Archive for the ‘Argus’ Category

A Road Trip on the New England Highway

Posted by

with JASON MOWEN

‘New England’ conjures a mixed bag of imagery, from the picturesqueness of rambling, Bronte-like topography and majestic trees making their last golden hurrah before winter, right through to the colonial destruction of wise and ancient cultures on this continent and others.

In my case it was the name of the university I was to attend, a godsend of a place in Armidale accepting of academic disasters able to impress in an interview. Before long I was being deposited at Drummond College, the least cool of the university’s eight on-campus residences and home for the next three years. We were a motley crew of rejects and late arrivals but after the prison of school, campus life was exhilarating and I’ll always look back on that time at the University of New England as one of the happiest of my life.

This name – ‘New England’ – was first coined in 1836 by the Sydney Herald for an area thick with armed bushrangers that stretched north from the Hunter Valley to the tablelands of what is now Queensland. Official recognition followed three years later and a Land Commissioner set up in a place he called Armidale, after the castle on the Isle of Skye. At one point there was even a push to change the name to ‘New Scotland’ as so many Scots had settled in the area. More robust, though, was the talk of secession and the formation of a seventh state, climaxing with a referendum in April 1967. Thanks to some Machiavellian gerrymandering on the part of the NSW Government the Remainers prevailed although the odd breakaway rumbling has since taken place. One dedicated agitator even printed a mock currency – the Newro – for his much-desired State of New England as recently as 2005. 

Scaling this land is the New England Highway and one of the unsung joys of living in Murrurundi is that you have to take it to get anywhere. It’s quiet (at least compared to its brash coastal cousin, the six-lane Pacific) and cuts through spectacular country, especially picturesque from just south of Murrurundi up to Tenterfield. I drove this stretch a couple of months ago but slowly, over the course of a week rather than the usual 5 hours, surveying this highway of memories as a destination in its own right. 

I didn’t get far. 18km north of Murrurundi is the tiny village of Willow Tree, home to Graze at the Willow Tree Inn, one of the best country pubs in the state. Sandwiched between the road and the railway line, the pub and its adjoining cottages sport luxurious accommodation but best of all is the restaurant, where, semi-vegetarian ways left decidedly at home, I devoured delicious corned beef with white sauce, mashed potato and greens. The Hannah family, who reinvigorated the pretty dot of a town with their do-over of the Inn in 2010, rear the cattle on their nearby property, Colly Creek. They also have Plains Pantry opposite, a gourmet deli great for a quick bite or to stock up on cryovaced smoked trout from nearby Nundle (amongst other goodies), the best smoked trout full stop.

The landscape opens up like a deep breath after Willow Tree, majestic and sunburnt as the highway rolls toward the country music capital of Tamworth. I’ve got Johnny Cash playing on Spotify to get me to Goonoo Goonoo Station – pronounced gunna-goo-noo – an historic sheep station 20 minutes south done over as an upmarket farmstay. The words mean ‘running water’ in the language of the Kamilaroi people, one of the largest indigenous nations of Australia who have inhabited the area for thousands of years. I’d stayed briefly in one of the station’s cottages mid last year and looked forward to returning during the summer to make use of the swimming pool. This time I was parked in room 9 of the Shearers’ Quarters, which has great views across magnificent, quintessentially Australian countryside. Views from Glasshouse – the striking glass-pavilion of a restaurant adjoining the original woolsheds at the top of the hill – are even better. 

You pick up on a leitmotif driving around downtown Tamworth: car yards, Canary Island date palms and Art Deco. It’s not traditionally a place revered for its beauty, but scratch away at the surface and it does have its charms, with pretty streetscapes, the beautiful Anzac Park and a melting pot of interesting architecture. Drive along Upper Street for its shuffle of smart Victorian, Edwardian, Art Deco and postwar homes as well as cute newcomer, the cafe Humble, always packed as it serves the best brew in town.

Shady Peel Street is Tamworth’s main thoroughfare, where you’ll find the cool new gelato bar, Spilt Milk – the real deal in lidded metal tubs rather than decorative piles that don’t stay so fresh. I tried the schnitzel at two of the town’s pubs: The Tamworth (think photos of Tammy and Dolly above leather chesterfields in the front bar) and the just-restored Courthouse and both were delicious, paired with a pale ale at the end of the day. The Powerhouse is the jewel in the crown of Tamworth accommodation: motel layout (cars parked in front of rooms) but five-star hotel facilities and service. The recently renovated interiors are top notch and it’s worth checking in for the bar and restaurant alone. 

It’s a steep climb from Tamworth (404m) to Bendemeer (815m) and on to Uralla (1012m) and after dense scrub, roadworks and shocking reception, dramatic granite boulders dot the roadside as the terrain opens up once again. Uralla, “a ceremonial meeting place and look-out on a hill” in the language of the local Aniwan tribe, is the cutest town on the highway. Lovely heritage buildings line the streets, from the mid-19th century McCrossin’s Mill through to the Trickett Building, a c.1910 general store in the main street made over as the mouth-watering Alternate Root Cafe. A few doors up is Burnett’s Books, where I scored a couple of beautiful old art books from the 1960’s, and up again and over is the New England Brewing Co, crafting their signature pale ale and other small batch beers since 2013. And if you feel like a quick detour it’s 10 minutes along a pretty country road to Gostwyck Chapel, a fairytale-like church at the entrance to the cattle station of the same name, an avenue of monumental elm trees as its backdrop. 

