, was a first generation Italian, and obviously knew the difference between concrete and super-glue. The creative licence was obviously kept to a minimum and if it wasn’t functional, it was not built! The terracotta brick colours matched perfectly with the terracotta tiled roof. It had a non-offensive interior design of beige and magnolia and the kitchen seemed to function remarkably well for its generation.
When we first went through the house, the most noticeable thing about the whole house was how spick and span it was. It was as neat as a pin. In fact the lovely old couple had hardly made a mark on any wall or floor. Each table and chair had a plastic cover or rug carefully placed over it to keep it in ‘as new’ condition. I got the feeling that if I sat still for long enough, I would have had a plastic cover on me too. I watched as our two toddlers ran through each room and inspected every empty cupboard, finding fabulous hiding places in the empty rooms. I noticed that there was an obvious silence (relatively unusual for two small children) so in a feeling of panic I walked purposely to find what chaos they may have caused. In the last room I found them star shaped on the soft beige carpet. Our houses all had floor boards through every room, so the pure joy of soft woollen carpet seemed to quite literally bring them to their little knees.
We had both already fallen in love with the farm, and the house was not the front page spread, but it was definitely a solid family home with plenty of potential. After only recently renovating a hundred year old double storey terrace in South East London, we knew from our mistakes that sometimes you need to just live in a house before you start buying Belle or Vogue Living for its interior styling tips. We had so many other priorities that we needed to focus on and compared to the house in London that needed the exterminators, the exorcists and the industrial cleaners in, we had a very blank and clean canvas to work from.
After each visit our minds (and hearts) kept returning to the mountain views, the huge gum trees and array of fruit and nut trees, the orchards, the vineyard and the olive groves. We had spent a lot of time in Tuscany while living in London and the feeling of the house and land started to make us reminisce about the many glorious visits to the Chianti Hills in Italy. We started to overlook the house (i.e. the four walls) and start day dreaming of sitting under the olive groves eating figs and drinking home grown wine. The picture for us of establishing our family in an environment that provided all our food and water from the land was a dream that we could not walk away from. It was going to be a journey paved with long days and a very steep learning curve, but the benefits definitely outweighed the challenges.
We moved in not long after to our comfortable country home and the 20 foot sea container followed. The house was no longer empty but full of children, noise, laughter and a lot of mess. There was a welcome feeling when we walked through the doors, and I could almost feel old George our Italian host was staring down at us with a knowing and accepting smile of things to come. Our beautiful country home, di bella casa di campagna.
Article by Jennifer Beachey
From Sirens to Silence
THE GENERAL STORE
Serving in a country general store in the 1950s was good training for a would-be writer. I lived in a house attached to a general store in Gippsland for two years. Open 7 a.m. until 9 p.m.; seven days a week, we sold everything.
Our store was a newsagency, a bank, and a ‘corner grocery store’. We also sold hardware supplies like nails, paint and glue. Although it was not a garage, the store sold petrol and oil. Farmers would come in once a week for their food orders. They’d leave squiggly lists, or say, ‘The usual’. Then I’d have to work out what they wanted.
Once I put in a tube of ‘fastglue’ instead of ‘ toothpaste’ One customer had‘sticky’ teeth that night!
I learnt to mix up milk-shakes and make ‘spiders’ (lemonade, ice cream and flavouring with a straw). I hand-pumped petrol on the old bowser. And on the scales, I weighed and bagged sugar, pollard and bran. Once, using the big meat slicer, I nearly sliced my hand instead of the ham.
I still remember the general store smell of‘mixed-up’ food and fuel. It was special, spicy and yet disinfected.
Country people often share surnames. Some even look like each other. And they expected us to know who was who.
To help, Dad kept a little name- book.
‘And exactly how do you spell your name?’ he’d say politely.
‘B.I.L.L. S.M.I.T.H.’ laughed the farmer.
All the customers smiled. So did Dad.
Getting the names right was important, especially for newcomers. And you were considered a newcomer for about 20 years.
In between customers, I was supposed to stack shelves. Instead I read all the magazines, books and newspapers.
I listened to customers’ stories. ‘Serving’ meant learning to speak to people of all ages. I learnt to control nuisances and to challenge shoplifters. I also learnt how to say ‘No,’ when people asked for credit, but my father often helped families who were having a hard time. That was part of the reason we eventually went broke ourselves, people didn’t pay their bills.
I especially remember the bushfires. In a country town, everybody belonged to the Country Fire Authority. C.F.A.
Dad gave free petrol, drinks and sandwiches to the fire-fighters. I remember the smell of burning bush, smoke and the sweaty fire- fighters. Once the smoke drifted across our general store, a worry because of our petrol tank. The good news was that the fire-fighters turned the fire in time.
‘News’ and ‘gossip’ were swapped at dances too.
