MY COUNTRY HOME
DO YOU KNOW MY TENTERFIELD?
It is a place that can catch at your heart and rip at your soul. It is a place that lingers in your mind forever. It is the place where you go to when you click the heels of your magic red shoes together and utter those powerful words, “There is no place like home, there is no place like home, there is no place like home.”
Sometimes in the very early morning, when it is so quiet that you can hear nothing but the sound of your own breath, your mind empties as you ponder such things as ‘how many colours can possibly belong in a tree?’ and ‘how cold does it have to be for tears to freeze on your cheeks?”
Do you know my Tenterfield?
It is a land of beautiful roads. There are roads that lead to enchantment. There are roads of mystical beauty. Roads that march with Captain Time and tell you, with the colours of their leaves, exactly what month of the year it is. There are roads that have green canopies that cover the sky. Roads the stretch endlessly into the horizon. Roads that are lined with graceful poplar trees. Roads that stand as sentinels to ageing railway bridges. Roads that transform from bitumen into dirt, then gravel, then dirt, then bitumen again. There are roads that lead to to a mountain and roads that lead to a rock. So many roads leading to so many places.
Do you know my Tenterfield?
Some say it is a place of old building and granite rocks. I say it is a place of a thousand stories and rocky slopes that can transform the world into something different depending on the time, the season, the wind, the rain and the sun. It is a place that can evoke Miranda disappearing into the rocks never to be seen again, or Cathie meeting Heathcliffe on the moors in the cold and the mist.
It is a place of romance. Old-fashioned romance that evokes mystery, excitement and the ability to be remote from everyday life.
Do you know my Tenterfield?
It is a place where time is marked by the changing seasons. Four distinct seasons with four different worlds with their own temperament, smells, energy and emotion.
Autumn is marked by golden carpets that hide the sky. By a million leaves that fall, and in time, just beg to be thrown in great big crackly handfuls. By burnished colours that appear in glorious trees, that sometimes are simply too beautiful to believe. Autumn is marked by colour. By an endless, beautiful exquisite range of colour.
Winter is marked by the frosts. By cold that can take your breath away. It is a time that is marked by the threat of snow that rarely falls. By winds that howl and cut through your skin as if wanting to steal your soul. Winter is beautiful with crystal blue alpine skies that stretch forever into the horizon.
Spring is marked by delicacy. By flowers and movement and the promise of change. Bees buzz louder and birds chirp more sweetly. Pinks, whites and blues, so fragile that they can disappear with a strong gust of wind. Spring is always about something new.
Summer is marked by golden mornings. By days that appear to be blissfully long. Early mornings awake with golden rays that trickle through the trees and the grass and warm the earth. Days are hot, but nights are cool, devoid of humidity. Summers are lazy and languid. Golden glorious days.
Do you know my Tenterfield?
A FEW OF MY FAVOURITE THINGS
Archie, Rissie and I are currently in Italy, preparing for a 2 month stay in a small village in Tuscany. We have had a whirlwind three weeks exploring southern Italy and the thought of standing still for a little while is very appealing. I love the idea of truly getting to know an area and ‘living like a local’ for a while. Yesterday we visited where will be staying for two months and a thought that flitted through my head was that it reminded me of home.
Of course, there were few actual similarities. The little village we will be staying in dates from 1000 A.D. and I was driving through the countryside of Italy rather than Australia but there was a certain familiar feeling that made me think of home. Home is where the heart is and it still takes me aback, on occasion, how my heart belongs to a tiny country town in the Northern NSW Highlands called Tenterfield. I grew up in cities and on the coast, and I always thought that it was the salt air that would stay with me forever, but rather it is the smell of the mist, the crunch of Autumn leaves and the feel of a log fire that warms my heart to know it is where I belong.
Contemplating our new home in the Tuscan countryside made me think of my favourite things about my country home in Tenterfield.