Another half hour and you’re in Armidale, the cultural heart of New England with beautiful churches, an excellent regional gallery and cool cafes – one of which, the Goldfish Bowl, bakes its own bread in a woodfired oven and does delicious pizzas on a Friday. And again, great pubs. I polished off another delicious schnitzel at the packed Whitebull, reassured by the fact the same tunes – Kim Carnes and Wilde – were being played as when I first arrived in 1989. I made my ritualistic round of UNE’s campus and was thrilled to see the Australian Aboriginal Flag flying above the mighty Booloominbah, an Arts & Crafts mansion envisaged by architect John Horbury Hunt for the pastoralist, F.R. White, forming UNE’s historic core. 

I’d booked to stay at Petersons Winery & Guesthouse just outside of town. The spectacular main house, Palmerston (1911) took its architectural cues from the bungalows of the British Raj and reads like a sprawling version of the home in Out of Africa. The vineyard was planted after Judy and Colin Peterson purchased the property in 1996 and produces excellent cold-climate wines such as their Armidale riesling, best enjoyed sitting under a century old tree in the garden or on the veranda, very Karen Blixen.

Nearby Saumerez is a grand late 19th century mansion now in the care of the National Trust and open to the public. The somewhat legendary White sisters were cousins of the Booloominbah Whites and Elsie, the last of the family to inhabit Saumarez, kept everything down to the last ruffled cushion, effectively securing this singular time capsule of Edwardiana. Mary White College at UNE takes its name from Elsie’s older sister, the family feminist who devoted her life to public work. There’s a fabulous photo of Mary in full Edwardian garb not only on top of the mansion’s steep roof but up again, standing at the top of a tall brick chimney. 

Rows of poplars slice across a quintessential New England landscape moving north. The nation’s highest caravan park can be found at Guyra (1330m) and further along is the colourful town of Glen Innes, where I bought a crumbling but beautiful old book of Russian icons at The Book Market in Grey Street, another fantastic secondhand bookshop. Also crumbling and beautiful is the Eclipse Theatre in Deepwater, a 1930’s movie house that closed its doors in 1965. (I could Google why but prefer the mystery.) 

Travel well. Shop ‘Remote Projects’ in our Murrurundi Concept Store now. 

But my eye was on the prize of Tenterfield where I was to stay at The Commercial Boutique Hotel, a blonde-brick pub from the 1930’s done over as high-end accommodation and dining. My room was enormous, with a fireplace, freestanding bath and a circular balcony overlooking the town. The ground floor is full of curvaceous Art Deco detail, centred around the main bar turned restaurant, serving up delicious seasonal fare alongside local wines. 

Tenterfield is another architectural gem, full of beautiful Federation homes as well as older colonial buildings, such as the legendary Tenterfield Saddler (1860). The perusal of old-fashioned shop fronts is a trip unto itself – you’d never know online shopping was a thing in Tenterfield – from the abandoned HQ of the Tenterfield Star (est. 1870) to CM Country Outfitters, a shop devoted to school uniforms and the colourful Sing Wah Chinese restaurant. 

Also in the main street is the School of Arts (1869), its red-brick walls a joy to behold against a blue sky. Sir Henry Parkes delivered his fiery and impassioned speech advocating for the Federation of the Australian colonies from the building’s Banquet Hall, now part of a small but fascinating, and moving, museum. The room is hung with all the variations of the Southern Cross flag alongside a single Australian Aboriginal Flag. A museum label below this flag outlines, matter of fact, the astronomical cost of Federation for Indigenous Australians and the near-century it took to begin the correction. 

Wanting to get away from the man-made world for a bit I head out along Kildare Road to see some of the incredible rock formations surrounding Tenterfield – the precursor to the Granite Belt along the Queensland border. Ridges of cascading rocks read like early Greek ruins, revealing themselves around the twists and turns of the long dirt road. Around another bend and massive boulders come together like primitive sculpture, a giant open air museum. I get out of the car and with my back to the road I contemplate these prehistoric views, already plotting my return.

David and Jennifer Bettington: from horses to houses

Posted by

with JASON MOWEN

‘New England’ conjures a mixed bag of imagery, from the picturesqueness of rambling, Bronte-like topography and majestic trees making their last golden hurrah before winter, right through to the colonial destruction of wise and ancient cultures on this continent and others.

In my case it was the name of the university I was to attend, a godsend of a place in Armidale accepting of academic disasters able to impress in an interview. Before long I was being deposited at Drummond College, the least cool of the university’s eight on-campus residences and home for the next three years. We were a motley crew of rejects and late arrivals but after the prison of school, campus life was exhilarating and I’ll always look back on that time at the University of New England as one of the happiest of my life.