At the Saturday night ‘footy’ dances at the Mechanics Hall, Dad got me up for the Barn Dance, where you change partners in a circle. At that time, it wasn’t ‘nerdy’ to dance with your father in that sort of place. Then they had the Mexican Hat Dance. You jump up and down, in time to the band. Unluckily, it was a very old hall.
The dance floor fell in.
Too many, heavy dancers!
That’s when I decided I wouldn’t be a dancer. I’d be a writer.
My first published novel was ‘General Store’ where the setting only was autobiographical. After it was translated into Finnish, I realised that a book could travel, even further than the author, and into other cultures.
Hazel Edwards is the author of the children’s classic picture book ‘There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake’. Her over 200 books have gone into many languages, including Chinese, Russian, Auslan signing and Braille. In 2001, she went on an Antarctic expedition as author. She has co-written ‘Cycling Solo; Ireland to Istanbul’ and ‘Trail Magic: Going Walkabout for 2184 Miles on the Appalachian Trail’ with her son Trevelyan Quest Edwards who inspired the original cake-eating hippo books. Her quirky memoir ‘Not Just a Piece of Cake: Being an Author’ (Brolga Publishing) will be released in late 2015.
Eleven years ago my husband and I decided to make a tree change. My husband ran a commercial construction company which was very stressful and he spent a lot of time interstate. I owned Bloomsbury Flowers on Burke Road, Camberwell. It was a very busy time and something had to give.
I saw an advertisement in the paper for a rundown farmhouse in Tynong. I wasn't sure where it was but the house was cheap and would be a great project for my husband. I took the afternoon off work and took my parents out to see the farmhouse. My mum held her face in her hands and said to me ‘Why would you leave a perfectly good house for this?’ as it needed a lot of work.
I went home and said to my husband Gordon ‘We have to have it!’ so he went and had a look and agreed. We both could see the potential but a few of our friends did wonder ‘Why Tynong?’ and possibly thought we'd hit hard times.
Gordon quit his job and started work fixing and extending the old house. I was still commuting to Camberwell however after a couple of years, I just wanted to be at the farm, so I sold the shop.
With most of the renovating done I wondered to myself ‘Hmmm what will I do?’ I tried working for a girlfriend who has a beautiful florist shop but I really didn't feel right. Gordon made the suggestion of fixing up the old dairy building and me teaching Floristry. I've been a florist for thirty years with ten of those years working under a German master florist Gerda Hartmann, hence my reaction was ‘Who is going to come out here?’ My husband said ‘Let’s fix it up and see’.
I put a small advertisement in our local paper and that one ad just about filled the three classes a week I had planned. There must have been a real need in local area at the time for the ladies. I then did a wedding for my husband's cousin at the Euroa Butter Factory and the owner of the butter factory loved what I did and asked if I would consider doing any more, to which I replied ‘Certainly!’ which led to a few more, including Giaan Rooney’s wedding. Her dress designer Helen Manuell then started sending work my way.
Five years on and I couldn't be busier and so grateful to the likes of Rebecca Gannon at the butter factory and Helen Manuell. The tree change has been so good for us. We just love the space, the animals, including our dogs, horses and chickens. We are so lucky.
Article by Georgie Campbell
THE EUROA BUTTER FACTORY
We were living in Melbourne, working long hours and had just had our first child William, when we saw an advertisement for the pending sale of the old ‘Euroa Butter Factory’. Having grown up in South Australia, we hadn’t visited that part of Victoria, so decided to go for the weekend to look at this intriguing old building.
We fell in love with the place. This grand old building that once had been a large employer in the area, was now home to birds and wildlife. The upper floors had been renovated, but the old factory floors on the lower levels were the prized residence of local pigeons. The gardens were non-existent, except for the three grand old plane trees and a lovely Cecil Brunner hedge.
We had started looking for a property in the country as a weekender, but when we found the butter factory, we started to think about how we could give our children the experience of actually living in the country.
When the auction failed to get a bid, we commenced our research and eventually purchased the property on Christmas Eve 2004. In the first few years, we travelled from Melbourne each weekend to work on the property and meet with the local tradesmen. Family and friends would come up to help with a multitude of tasks, from washing away years of grime, to lifting the old flagstones and re-paving. There was never a free lunch for anyone!
We wanted to create the kind of property we liked to stay at, with room for a group of friends to get together and enjoy good food and wine.
Slowly, the garden was established and the property was renovated to create a bed and breakfast with ample function spaces. The local community was very supportive and people would drop off all kinds of plants and a local garden designer helped plan the formal gardens.
The garden was just awful when we arrived and full of the ‘bindi eye’ weed. We spent months collecting manure and our dear friend Joy arranged for us to clear under a local shearing shed. Joy (in her 60’s at the time) whipped out a pair of evening gloves and started shovelling sheep dung! I can’t even remember how many loads we did, but slowly the garden became established.