There are no traffic lights. I love the fact that my home has no traffic lights and no roundabouts. I know that our children tend to repeat what they hear from us when they are young. So, I am fully aware where much of their wisdom (or lunacy) comes from, but I love how Archie or Rissie will utter as we drive into Tenterfield, “It is so good to be back home Mummy, in a land with no traffic lights.” Our town revolves around our main street; it is a town without traffic lights, without roundabouts. It is amazing how the simplicity of which appeals to my soul.
My front step on my front porch. I have a little front porch that is rundown and needs some tender loving care. The floor boards are old and need to be replaced and I have fantasies about having a Porch Swing made to fit. Leading up to my little front porch are 2 or 3 painted concrete steps. The morning sunshine streams onto my front porch and warms the concrete of the steps. In wintertime, it is the perfect place to try to warm the touch of frost from your bones. In summertime, it is where I sit, with my cup of tea before the day gets too warm. You can close your eyes and listen to the sounds of the bees in the daisies or you can simply stare in wonder at the apricot coloured rose tree.
My Lemon Tree. I always wanted a fruit tree and now I have a lemon tree. I love lemons, I simply adore them. My lemon tree does not belong to me, but rather I watch over it as its guardian. It belongs to the family who lived and loved in the house before me. Every year it’s fruit has been bountiful and I feel like it continues to bless my little family in our country cottage home.
My Dogs. Kevin and Rosie are part of our family. On my back deck, there is a ramp and during the day when the sun is high, chances are you can find Kevin sprawled out on the deck absorbing the sunshine. Rosie tends to favour the grass and she is constantly on high alert in case any of us emerge from the cottage and want to play. When I am feeling lazy I like to lie on the ramp on my back and stare at the sky. Kevin has the softest ruff and you can lose your fingers in his fur. Only when you are completely still will Rosie approach, sniffing the air to ensure she is not missing out on something. When the coast is clear she will lie next to you, some part of her body touching yours.
When Rissie is sad she inevitably misses the dogs. She says often that she misses going outside and talking to them as they really listen. They have an uncanny way of sitting still when your heart is troubled. Even Rosie, who is a highly-strung bundle of energy ready to explode will rest her head on your lap and let you stroke her head in times of trouble. Dogs are the most intuitive creatures I know and I love them so.
My town with no roundabouts, my front porch with a step, my lemon tree and my dogs. These are simply a few of my favourite things from my wonderful country home.
THE SECRET LIFE OF CHICKENS
The kids and I are currently travelling on an extensive international working and schooling holiday. We are coming up to the halfway mark having spent 3 months in Costa Rica and 3 months in the USA. Next is 3 months in Italy and then it shall be 3 months in SE Asia. It has been a huge undertaking and when people ask me, I still can’t quite articulate how I got here.
When homesickness hits I think of my country town of Tenterfield, my cottage and my lemon tree and I know all is well as home is waiting for me. I am fascinated by the travelling community as I had no idea how many people were nomadic and travelling the world until I started preparing for this journey. One thing that amazes me is those who never want to stop travelling and have an almost disdain for staying in their home countries. Amongst some travellers there exists an elitist sort of view that the only ones who are living life properly are those that are travelling. I don’t quite get that point of view, but each to their own I guess.
One thing this trip is constantly reminding me of is what an amazing country I was born in. Australia is truly a lucky country and I have a fondness for Aussies and their view on life that I will never lose. This is one girl who is so proud to call Australia her home. I now have this little ember in my mind of how the kids and I can explore Australia more. I am currently seeing the world and I suspect when I set foot back in my little country cottage, the place I call home, that I will be filled with yearnings to embark on a quest to explore the amazing land of Australia.
It is funny the things you miss. I don’t miss people so much but we live in a world where it is so easy to keep in touch that when away, you often speak more to those you love than when at home. It is other things that I miss and it is amazing what makes your heart ache with yearning. I miss my dogs so much that my soul hurts. I miss my kitchen and cooking and having the time and space to create. I also miss my chickens. I would never have thought that something I would miss would be my chickens.