This name – ‘New England’ – was first coined in 1836 by the Sydney Herald for an area thick with armed bushrangers that stretched north from the Hunter Valley to the tablelands of what is now Queensland. Official recognition followed three years later and a Land Commissioner set up in a place he called Armidale, after the castle on the Isle of Skye. At one point there was even a push to change the name to ‘New Scotland’ as so many Scots had settled in the area. More robust, though, was the talk of secession and the formation of a seventh state, climaxing with a referendum in April 1967. Thanks to some Machiavellian gerrymandering on the part of the NSW Government the Remainers prevailed although the odd breakaway rumbling has since taken place. One dedicated agitator even printed a mock currency – the Newro – for his much-desired State of New England as recently as 2005. 

Scaling this land is the New England Highway and one of the unsung joys of living in Murrurundi is that you have to take it to get anywhere. It’s quiet (at least compared to its brash coastal cousin, the six-lane Pacific) and cuts through spectacular country, especially picturesque from just south of Murrurundi up to Tenterfield. I drove this stretch a couple of months ago but slowly, over the course of a week rather than the usual 5 hours, surveying this highway of memories as a destination in its own right. 

I didn’t get far. 18km north of Murrurundi is the tiny village of Willow Tree, home to Graze at the Willow Tree Inn, one of the best country pubs in the state. Sandwiched between the road and the railway line, the pub and its adjoining cottages sport luxurious accommodation but best of all is the restaurant, where, semi-vegetarian ways left decidedly at home, I devoured delicious corned beef with white sauce, mashed potato and greens. The Hannah family, who reinvigorated the pretty dot of a town with their do-over of the Inn in 2010, rear the cattle on their nearby property, Colly Creek. They also have Plains Pantry opposite, a gourmet deli great for a quick bite or to stock up on cryovaced smoked trout from nearby Nundle (amongst other goodies), the best smoked trout full stop.

The landscape opens up like a deep breath after Willow Tree, majestic and sunburnt as the highway rolls toward the country music capital of Tamworth. I’ve got Johnny Cash playing on Spotify to get me to Goonoo Goonoo Station – pronounced gunna-goo-noo – an historic sheep station 20 minutes south done over as an upmarket farmstay. The words mean ‘running water’ in the language of the Kamilaroi people, one of the largest indigenous nations of Australia who have inhabited the area for thousands of years. I’d stayed briefly in one of the station’s cottages mid last year and looked forward to returning during the summer to make use of the swimming pool. This time I was parked in room 9 of the Shearers’ Quarters, which has great views across magnificent, quintessentially Australian countryside. Views from Glasshouse – the striking glass-pavilion of a restaurant adjoining the original woolsheds at the top of the hill – are even better. 

You pick up on a leitmotif driving around downtown Tamworth: car yards, Canary Island date palms and Art Deco. It’s not traditionally a place revered for its beauty, but scratch away at the surface and it does have its charms, with pretty streetscapes, the beautiful Anzac Park and a melting pot of interesting architecture. Drive along Upper Street for its shuffle of smart Victorian, Edwardian, Art Deco and postwar homes as well as cute newcomer, the cafe Humble, always packed as it serves the best brew in town.

Shady Peel Street is Tamworth’s main thoroughfare, where you’ll find the cool new gelato bar, Spilt Milk – the real deal in lidded metal tubs rather than decorative piles that don’t stay so fresh. I tried the schnitzel at two of the town’s pubs: The Tamworth (think photos of Tammy and Dolly above leather chesterfields in the front bar) and the just-restored Courthouse and both were delicious, paired with a pale ale at the end of the day. The Powerhouse is the jewel in the crown of Tamworth accommodation: motel layout (cars parked in front of rooms) but five-star hotel facilities and service. The recently renovated interiors are top notch and it’s worth checking in for the bar and restaurant alone. 

I’d booked to stay at Petersons Winery & Guesthouse just outside of town. The spectacular main house, Palmerston (1911) took its architectural cues from the bungalows of the British Raj and reads like a sprawling version of the home in Out of Africa. The vineyard was planted after Judy and Colin Peterson purchased the property in 1996 and produces excellent cold-climate wines such as their Armidale riesling, best enjoyed sitting under a century old tree in the garden or on the veranda, very Karen Blixen.

Nearby Saumerez is a grand late 19th century mansion now in the care of the National Trust and open to the public. The somewhat legendary White sisters were cousins of the Booloominbah Whites and Elsie, the last of the family to inhabit Saumarez, kept everything down to the last ruffled cushion, effectively securing this singular time capsule of Edwardiana. Mary White College at UNE takes its name from Elsie’s older sister, the family feminist who devoted her life to public work. There’s a fabulous photo of Mary in full Edwardian garb not only on top of the mansion’s steep roof but up again, standing at the top of a tall brick chimney. 

Rows of poplars slice across a quintessential New England landscape moving north. The nation’s highest caravan park can be found at Guyra (1330m) and further along is the colourful town of Glen Innes, where I bought a crumbling but beautiful old book of Russian icons at The Book Market in Grey Street, another fantastic secondhand bookshop. Also crumbling and beautiful is the Eclipse Theatre in Deepwater, a 1930’s movie house that closed its doors in 1965. (I could Google why but prefer the mystery.) 