The butter factory has now become a popular destination for guests and is in demand for weddings throughout the year. More recently, we have added ‘The Store’, a cafe located in the old butter store room which focuses on regional produce, wines and craft beer.
Last Christmas, it was ten years since we bought the butter factory. It has been heartbreaking and like having a fourth child at times, but the most wonderful thing has been the journey and the fantastic people we have met along the way.
Article by Rebecca & Russell Gannon
Euroa Butter Factory
BED & BROCCOLI BY NIKKI MEDWELL
As a child I was fortunate enough to grow up in the country though at times I really felt I was missing out on the excitement of city living. That said I don’t remember thinking that as I spent summers swimming in dams, having boat races in small flooded creeks in winter, building cubby huts and climbing trees. Looking back the world was so enormous to me. We had no boundaries. The occasional wire fence? *Pft*
When I left home I went to find that excitement of the city and for a few years it was just that. Having no family in the city I found the congestion of it comforting and it wasn’t until I met my future husband (Scott) that we moved to the suburbs to build our first home. We built in a new estate that was once paddocks and some still had resident horses occupying them. We loved the idea of being able to commute to the city for work yet come home to see expanses of grass and animals. But as everyone would know, the suburban sprawl soon took that small piece of aesthetic beauty from us so we moved further out into the hills. Here we found the security on a few acres and the solace of nature to come home to knowing the hills were somewhere protected and filled with like-minded people.
But our real move to the country came about when Scott’s father retired in Shepparton, Victoria. It was decided that we would throw caution to the wind, quit our jobs, sell our home and move so that Scott could spend more time with his father.
Everything fell into place once the decision was made. We found this beautiful 5 acre property with nothing but countryside for as far as the eye can see. Right in the heart of dairy country!
We had employment before even moving here so we knew the decision was the right one.
There is so much to love about this lifestyle! Whilst we are busier than ever before we are more relaxed. It’s like your inner self operates at a slower pace. I feel more connected to something bigger living in the country. My senses have heightened but to the sounds of the trees, the birds and the calls of animals. We’ve learnt to read the weather and the see how animals live on a more intimate level.
A few years ago the CEO of a company I used to work for invited me to a dinner in the heart of Melbourne city. As I walked down the laneway of little China Town I had floor managers jump out from doorways to show me menus, there were lights everywhere, noise and people not making eye contact. Just rushing around. The next thing I felt was the hand of the CEO grabbing mine and asking if I was ok. I wasn’t. I was as pale as a ghost, shaking and generally feeling ill from overstimulation. Sudden movement in the country means something. An animal being startled, a rustling of leaves as a snake moves through it. I was sensitive to what was needed and with so much unnecessary bombardment I just wanted to return home where a noisy dinner party consisted of after dinner drinks under the stars, where I know all the people in my community, where people wave as you drive past, smile with their eyes and still enjoy engaging in conversation.
Here I can ask my local independent supermarket manager to get in items I need and receive a phone call when it’s in.
For us it is about spending more time with each other. We don’t feel the need to leave home to seek stimulation, as we are happy working around the property or sitting by the dam with a wine on a warm summers day. Whilst we are only 30 minutes from a major regional town where we could source entertainment we find flying a kite more enjoyable than paying to see a movie. Oh! And that’s another thing. We barely watch any TV. We’d rather sit and talk or look at the stars around a bonfire.
This lifestyle might not be for everyone but it certainly is for us. The fresh air, the pace and the expanse gives us a sense of freedom.
When we lived in the hills we toyed with the idea of opening a B&B but the hills were dotted with them and decided we didn’t want to add to the saturation so shelved the idea.
It was upon buying this property at Katandra West, Victoria that the idea surfaced once again when we started to fully renovate a dis-used dairy on the land. Initially we thought it would make a nice little guest house for family and friends but it soon started to take on such a beautiful transformation that we decided to start a business and open Australia’s first all vegan B&B. What we had here we just had to share. The beautiful countryside, combined with our family of rescued or unwanted farm animal plus some tasty home cooked vegan meals we considered it the perfect getaway!
So for the first year we worked full-time to fund it’s creation and worked on it during weekends and late into the evenings.
I contacted a small business centre in town for advice and guidance and with one step at a time we entered into our first business and into the unknown.
Whilst the accommodation is unique, spacious and comfortable we find all of our guests come here and stay for all the reasons we do. The peace and tranquilly of the countryside combined with the gentle interaction with animals that live fear free. Here humans are their friends and are of no threat to them so they go about their lives as they should allowing people to witness life as it should be for our animal friends.
We have been successfully operating now for nearly four years and have produced a book (Bed & Broccoli, the food, the lifestyle) on this lifestyle and how as vegans, we can flourish in the midst of dairy country. Life is no different here to the city when it comes to everyone struggling to make a living. We have just managed to make ours without the use of animals in any way. Now that is something we are very proud of!