I started thinking about my chickens when I learnt that the tenants in my country cottage have not got chickens of their own due to a snake in the Chicken Shed. Snakes are part and parcel of living in the country, but I am not so much of a country girl that I even know where to begin with dealing with a snake. But I shall have to put on my gumboots and do something because I don’t believe that my country home would be complete without a bustling chook pen.
I never expected to fall in love with my chickens, but I did. Occasionally when the kids were at school and I had a free moment I would sit on a pile of old timber and watch them. Sitting there as still as I possibly could and watching my chickens soothed my soul. I liked to watch the personalities emerge and I grew to love the names that the kids had given them. There was Bossy who seemed to have a thousand lives and who ruled over his flock with a very firm beak. His main girl was Regina who I believe was equivalent to the First Lady of the Hen House.
Then there was Chocolate, Snow, Charming, Bossy Two and for some reason several chooks called Sparkles. I suspect the kids got tired. I loved to watch the school girl antics as Bossy Two strutted behind Bossy attempting to mimic his every move. Snow was the busy little girl anxiously running around the entire yard desperately trying to please. There was a definite pecking order and I would watch in fascination as the dynamics played out. I am not sure if I am the best owner of chooks in the world as we initially seemed to have a lot of casualties. Quolls, dogs, drownings and unexplained deaths. It almost got to the point where I felt a sense of anxiety when heading to the shed.
My chooks were survivors though. In the middle of the yard I share an enormous gum tree with my neighbour. It was under here where the branches would fall, that appeared to be the favourite spot for my chooks to explore. On a summer’s day, I could quite happily sit there for hours and watch the secret life of my chickens.
GOLDEN DAYS IN A GOLDEN HAZE
In my little country town of Tenterfield, nestled in the Northern NSW highlands, we live in a land of four seasons. In a land of four seasons I sometimes feel a little bit sorry for summer as she is often the forgotten season, always the bridesmaid and never the bride. The season that seems to happen without any fanfare or expectation. She is a little bit like the middle child stuck in the middle of older twins Autumn and Winter who are resplendent with red and coppers along with frosts and threats of snow and the baby Spring who dazzles everyone with pink and white blossoms and the sounds of buzzing bees.
Every time summer arrives, it surprises me with how beautiful it is. We are travelling at present so I seem to be a very long way away from Tenterfield at the moment, but one of my fondest memories of home is those early summer mornings when the sun seems to bathe the dawn in a stunning pool of light. I call my summer mornings my golden mornings. It is one of my favourite times of the year to photograph my world when the kids and the dogs seem to be permanently caught in those morning rays of sunshine and the backdrop is a soft filter of amber light.
As summer progresses, the days get longer and warmer and I think it is a time when we are caught in a glorious golden haze. I love when spring ends and summer arrives. It is time to pack away the doonas, to open the curtains and blinds and to return to the back-deck for those long summer evenings. The garden comes to life and once brown grass burnt by frost turns green, the roses bloom, flowers appear and fig and lemon trees come to life.
As summer continues, I tend to move more slowly. There is a glorious, lazy lethargy about summer. To cool off there is always the town pool which is the hub of Archie and Rissie’s world during summer. But my favourite place to visit is my secret place, that of Morgan’s Gully. It is not really a secret, but I have never been there when it is just the kids and I and not had the place to ourselves. So, I call it ‘my secret place’ and I share it with my friends as if it was a piece of real estate that I in fact owned.
To prepare for Morgan’s Gully you pack the towels, hats, sunscreen repellent and some food. If it is an impromptu trip a bag of Tiny Teddies and cold water will suffice. If you are intending to while away several hours I take a book, food for sandwiches and treats to satisfy the kids so I can satisfy my yearnings to read for a few uninterrupted hours. To get to Morgan’s Gully, my little local private getaway, you head towards Bald Rock and Boonoo Boonoo and then take the main road to Boonoo Boonoo Falls. After about 15 minutes or so you will see a little dirt road and a sign saying ‘Morgan’s Gully’. When you take this little dirt road, you come to a dead end and there is absolutely nothing to see. I hope that most people take the dirt track, find nothing at the end of it and continue driving instead to Boonoo Boonoo Falls.