Denise Faulkner: Art of the Garden

Posted by

with JASON MOWEN

‘New England’ conjures a mixed bag of imagery, from the picturesqueness of rambling, Bronte-like topography and majestic trees making their last golden hurrah before winter, right through to the colonial destruction of wise and ancient cultures on this continent and others.

In my case it was the name of the university I was to attend, a godsend of a place in Armidale accepting of academic disasters able to impress in an interview. Before long I was being deposited at Drummond College, the least cool of the university’s eight on-campus residences and home for the next three years. We were a motley crew of rejects and late arrivals but after the prison of school, campus life was exhilarating and I’ll always look back on that time at the University of New England as one of the happiest of my life.

This name – ‘New England’ – was first coined in 1836 by the Sydney Herald for an area thick with armed bushrangers that stretched north from the Hunter Valley to the tablelands of what is now Queensland. Official recognition followed three years later and a Land Commissioner set up in a place he called Armidale, after the castle on the Isle of Skye. At one point there was even a push to change the name to ‘New Scotland’ as so many Scots had settled in the area. More robust, though, was the talk of secession and the formation of a seventh state, climaxing with a referendum in April 1967. Thanks to some Machiavellian gerrymandering on the part of the NSW Government the Remainers prevailed although the odd breakaway rumbling has since taken place. One dedicated agitator even printed a mock currency – the Newro – for his much-desired State of New England as recently as 2005. 

Scaling this land is the New England Highway and one of the unsung joys of living in Murrurundi is that you have to take it to get anywhere. It’s quiet (at least compared to its brash coastal cousin, the six-lane Pacific) and cuts through spectacular country, especially picturesque from just south of Murrurundi up to Tenterfield. I drove this stretch a couple of months ago but slowly, over the course of a week rather than the usual 5 hours, surveying this highway of memories as a destination in its own right. 

I didn’t get far. 18km north of Murrurundi is the tiny village of Willow Tree, home to Graze at the Willow Tree Inn, one of the best country pubs in the state. Sandwiched between the road and the railway line, the pub and its adjoining cottages sport luxurious accommodation but best of all is the restaurant, where, semi-vegetarian ways left decidedly at home, I devoured delicious corned beef with white sauce, mashed potato and greens. The Hannah family, who reinvigorated the pretty dot of a town with their do-over of the Inn in 2010, rear the cattle on their nearby property, Colly Creek. They also have Plains Pantry opposite, a gourmet deli great for a quick bite or to stock up on cryovaced smoked trout from nearby Nundle (amongst other goodies), the best smoked trout full stop.

The landscape opens up like a deep breath after Willow Tree, majestic and sunburnt as the highway rolls toward the country music capital of Tamworth. I’ve got Johnny Cash playing on Spotify to get me to Goonoo Goonoo Station – pronounced gunna-goo-noo – an historic sheep station 20 minutes south done over as an upmarket farmstay. The words mean ‘running water’ in the language of the Kamilaroi people, one of the largest indigenous nations of Australia who have inhabited the area for thousands of years. I’d stayed briefly in one of the station’s cottages mid last year and looked forward to returning during the summer to make use of the swimming pool. This time I was parked in room 9 of the Shearers’ Quarters, which has great views across magnificent, quintessentially Australian countryside. Views from Glasshouse – the striking glass-pavilion of a restaurant adjoining the original woolsheds at the top of the hill – are even better. 

You pick up on a leitmotif driving around downtown Tamworth: car yards, Canary Island date palms and Art Deco. It’s not traditionally a place revered for its beauty, but scratch away at the surface and it does have its charms, with pretty streetscapes, the beautiful Anzac Park and a melting pot of interesting architecture. Drive along Upper Street for its shuffle of smart Victorian, Edwardian, Art Deco and postwar homes as well as cute newcomer, the cafe Humble, always packed as it serves the best brew in town.

Shady Peel Street is Tamworth’s main thoroughfare, where you’ll find the cool new gelato bar, Spilt Milk – the real deal in lidded metal tubs rather than decorative piles that don’t stay so fresh. I tried the schnitzel at two of the town’s pubs: The Tamworth (think photos of Tammy and Dolly above leather chesterfields in the front bar) and the just-restored Courthouse and both were delicious, paired with a pale ale at the end of the day. The Powerhouse is the jewel in the crown of Tamworth accommodation: motel layout (cars parked in front of rooms) but five-star hotel facilities and service. The recently renovated interiors are top notch and it’s worth checking in for the bar and restaurant alone. 

Denise, who grew up in Sydney’s Drummoyne, is the youngest of four but essentially, she was an only child. Books played a big part in this little girl’s life. Alice in Wonderland was read again and again — “it was the pinnacle for me” — and the Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and Wuthering Heights quickly followed.

“When I was a child, it was just me and mum. I would spend a lot of time amusing myself — painting, drawing and reading. They were my favourite things to do in the world and that’s how I spent my days,” she says.