Most of my childhood memories revolve around mud. Playing in it and making mud pies, while a house made of it was being built up around me. When I was two, my parents packed my sister and I up in the car and drove us out of town, along the highway, down another road with a bridge where the river flowed right over, and into a valley bare of big trees. This would be our new home; Rovinalea, we called it.
We lived in a little tin cottage while my dad built our new home, brick by brick, using mud from our neighbours’ dam. A teacher by day, he spent every weekend, after work and school holidays moulding the bricks, then laying them out to dry, like rows of kids lined up for assembly.
Despite doing all of the work on this house – with help from family and friends along the way – my dad always says, “Granddad built this house”. My granddad on my maternal side, Ernie was a builder in Goulburn, an hour’s drive from our place in Bywong, a stone’s throw from Canberra. Every time he and nana arrived, before coming inside, Ernie would walk around the building site, take notes, and give my dad words of advice here and there.
When the old wool store in Goulburn was being torn down, Ernie bargained with a big company in Sydney who was buying the whole building full of beams and posts. Now those open beams are lined up across the ceiling, and a huge post stands in the middle of the open living area; a talking point and main feature of Rovinalea.
A lot of the house is built with recycled, preloved materials. The heavy American Redwood front door was recycled from the American Embassy. All of the other doors came from a house in Canberra – they were replacing the timber doors with laminate to match their freshly painted walls.
The floors too, used to be the walls. When many of the old cottages in the inner city suburb of Kingston were being pulled down to make way for apartment buildings, dad bought a whole house of the old Canberra red bricks they were made with. He spent a term of long service leave cleaning the old cement off the bricks ready for a bricklayer to come in and pave them on the floors. Their earthy clay soaks up the heat from the sun in the winter, and stays cool in the shade during the summer months. Adding to the wide verandas and sunlights that make this place so solar passive and energy efficient.
The windows, all large, full-length timber frames, came from a house, where the owner was updating to aluminium. All windows that is, except for the large round one at the end of the hall. Ernie built this frame, and my mum filled it with a beautiful lead light window of native Australian flowers. It’s the first thing you see when stepping into the hall; and as the sun sets behind it, beautiful shades of red, green and orange spill in onto the brick floor.
It took ten years from when we moved to Rovinalea to the time we moved in to the new house. And it was well worth the journey. The day dad made the very last mud brick, mum asked him not to clean his boots. She sprayed them with a kind of lacquer, and now they have pride of place in a brick mould hung on the wall.
There are reminders everywhere of history and help given along the way. A model staircase Ernie made while training to be a builder is sat by the front door on the veranda. My grandma’s old singer sewing machine is on the veranda around the corner. Ceramic tiles and hanging trinkets from mum and dads travels are clustered on a wall in the dining room. Antique mirrors, side boards and lounge suites fill the rooms. Rovinalea is filled with treasures and character, a cosy home of throw rugs, an open fire and ornaments.
Sat amongst tall trees, overgrown in this once-bare valley, Rovinalea is a peaceful hidden gem. Its quirky character, warm sunny rooms and an ambience of love and laughter are what will always keep me coming back, always calling this place home.
Vicki is a writer and photographer, currently based in Sydney. She is a driven Taurus, obsessed with colours and dreams of one day restoring a chateau in France. Between writing for magazines and websites, and photographing weddings with her partner Jacques, she will write you a love letter if you ask.
THE LITTLE FRENCH PROVINCIAL SHOP
I grew up in suburban Canberra and was the typical horse crazy girl. I was lucky enough to have my own horse that I showed successfully for many years before educating a thoroughbred which I also showed winning many Supreme Champions and competing at Royal shows. Although I was a city kid, most of my “horsey” friends lived on small acreage in the Canberra region and I just loved spending time with them.
After finishing a science degree and working in hospitals I moved to Sydney where I spent 6 years as a surgical equipment specialist. What a great career move- it involved many trips to France attending surgical conferences, where I gained a love of all things French, in particular French architecture and interior design.
While in Sydney I met and married my husband and we bought and renovated our first home in Sydney’s inner west. We had our eldest son, and I was a stay at home Mum loving life in the inner west with cafes and restaurants at our doorstep. I lost my Dad suddenly and started yearning for my home town of Canberra. As our son grew out of toddlerhood we investigated lifestyle changes to provide the type of childhood reminiscent of a bygone era- one that wasn’t so fast and provided children the space and time to just “be”. We looked at rural areas around Canberra and settled on an area to the north of Canberra, close to family, that I knew well from my horse riding days. While we live on a farm, it is an easy 30 minute commute to Canberra for my husband’s work, and Gundaroo village is 10 minutes away, where there is a lovely village atmosphere, complete with a wood fired pizza café, an award winning restaurant, a renowned cellar door, sweet village shop and local school. Initially we were just looking for a few acres, and maybe we should have been more concise in our brief to the real estate agent as we ended up purchasing a lovely home overlooking the local wineries that just happened to be attached to 200 acres!