What you need to know is that you must walk 50 odd metres through the scrub on an ill-defined path to find the most beautiful little swimming hole. There is a large long crevice in the granite complete with waterway that the kids love to explore. There is a tall gum tree over a small sandy rocky beach where I like to pretend to read my book whilst contemplating my life with my eyes closed. There is a creek for toddlers or if you have older kids who are self-sufficient there is a swimming hole and rocks to use as slippery slides.
That spot is the place I think of most when I think of summer. Lying on the little inland beach made of sand and rocks, watching the dappled colours of blue sky against the green and grey of a gigantic gum tree. For some reason, there is always a lazy March fly that buzzes around my legs and prevents me from completely falling asleep. I am just as lazy and do nothing but make a half-hearted attempt swat it away as I listen to the kids screaming as they slide down the rocks into the water.
The whole world moves more slowly in summer. It is a delicious time where winter, autumn and spring are momentarily forgotten and where time slows to a standstill for a life that is coloured in a golden haze.
FAIRY LIGHTS & FIRE-DREAMS - MY COUNTRY COTTAGE CHRISTMAS
Christmas in the country is still a new thing for my little family and I hope that I am starting traditions and creating memories that will stay with my children forever.
I love my cottage – it is a little timber house that is almost 100 years old and I have been lucky enough to have become close friends with someone whose childhood home was my cottage. Occasionally it thrills me to hear stories of endless tunnels being built by wild country children and a lemon tree that thrives with not only beautiful lemons but stories of a father’s love. Occasionally I wish the walls of my cottage could talk, but generally I am just happy that these amazing walls enclose us and provide such a beautiful home.
A time of the year when I love our cottage the most is during Christmas time. I adore Christmas. For me, Christmas is about taking stock of the important things in your life, being with those you love and most importantly, celebrating a time of the year that is truly magical. Christmas is a time of the when it truly is possible to believe that almost anything is possible. Christmas begins for us when we put up our Christmas tree. Off the kitchen, on the other side of our fire place is a little walk in panty or storage area, complete with rough timber shelves, a cracked timber paned window and old worn lino on the floor. Then, there is the oddest little place about ½ a metre wide and 2 metres deep. I am not sure what was meant to be for, but the walls do not meet and you can still see remnants of birds’ nests when we endured a sparrow plaque in our roof. It has become our ‘Christmas Storage Corner’. It is as if it was meant to store our decorations, our tree and our growing assortments of Christmas memories that sit there safely all year around.
As soon as the Christmas tree and boxes are brought out from the ‘Christmas Storage Corner’ then Christmas begins. I love unpacking those memories. Ornaments that Archie and Rissie made on our kitchen table when they were 5 and 6 years old. Photos of them screaming in terror with Santa Claus. Little knick-knacks they have made me over the last few years. Every item has its place in the cottage and the kids take pride in placing the ageing copy of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ in front of our tree. Once the Christmas tree lights are on, the cottage is transformed.
Another thing that reminds me of Christmas is our fire-drum. I would never have predicted that it would be a feature of Christmas but it has been used both Christmases now, and without fail when we light it, regardless of the time of year, it makes me think of Christmas. It was an entry a couple of years back for Tenterfield’s Cracker Night in July. An old oil drum that was cut out and decorated with autumn leaves as a fire drum entry. Now the autumn leaves remind me of Holly Leaves and the flames and shadows they cast through the cut outs remind me of the magic of Christmas. The weather in Tenterfield is unpredictable, despite our Australian summer, it seems that at any time the mist and the cool air, can creep up the range, like Santa Claus bringing presents. I would never have thought as a child growing up on the Gold Coast that my country Christmas could involve lighting a fire drum so we could sit outside for a little longer and enjoy the amazing country skies.