In many ways, today she is painting the fairy tales born of this period. After many layers of careful brushwork — “I’m hard on my brushes, I don’t buy expensive ones as I wear them out” — kookaburras with mischievous glints in their eyes emerge on the paper to swoop down to steal from side plates piled high with lamingtons, galahs dance around the palest pink Iced Volvos while a barn owl and a mouse have a standoff across a slice of passionfruit cheesecake. All are clearly a figment of Denise’s imagination but the work which led to them was very firmly rooted in reality a few years ago: a brazen magpie swooping down to steal the cat biscuits in a Japanese porcelain bowl put out for a stray tabby cat who had emerged out of the bush one day.

But it took two decades and a move to this remote 18-hectare bush block between Mudgee and Gulgong for Denise to return to art.

After graduating from art school, where artist Lucy Culliton was one of her contemporaries, Denise had felt daunted by the idea of making a living as an artist.

“I might have gone to the odd life drawing class, but I was working full time and it was hard to find the energy while I was on that treadmill,” she says.

Looking for a break from city life, Denise and her partner Fraser, an IT specialist who was already working remotely, had bought a weekender in 2009. The pair found they were increasingly reluctant to return to Sydney after each visit and made the decision to move there permanently in 2013. “I thought, if we are going to move out of the city, there is no point just moving into another town, even if it was in the country,” says.

Even though it is only a short drive, just 15 kilometres, from the historic town of Gulgong, there was a hurdle Denise had to overcome — she didn’t have her driver’s licence so couldn’t apply for any local jobs. The solution? A return to painting. The surrounding bush and wildlife quickly inspired her, and she now spends her days happily painting.

Her most recent work is part of the annual Michael Reid Murrurundi collaborative exhibition with Country Style magazine: Art of the Garden.

“During the drought a lot of our trees in the bush died, so without the canopy more native shrubs and flowers sprung up changing the whole dynamic of the landscape. This year was our most spectacular year for the flannel flowers. Without the tree canopy, we were able to see them waving in the breeze up high on the ridge in the most hostile and sunbaked conditions,” she says.

“Up close they were a forest of soft fuzzy flowers loved by all the insects, so I decided to include just some of the visitors to my not so still lifes. Flannel flowers have been adopted as the symbol of mental health awareness, something I think we all need to consider in these trying times, but given where I know they grow, I also see them as the symbol of resilience and strength.”

With an exciting project on the horizon, it seems this very modest artist has returned to “the tribe I found at art school” with her new life in the bush, painting whimsical pieces edged with her quiet humour.

“It is often hard to say goodbye to my paintings. They are a part of me, but it also makes me happy to know that someone else likes them enough to take them home and share their walls with them.”

Childhood memories

Posted by

with JASON MOWEN

‘New England’ conjures a mixed bag of imagery, from the picturesqueness of rambling, Bronte-like topography and majestic trees making their last golden hurrah before winter, right through to the colonial destruction of wise and ancient cultures on this continent and others.

In my case it was the name of the university I was to attend, a godsend of a place in Armidale accepting of academic disasters able to impress in an interview. Before long I was being deposited at Drummond College, the least cool of the university’s eight on-campus residences and home for the next three years. We were a motley crew of rejects and late arrivals but after the prison of school, campus life was exhilarating and I’ll always look back on that time at the University of New England as one of the happiest of my life.

This name – ‘New England’ – was first coined in 1836 by the Sydney Herald for an area thick with armed bushrangers that stretched north from the Hunter Valley to the tablelands of what is now Queensland. Official recognition followed three years later and a Land Commissioner set up in a place he called Armidale, after the castle on the Isle of Skye. At one point there was even a push to change the name to ‘New Scotland’ as so many Scots had settled in the area. More robust, though, was the talk of secession and the formation of a seventh state, climaxing with a referendum in April 1967. Thanks to some Machiavellian gerrymandering on the part of the NSW Government the Remainers prevailed although the odd breakaway rumbling has since taken place. One dedicated agitator even printed a mock currency – the Newro – for his much-desired State of New England as recently as 2005. 

Scaling this land is the New England Highway and one of the unsung joys of living in Murrurundi is that you have to take it to get anywhere. It’s quiet (at least compared to its brash coastal cousin, the six-lane Pacific) and cuts through spectacular country, especially picturesque from just south of Murrurundi up to Tenterfield. I drove this stretch a couple of months ago but slowly, over the course of a week rather than the usual 5 hours, surveying this highway of memories as a destination in its own right. 

I didn’t get far. 18km north of Murrurundi is the tiny village of Willow Tree, home to Graze at the Willow Tree Inn, one of the best country pubs in the state. Sandwiched between the road and the railway line, the pub and its adjoining cottages sport luxurious accommodation but best of all is the restaurant, where, semi-vegetarian ways left decidedly at home, I devoured delicious corned beef with white sauce, mashed potato and greens. The Hannah family, who reinvigorated the pretty dot of a town with their do-over of the Inn in 2010, rear the cattle on their nearby property, Colly Creek. They also have Plains Pantry opposite, a gourmet deli great for a quick bite or to stock up on cryovaced smoked trout from nearby Nundle (amongst other goodies), the best smoked trout full stop.