After moving from Leichhardt where our block was 200 square meters and there was only a metre between houses, the space is glorious! We are lucky enough to have gorgeous neighbours, and the closest is about a kilometre away. The first 12 months were a challenge, with my husband commuting to Sydney for work. There was so much for a city slicker to learn, like how to operate water pumps, repair fences, and manage stock. It seemed that every weekend when my husband came home there was another “rescue” animal residing on the farm! His boss kept asking for updates on the growing menagerie. From ponies, to the odd cow, dogs rescued from the pound, a rescue cat, and even a rescue rooster at one stage!
After having a very small garden, it is a joy having the room to grow wisterias, camellias and roses and to have outside “rooms” in the garden. I love having a large vegie patch that gives an abundance of fresh produce year round. We try to live as organically as possible with home grown vegies, fruit from the orchard and berries grown along the orchard fence. We keep Silver Laced Wyandotte and Light Sussex bantam hens which provide fresh eggs all year in return for the kitchen scraps, garden clippings and grain that we give them. I also love that in spring we have an abundance of chicks hatching that grow up to be much loved pets and backyard layers in the area. In past years we have even carted our incubator into the boys’ school to allow the little ones to watch the eggs hatch. It never fails to make me smile hearing the chicks “cheeping” and chipping away at the shell, before they hatch and seeing the look of wonderment in kids’eyes as they watch the miracle of life!
The space on the farm gives our boys the freedom to ride bikes, build forts, and have boat races when the creek at the back of the property is flowing after rains. I love that at night the sky is lit by stars, not street lights and the boys can identify constellations that we just couldn’t see in the city. I love that in winter, weekends end up with a Sunday night bonfire and roasted marshmallows where story telling skills are honed. I love having friends out to stay and enjoying a glass of red or champagne around the fire after a home cooked meal.
It is amazing to watch our two boys grow up to be “country kids”- self-reliant and capable, mastering practical skills as a matter course - even though they live 30 minutes from the nation’s capital. I think that just having the space and time to try new things gives the boys confidence in their abilities and the attitude to give something a go, be it chopping fire wood, changing the oil in their bikes, learning how to manoeuvre the dinghy on the front dam, or how to nurse a sick or injured animal back to health. There is a peace and solitude that encourages creativity and getting in touch with your inner self that somehow I lost when living in Sydney.
I love also that the sense of community in the country is amazing. I think that because there is space, and you are not living in your neighbours shadow there is room to become better neighbours, whether it is welcoming new neighbours with a home baked cake, or helping out in times of need.
While I was travelling through France for work I fell in love with French style. I adored the way French women dressed, the architecture, and French interior design. Once we had our own home to renovate I was aghast at the price of French furniture and bespoke French kitchens. After moving to Gundaroo I took a course in French furniture painting and started painting pieces in our home with the aim of eventually modifying and painting our plain Tassie Oak kitchen to resemble some of the kitchens I had seen in magazines. While I had trepidation about making over the kitchen and wondered if my carpentry skills were up to the task, my husband was very supportive and now we love the result! (www.thelittlefrenchprovincialshop.com.au/blog/kitchen-reveal-aka-diy-french-provincial-kitchen-139183.aspx) Soon I had friends wanting to buy pieces I had painted or asking me to paint pieces for them. I started selling upstyled pieces on ebay and then set up a facebook page and a website www.thelittlefrenchprovincialshop.com to display and sell pieces. I had found it difficult to source some of the artisan paints and supplies that were so readily available overseas, so I decided to stock some specialty products such as Websters Chalk Paint, Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint, L’Essential Waxes and Efex Furniture appliques. These products are amazing and allow you to obtain that lovely authentic patina of timeworn furniture. I have recently expanded my business to include a workshop studio and now run regular workshops showing similar minded people how to easily upstyle their own pieces of furniture to obtain the upmarket interior designer look for a fraction of the cost. I love empowering people and helping them tap into their creative side! I do however warn that furniture painting is a highly addictive past time! Ultimately I want to be a source of unique French furniture, antiques homewares and decorator items, as well as providing a creative outlet … the place that you pop into because you can always find that fabulous item, or get the courage to be creative!
LAVANDE AROMATIQUES LAVENDER FARM
It was during one of our usual Easter holiday trips to the small NSW town of Narrandera for their annual Hot Rod Rally that we spied a small, neglected, farm house property for sale in the Real Estate window. Just a few kilometres out of town, we made arrangement s that weekend to visit what was hesitantly called a “Renovators Dream” on 2.2 hectares, with more than enough room for a growing family.