That is Christmas for me. A cottage that is lit by fairy-lights whilst the kids and I sit outside with Kevin the mad Koolie and Rosie the Koolie/Colllie Cross. Usually by then the dogs are content to lie somewhere near our feet. The lights from the fire-drum cast dancing shadows against the walls of the kids’ cubby house and the kids gorge themselves on blackened marshmallows. As Christmas approaches we stare up at the stars and the kids discuss if they will be able to see the lights of Santa Claus’ sleigh as he makes his way around the world. Carrots are cut up and left on the old wood block that is in the shed. Next to it we put a glass of beer for Santa Claus. The kids think that he would prefer that to milk. I take the kids to bed and the only lights we see outside are those from the fire-drum dancing against the shed. Inside the fairy-lights remain on.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night the lights seem to say.
FALLING IN LOVE WITH TENTERFIELD
I never planned to move to the country. I was a city girl born and bred. I had grown up enjoying the bright lights of the Gold Coast as a teenager and in my twenties lived in London for five years. Perhaps I had dreams of living by the seaside but never would I have imagined that I would find my home in a very small country town. I had just turned 40, my marriage was over and I was the single mother of 4-year-old twins. I was working as a pastry chef in a busy Gold Coast café and the kids and I lived in a tiny pocket sized 2-bedroom apartment in Paradise Point. My rent was exorbitant but I was in walking distance to the Broadwater where the kids were content to play every day. I felt like I was lost in a rut, in a life that I was not meant to be living, but I could never articulate what I was feeling. I just knew that there had to be more something, of some description for me somewhere. Though I could never quite put my finger on it.
Two uncles had purchased an old historic home in Tenterfield and my aunt was managing it. A chance phone call revealed that they desperately needed help for a 30-person dinner as they did not seem to have a chef. As I was not doing anything else that weekend and the kids were with their dad, the obvious thing to do was to offer my help and go for a drive to a town I had never even heard of. Little did I know that that decision was to change the course of my life. From the moment I arrived in Tenterfield it was as if I had arrived somewhere that appeared to be enchanted. I had been driving for four hours from the Gold Coast, had crossed Cunningham’s Gap and the closer I got to Tenterfield the greener the landscape appeared. As I approached Tenterfield on the New England Highway a mist rolled in and as I drove down that road with its canopy of magnificent trees and saw the lights twinkling in the distance through the mist I felt like I was coming home.
On the Saturday night after a long day and night of working in the kitchen and dining room I can remember falling asleep, listening to a sound of silence that I had not heard in a very long time, thinking to myself, ‘I think the kids and I could live here.’ Six weeks later I had packed up my little pocket sized 2-bedroom apartment, broken my lease, enrolled the kids in day care in Tenterfield and packed the three of us in my little car ready to move to the country. Part of me thought that perhaps we would stay only three months. However, 8 months after moving to Tenterfield I bought my very own little country cottage.
We had initially lived in the Historic home which was fantastic for us but after 6 months or so I had realised that my hours were not very realistic for a single mum with two active 4 year olds. So, the job may have not worked out, but Tenterfield had captured my heart and at that moment I could not imagine leaving. My little cottage had a huge garden complete with an incredibly beautiful rose tree out the front and a lemon tree that never stopped giving out the back. We had fruit trees including a fig tree and a great bit old shed that become our chook house. Before long Kevin - the mad koolie dog had joined our home and it did not long for him to father Rosie the koolie/collie cross who become the fifth addition to our little family.
There is a beauty to life in the country that appears so simple but it is endlessly layered with colour, sound and an appreciation of life that I adore. I live in a land of four seasons, where winter is marked by shorter days, frosts that can take your breath away and a roaring kitchen fire that becomes the heart of my home. Spring is time to open the curtains, to be surrounded by pink, white and yellow and to lie in the grass soaking up the sun and listening to the bees that herald the arrival of the warmer weather. Summer is the time of green, of long days, of sitting outside on the deck and being lost in a star filled sky that would appear to stretch on forever. Autumn colours the land in golds, burnished copper, reds and oranges. Leaves crackle underfoot and it is time to check the woodpile.
I possibly had given up on love but in Tenterfield I found it again. It was a love of four seasons, of starry nights and roads that wound their way to beautiful places under endless green canopies. It was not the love I had imagined but in Tenterfield I fell in love with a place I called home.