The landscape opens up like a deep breath after Willow Tree, majestic and sunburnt as the highway rolls toward the country music capital of Tamworth. I’ve got Johnny Cash playing on Spotify to get me to Goonoo Goonoo Station – pronounced gunna-goo-noo – an historic sheep station 20 minutes south done over as an upmarket farmstay. The words mean ‘running water’ in the language of the Kamilaroi people, one of the largest indigenous nations of Australia who have inhabited the area for thousands of years. I’d stayed briefly in one of the station’s cottages mid last year and looked forward to returning during the summer to make use of the swimming pool. This time I was parked in room 9 of the Shearers’ Quarters, which has great views across magnificent, quintessentially Australian countryside. Views from Glasshouse – the striking glass-pavilion of a restaurant adjoining the original woolsheds at the top of the hill – are even better. 

You pick up on a leitmotif driving around downtown Tamworth: car yards, Canary Island date palms and Art Deco. It’s not traditionally a place revered for its beauty, but scratch away at the surface and it does have its charms, with pretty streetscapes, the beautiful Anzac Park and a melting pot of interesting architecture. Drive along Upper Street for its shuffle of smart Victorian, Edwardian, Art Deco and postwar homes as well as cute newcomer, the cafe Humble, always packed as it serves the best brew in town.

Shady Peel Street is Tamworth’s main thoroughfare, where you’ll find the cool new gelato bar, Spilt Milk – the real deal in lidded metal tubs rather than decorative piles that don’t stay so fresh. I tried the schnitzel at two of the town’s pubs: The Tamworth (think photos of Tammy and Dolly above leather chesterfields in the front bar) and the just-restored Courthouse and both were delicious, paired with a pale ale at the end of the day. The Powerhouse is the jewel in the crown of Tamworth accommodation: motel layout (cars parked in front of rooms) but five-star hotel facilities and service. The recently renovated interiors are top notch and it’s worth checking in for the bar and restaurant alone. 

Denise, who grew up in Sydney’s Drummoyne, is the youngest of four but essentially, she was an only child. Books played a big part in this little girl’s life. Alice in Wonderland was read again and again — “it was the pinnacle for me” — and the Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and Wuthering Heights quickly followed.

“When I was a child, it was just me and mum. I would spend a lot of time amusing myself — painting, drawing and reading. They were my favourite things to do in the world and that’s how I spent my days,” she says.

In many ways, today she is painting the fairy tales born of this period. After many layers of careful brushwork — “I’m hard on my brushes, I don’t buy expensive ones as I wear them out” — kookaburras with mischievous glints in their eyes emerge on the paper to swoop down to steal from side plates piled high with lamingtons, galahs dance around the palest pink Iced Volvos while a barn owl and a mouse have a standoff across a slice of passionfruit cheesecake. All are clearly a figment of Denise’s imagination but the work which led to them was very firmly rooted in reality a few years ago: a brazen magpie swooping down to steal the cat biscuits in a Japanese porcelain bowl put out for a stray tabby cat who had emerged out of the bush one day.

But it took two decades and a move to this remote 18-hectare bush block between Mudgee and Gulgong for Denise to return to art.

After graduating from art school, where artist Lucy Culliton was one of her contemporaries, Denise had felt daunted by the idea of making a living as an artist.

“I might have gone to the odd life drawing class, but I was working full time and it was hard to find the energy while I was on that treadmill,” she says.

Looking for a break from city life, Denise and her partner Fraser, an IT specialist who was already working remotely, had bought a weekender in 2009. The pair found they were increasingly reluctant to return to Sydney after each visit and made the decision to move there permanently in 2013. “I thought, if we are going to move out of the city, there is no point just moving into another town, even if it was in the country,” says.

Even though it is only a short drive, just 15 kilometres, from the historic town of Gulgong, there was a hurdle Denise had to overcome — she didn’t have her driver’s licence so couldn’t apply for any local jobs. The solution? A return to painting. The surrounding bush and wildlife quickly inspired her, and she now spends her days happily painting.

After having such a country childhood, was it important for you to give your kids something similar? 

Yes absolutely. I loved the simplicity of my childhood, which is hardly possible for kids now with social media and other devices like Xbox. Spending time with friends outside, riding bikes, swimming in the river (or Lake Canobolas in our case) is what I think is important to give our kids. I encourage them to get into the garden with me planting vegetables – at the moment we are picking raspberries and tomatoes and they love that, we also bought a flow hive for Christmas, so beekeeping is on the cards for 2022.

It’s easy to say what you want for your kids, but it’s harder to actually do it. I make the effort to give them as many similar experiences as I had, which was lots of bike riding, outdoor projects, helping in the garden, tennis, and getting outdoors. I just wish I could give them the horse riding and polo part, but that’s not really in our lives here. Being in Orange enables us to do that very easily and I feel extremely grateful that my experience as a child has set me up to want to pass it on to my kids.

What inspired you both to move to Orange? 