With school age children in tow, we could afford a small mortgage on one wage and by my calculations could pay it off without stress within 7 years. Luckily our Bank manager thought so too and within a couple of months we had signed the contracts and were packing up the kids and our belongings and heading along the Hume to the Riverina District of NSW.
A work and love affair in progress, we have gradually renovated the 100 year old farmhouse, just one room at a time, whilst planning the vegetable gardens, building the sheds for the chickens and planting our beautiful trees. As self proclaimed Eco Warriors, the once barren property is now full of beautiful native birds, kangaroos and energetic blue tongue lizards.
I had always loved to cook and the children were excited to be able to harvest our own organic fruit and vegetables from the house gardens. When the children were little, I baked bread and cakes and made jams and pickles from both our Summer and Autumn harvests. In the winter, with the original wood stove heating the kitchen, the house became a gentle and cosy retreat from the outside world.
With Steve away at work during the day and children off at school, pottering away in the cottage gardens filled with fragrant herbs and medicinal flowering plants was a rewarding activity.
We had planted some large areas of lavender which were thriving in the climate so we expanded the plantings and bought ourselves an Essential Oil Still and began our pocket sized lavender farm in earnest. The lavender farm is still going after 15 years, albeit at a slower place these days, and we are still making Essential Oil and harvesting dried flowers for sale.
Occasionally we get a yearning to return to the city and will trek down the Newell Hwy to Melbourne but after a few days of experiencing the hustle and bustle of city life it is always a welcome relief to return to the calm serenity our beautiful country home.
Article by Joanne Rolfe
Lavande Aromatiques Lavender Farm
'Open by Appointment' only
'Clydebank' Bells Rd, Narrandera, NSW
Telephone; (02) 6959 3920
Joanne Rolfe lives in Narrandera, NSW, together with her husband and their 3 rescue cats.
She whiles away the hours in her beautiful cottage gardens, distils boutique Essential Oil in the summer season and is now devoting her time to studying millinery for her other venture, Vintage Designs.
THE LOCH BY BRIGID KENNEDY
As a child I grew up on a farm, we always had an acre of veggies to go to market and we had sheep and cattle. Later from the age of 10 I had my first paid job picking raspberries on a nearby raspberry farm. I bought my first bike with that money then later I worked on the kiwi fruit farm over the back fence. We didn’t have much money to spare at home. By the time I was a teenager I became supervisor and regularly had raspberries thrown at me. From those early days I knew I would have my own property one day. My love of fresh produce and food took me to learn the culinary arts and I became a chef. I studied at Cordon Bleu in London and La Varenne, Paris. I owned and ran a catering business in London then became a personal chef to the rich and famous as they cruised the Caribbean and Mediterranean. Feeling the pull of being closer to family, I headed to Sydney where I started my business Simmer café, which then grew to setting up Simmer Catering and Events and then my own venue on the harbour of Simmer on the Bay at Walsh Bay.
Dad and I bought a farm in the Southern Highlands, which we had for 10 years in Joadja 10 minutes to where we are now. The joy of paddock to plate grew then. I really got to enjoy growing my own fruit and vegetables to supply my café and catering business in Sydney.
My partner Kevin and I drove many a times along the beautiful country road just out of Berrima where the old run down stables stood nestled on the hill side. Its equestrian heritage had captured our attention and drawn us in. Finally after much excitement we bought the 100-acre property and had found our own little slice of Heaven in the misty Hills of the Beautiful Southern Highlands.
I spend my time through the week going between ‘The Loch’ and my catering business ‘Simmer on the bay’, in Sydney. I feel so refreshed when I wake up each morning on the property away from the hussle and bustle of the city. I have a nice hot cup of Earl Grey with Kevin and our dog Raffles on the veranda soaking up the beauty of the gardens and surrounding land and then make my way to the veggie garden and spend time getting my fingers in the rich Earth, picking veggies that are ready or pulling weeds. This is the place where I feel most relaxed, there is something about an abundance of fresh vegetables growing that really makes me feel good. Just being in the garden inspires my cooking I love what the different seasons create. And I love how the earth teaches you how to work it through trial and error.
The people we meet each Sunday, many who are locals, is the secondary gain of opening our farm stall. Country people are genuine and very supportive. They really believe in what we are doing.
It took us 2 years to renovate the old stables and add the accommodation storey, with many locals in awe of the changes and saying that they didn’t think it would happen. In our renovations we included accommodation with industrial design/ barn conversion influences and enriched with layers of Victorian opulence placed above the original stables, each room with it’s own modern ensuite. We also included a spacious kitchen with dining and comfortable lounge area for our guests to relax in.
After the renovations were completed and the gardens were setup, from the natural asking for our produce we decided that we would like to extend our love of the country and our passion for growing our own flowers, fruit and vegetables and thus ‘paddock to plate’. My love of cooking comes though the veggies growing and cooking and Kevin’s love of old things lead to his expertise in restoring antiques so we opened our gates to the Public on Sunday’s.
Being a chef I have naturally loved to cook, so each week I cook take home meals, dips, sauces and a range of jams using produce from the garden. I have also recently introduced an array of homemade ice cream. Visitors can try a little taste before they buy from the display table. It has been set up so our customers can get inspired and learn new ways to cook with the fruit and vegetables they buy. Our gorgeous flowers are picked fresh each week from the 200 tea roses that we planted or from other plants and flowers that are in bloom that week. At the moment we have many delightful Dahlia’s and roses. These are bunched each Sunday morning and bring colour and beauty to our stall.
Our customers really love being able to wander through the vegetable garden and see where their produce has been grown and are transfixed by the beauty of the flowers and grounds of the property.
Kevin having spent a lot of time in his father’s antique shop early in his working life brought his love and skill for restorations, Kevin offers his expert knowledge on the antiques knowing the special signs and quirks that show the age and era of the pieces to our customers.
We are so happy to have this property and opportunity to grow our own food and to share it with others. We love the people we meet and our staff that we share it all with.
Brigid is the Director of Simmer on the Bay, an award winning waterfront venue located on Walsh Bay. Originally from New Zealand, Brigid has lived in Australia for 25 years and has worked hard to establish herself as a well-respected chef and caterer, who focuses on using local, seasonal produce.
Brigid also runs ‘The Loch’ in the beautiful Southern Highlands, NSW.
Brigid juggles her time as a chef, caterer, gardener, mum and author. Despite a hectic daily schedule which includes shopping for ingredients, helping in the restaurant kitchen and meeting with clients about upcoming events, and a mid week and weekend schedule that sees her travel to her farm in Berrima to harvest fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs she grows for her restaurant and for Sundays at ‘The Loch’, Brigid also maintains a work/life balance, taking time out regularly to spend with her partner, son and friends.
Brigid is the Author of 2 successful books, Small Food and All Fired Up and is currently working on a third. She teaches regularly at a number of cooking schools.
To book accommodation or to find out more about what we have on offer on Sunday’s call Brigid on 0411 511 244 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
40 BANK STREET
It took us twenty five years to finally leave Sydney behind. Pa had grown up there waterside, but his lifelong aim was to settle his family in the Central West. There were many stops along the way, Galston, Cranebrook, and the lower Blue Mountains, but by the late 1980s we had arrived. Our destination? Molong, a town of 1,200, nestled in the once prosperous gold fields of the Cabonne Shire, a town with wide streets, gentle hills, surrounded by some of the finest agricultural land in Australia, land which would soon become famous for its winemaking.
We considered Orange. I had grown up there, but as a friend of ours from the town said, "Anyone can live here in Orange, but Molong's a real country town."
At first we settled in a Edwardian homestead on the outskirts. We loved it. It needed work and love in equal measure, and we provided it. We grew lucerne, and had sheep, all the while becoming more and more aware of what a jewel the town and its people were. Main Street, lined with buildings dating back to the gold rush, worked on us like a magnet. In the 1870s, Molong had a population twenty times bigger than today. Over thirty thousand people, mostly immigrants from Europe and China, teemed the streets and surrounding hills then, all of them hoping to strike it rich. Main Street's majestic buildings, which include three banks and is named Bank Street in honour of this fact, are a legacy of that time, and redolent in history. We found ourselves enjoying the time we spent on main street, and thinking "if only" more and more often.
"If only one of these buildings were for sale," I remember Pa saying.
"If only the old Express building was for sale," I added. "We could open the restaurant that everyone is always telling us we should."
The old express building was a marvellous constellation of possibilities. As its name suggested, it had been the home or the town's newspaper, The Molong Express, for fifty years. But it's history stretched long before that 40 Bank Street had been built by Molong's first mayor, William Tanner, and served as a general store from the 1870s until just after World War I when it briefly headquartered a stock and station agent. The 1920s were a blur of enterprising types making a go of everything from ironmongery to hospitality to journalism. Misses Finch and Packham ran their Glasgow Refreshment Rooms there for a time followed by a boarding house upstairs until the Molong Express arrived with its printing presses. But when the Molong Express packed up and moved on, Bank Street remained off the market for close to a decade --in plain sight, but out of reach.
Then one happy day, 40 Bank Street became ours. All of it. From the balcony with its balustrade and hipped skillion roof, its views of the rise In the middle distance where you can watch the trains run from Sydney to Broken Hill, to the stone cellar that spans the length and width of the building where we held an engagement party for our daughter, to the store front space that became our restaurant "Upstairs Downstairs" (opened on the birthday of Pa's mother), to the high-ceilinged second floor that we converted into a loft-style apartment when we gave up the homestead. All told it's been ours for twenty five years, making us the second longest occupiers, and we couldn't imagine another life.