When I met Shaun his parents lived in Dubbo and we would often drive through Orange from Sydney to visit them. We always said how we’d love to live there (this is back in the early 2000s) because it was so pretty and had a couple of good restaurants Lolli Redini and Selkirks – which was pretty unheard of in the country back then. Then when we were overseas family friends Kathy and Richard opened a restaurant in their vineyard, the School House at Mayfield, and asked us to run it. It was a no brainer, our own restaurant in the country in a town we’d always loved. We weren’t the first foodies to come here, but I feel like we were there from the early days and a lot has happened here since. I’m so thankful to Kathy and Richard for getting us to Orange. It’s the perfect place for us and we love it: it’s a beautiful blend of country and city.

Her most recent work is part of the annual Michael Reid Murrurundi collaborative exhibition with Country Style magazine: Art of the Garden.

“During the drought a lot of our trees in the bush died, so without the canopy more native shrubs and flowers sprung up changing the whole dynamic of the landscape. This year was our most spectacular year for the flannel flowers. Without the tree canopy, we were able to see them waving in the breeze up high on the ridge in the most hostile and sunbaked conditions,” she says.

“Up close they were a forest of soft fuzzy flowers loved by all the insects, so I decided to include just some of the visitors to my not so still lifes. Flannel flowers have been adopted as the symbol of mental health awareness, something I think we all need to consider in these trying times, but given where I know they grow, I also see them as the symbol of resilience and strength.”

With an exciting project on the horizon, it seems this very modest artist has returned to “the tribe I found at art school” with her new life in the bush, painting whimsical pieces edged with her quiet humour.

“It is often hard to say goodbye to my paintings. They are a part of me, but it also makes me happy to know that someone else likes them enough to take them home and share their walls with them.”

And finally, regional Australia has seen a huge shift in the last decade. How do you see the future?

It’s wonderful to see so many city people getting out and exploring the regions and even country people exploring other parts. I have always said that regional areas have been treated like the dumb unsophisticated cousin of the city when it comes to the food scene, but really we are just the smart ones who live this great lifestyle, doing what we love right where all the good food comes from, we are in it, we have access to producers, winemakers and farmers that you don’t get in the city. Loads of great chefs have moved here for a better life and while the concentration of good food isn’t like the city, you can find great food in basically any regional centre or town now that you couldn’t 15 years ago.

I think COVID has opened our eyes to how great regional Australia is and this has certainly been felt in Orange with visitor numbers and the amount of people who have moved here from the city (although Orange was already experiencing this before COVID).  I can’t see that changing too much in the next few years, I think people want to stay local and that will become a habit.

Racine Bakery
166b Summer Street, Orange, NSW
(Entry via the Woolworths carpark)

Telephone (02) 6361 4234 or visit
www.racinerestaurant.com.au

Riding ahead

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Sculptor Hugh Parry-Okeden was devastated after a fire destroyed his Mudgee studio but it led him down a new creative path and today this keen polo player is known as the builder of some of Australia’s most beautiful stables.

A chestnut mare looks inquisitively over the fence. With her neatly hogged mane and sleek shiny coat, she is one of the many horses you can see grazing in the green paddocks edging the Hawkesbury River at Richmond. Here, in this town nestled at the foot of the NSW Blue Mountains, the rich river flats are home to some of Australia’s best polo ponies — and an increasing number of them are housed in magnificent stables built by Hugh Parry-Okeden.

Originally a sculptor and a furniture maker, Hugh moved into the construction industry after a fire destroyed his Mudgee workshop over two decades ago.

“I pretty much lost everything — all I had left were a few burnt tools,” Hugh explains today as he reflects on this change in his career. “So I decided to move down to Sydney to start a new life with my girlfriend.”

The keen rider, who grew up watching his father and grandfather making furniture, began doing some small building jobs.

“I quickly realised that the craftsmanship of fencing, and general timberwork, was appalling when I started doing a few odd jobs for people. I saw then that there was an opening in the market, and it grew from there.”

And so Giddiup was born in 1999. Originally the fledgling company was all about post-and-rail fencing but Hugh’s decision to build a barn at his Richmond home with his uncle saw the business boom in a new direction. “That first barn was important and again it was that family connection for Hugh, building it with someone in the family,” explains his wife Gendy, an eventer who once rode for Australia and who now works with Hugh on Giddiup’s creative direction.

After travelling the world for her riding career, it would be hard to find someone better qualified than Gendy to help design beautiful stables. “I grew up riding and I was surrounded by professional riders so it was a natural pathway for my sister Nicky and I. We both represented Australia in eventing and spent many years competing internationally. I gave the riding away once I had three small children,” she says.

Today, Giddiup has expanded into bigger building projects and the list of their past work includes the Sydney International Equestrian Centre, Sydney Polo Club, Arunga Polo Club, William Inglis Riverside Stables Complex and, in a step away from the equine world, The Grounds Cafe in Alexandria.

The pair is quick to mention how important their team of craftsmen have been to this success. “We have some incredible people working with us who are just so skilled,” says Gendy. “Giddiup was a name that was just a bit of fun at the time. I don’t think either of us thought it would go on to become the business it has become.”

Listen to Hugh talk about finishing a barn build and you can hear the passion in his voice. “It’s sort of a sad day and a happy day. We have accomplished something that we think is pretty special over the past three and a half months…  but now we have to hand it over.