It was here that Pa and the local milkman, Don Turrise, planted a vineyard, turning the long backyard into an enclosed oasis, and pressing a vintage of nearly undrinkable red they dubbed the Don Pedro Estate. We never sold a drop, but we drank it all. After years of wonderful times and countless meals, we finally turned the page on the restaurant, but we still live upstairs. Pa does his woodworking on the ground floor in a space much too big for it, happily keeping his eye on the characters passing by.
We might be leaving 40 Bank Street for smaller quarters soon, but we won't be leaving Molong. When you've found your place in the country, there's no going back.
Article by Janine Thomas
Janine "Neenee" Thomas lives with her husband Peter "Pa" in Molong, where they have been for 28 years. Recently, they decided to put their much-loved 40 Bank Street on the market. Photos of the country and house can be seen on Neenee's Instagram page here: www.instagram.com/neencountry. If you want to learn more about Molong and Cabonne Shire generally, Janine is always happy to help and can reached on email@example.com
My tree change story begins long before weddings, babies and home ownership. Of a time when the school emblem we proudly wore on our uniform was of a banksia and the nearby radio tower! Growing up in the most suburbans of suburbia north of Perth, there was still plenty of bushland to forge a wild childhood rich in exploration and grubbiness. The park across the road was the extent of my country experience. It housed many a gumtree fort where honey suckles and sour grass were always on the menu and supervising adults a rare species. As the years went by scrub was cleared and questionable swing sets added then eventually replaced by plastic marvels. Sadly being a lucrative sixteen kilometres from the city the presence of progress eventually seeped in.Forty years on that generation of children grew up to fight and keep that small but significant park from being turned into housing. They won. This time.
As a young adult I longed to escape to a rural existence which unfortunately was pushed back as the distractions of being young, wild and a car owner took hold for a decade and a bit.
When it was finally time for settling down with my significant other, I proposed some home ownership thoughts. WA was in its toddler years of the housing boom and was just about to have an almighty tantrum. It was the final hours to invest smartly, be location wise, adapt forward thinking and envision hot spots of the future. I suggested suburbs north, houses that were fixer uppers, ridiculously cheap and close to the ocean. A big win all round for first home owners without a clue. But mates, familiarity and safe choices were the shade of the day and a risk taking, blind faith approach were the nonsensical ravings of a girl who indulged in a little too much Passion Pop.
So I tried a different tactic, agreeing to be open to new suburbs on the proviso there would be no Lego land estates and presented the “dodgy area list” that were non-negotiable no-goers.
Unfortunately my requests were met with much eyeball rolling as we spent the next six months trudging through every new estate. At work I dominated the kids Duplo corner and began obsessively building identical houses with useless front rooms and tiny alfrescos. Life became a monotonous four by two, limestone bricked, yellow sanded, treeless blur. The landscape was barren and I became bitter, while my partner struggled to wrap his head around the dirty word of debt. We ended up in a house from the dreaded “dodgy area list” that was worth half of the dream investments we let slip away. C'est la vie. It was a great house and thankfully had a very large front wall and a panic button in the bedroom.
We had a happy, quiet and private life there as we got on with living. Renovations, celebrations, engagements, weddings and finally news of a baby bundle. Though thrilling, as the bump grew, so did my paranoia. I started to notice the grey tones and general shiftiness beyond our little fortress. I began to pay attention to kids walking to school, the busy roads they had to cross, the unkempt parks and the school our son would eventually be attending. I could have gotten over all of it had I not been heavily pregnant, highly emotional and perpetually “hangry” when I saw barbed wire being fitted to the school fences. Like a prison. Some serious security measures. Suffice to say it wasn’t too long after my poor husband calmed my hormone induced hysteria that we arrived once again at reassessment road. Move to the southern tip of WA, move to the hills, move interstate or stay where we were. The hills won. This time.
The road travelled was a rocky cliché that seemed like a never ending tornado atop a faulty pogo stick. Life just doing life and we came out the other end, some might say a little more bonkers, I say flamboyantly resilient!
Now I sit here on our deck overlooking a beautiful valley illuminated with flecks of burgundy and golds with a new found appreciation of Autumn. Of the forest. Of clean air. Of the stars in an actual black sky, untainted by light pollution. Even though piles of unpacked boxes are ceiling high and a tsunami of unfolded washing threatens a take-over, the tardy yet welcoming calm masks the madness. I find myself staring for long periods at sheep, kangaroos and birds and even find joy in piles of twigs and leaves. My Instagram has been overthrown with pictures of orchards, bird houses, fire pits and bush sunsets. My husband has discovered functional focus and purpose in the forest. My children are ecstatically wild and are learning the ways of the forest force. Life is good and the tumultuous journey to get here dissipates when I sit back with a glass of white and relish in a hillbilly existence.
We live in a tree house and unless there is a zombie apocalypse any time soon I can truthfully say I will never leave.
Article by Stephanie Rae