“It’s a bit like a baby lamb, it grows up and leaves its mother — and it has its own life. That’s the stage where we are at today and it is a little bit sad but very satisfying to hand something over that everyone is very proud of. I hope we get to come back in a few years’ time and see how she is getting on.”

The little boy who loved to help his dad in the stables and thinks of old buildings aging well like “a bottle of good wine” has clearly found his vocation.

For more information about Giddiup, email info@giddiup.com.au or telephone 0410 456 090
Video credit: Jim Gowing / Awe Vision

Ingrid Weir’s rural life

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Designer and photographer Ingrid Weir has worked around the world on film sets, but a little cottage in NSW’s Hill End is a very special place for her and inspired her to write a book: New Rural.

Not everyone is brave enough to take on a run-down house in the country surrounded by a garden filled with weeds and only two trees, but 10 years ago Ingrid Weir made the decision to do exactly that.

“It was an illogical thing to do — buy a 100-year-old house in a remote rural area to renovate. That night I went to dinner with the painter Luke Sciberras and saw how his Hill End cottage was a place full of art and flowers, where friends came to stay and delicious meals were prepared. It was something of a blueprint. After a long mental back and forth, intuition overwhelmed logic and I took the plunge. It felt fantastic and exciting,” writes Ingrid in her book New Rural of buying the old schoolmaster’s house that is now her second home. 

At the peak of the gold rush in 1870 Hill End had a population of 8,000, 28 pubs, five banks and eight churches. But today the main inhabitants are the mobs of kangaroos grazing the paddock in front of one of the remaining churches and the number of locals has dropped, according to the 2016 census, to 102.

After the gold miners of the 19th century moved out, the artists gradually moved in and now this Central West town nearly 300 kilometres north west from Sydney is home to many creative types: painters, potters, printmakers and writers.

Ingrid, who is usually based in Sydney, gives us an insight into her country life.

Did you spend much time in the country as a child?

My grandfather on my father’s side came from Junee.  He was one of three brothers.  During the Depression the farm couldn’t support them all so they drew straws. He drew a short one and relocated to Sydney, becoming a real estate agent in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.  As a child I visited the farm a couple of times. About 15 years ago we had a big family reunion there — Champagne at the lookout, a black-tie dinner at the local pub and a large country lunch in the woolshed!

How important is your life in Hill End to your creative process? 

Very. When I was renovating and decorating the house it was a place to experiment with colour, fabrics and the like. And in the process, learn more about photography. Now I use it more as a place to replenish and renew. I think rest is an important part of the creative process. The downtime lets you process the projects you have been working on. Without thinking about it new ideas rise up to the surface in your relaxed state. A way forward is revealed…

How much time do you spend there now? 

Hard to be specific as it depends on work. Maybe about five to six times a year, sometimes with friends, sometimes with family. It could be for three days or 10 days. I always enjoy that moment of getting into a packed car and heading out of the city towards the mountains.

What do you think about the importance of art galleries and residencies based in the country? 

I actively seek out regional art galleries because I have been to some wonderful exhibitions in country towns. Standout galleries include the Art Gallery of Ballarat, Maitland Regional Art Gallery, Bathurst Regional Art Gallery and the Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum in Bathurst. There are two artist residencies in Hill End run by the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery. It gives a richness of texture to a village to have visiting artists, something unexpected and a different perspective.

‘New Rural: Where to Find It and How to Create It’
(Hardie Grant Books, $60) by Ingrid Weir is out now
To see more of her work,
visit www.ingridweir.com.au

Life by design

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Bird watching, collecting Italian cars and design — architect William Zuccon is a man with many interests. Luckily for us, his love of the country has seen him work on many projects in the Hunter region over the years including one very close to home — the art gallery Michael Reid Murrurundi.

He could have missed the tiny advertisement in the advertising section of The Sydney Morning Herald but luckily it caught the eye of William Zuccon. The ad asked for someone with a ‘sense of humour’ and William, who was a second year student at the University of Sydney at the time, decided to apply. “Before I knew it I was working for this chap by the name of Espie Dods,” he explains. “It was 1981 and little did I realise it that this would set the direction for the whole of my career.”

Four decades later, William works from his office in Sydney’s Paddington and is often on the road north to meet with clients. Here he gives us a rare insight into how he began his career, his passion for vintage cars and the lengths he will go to see a grey falcon.

Did you grow up in the country or have any early rural influences?  

I’d like to be able to say that I was born and bred in the bush but alas I’m a city boy through and through. My father was an outdoorsman however and early trips to the country in Tasmania (I was born in Hobart) perhaps sowed the seeds for my enduring love of the bush. During these formative years I inescapably developed a passion for the natural world, whether it be fossils and minerals, astronomy and the stars, wildlife of all descriptions (and particularly birds), and this has endured throughout my life.

Why did you decide to be an architect?

 I was always been interested in design, in the very early years this was manifest in my passion for what are now considered classic sports cars. I marvelled at the heroic designs of the ‘dream cars’ of those years and designed many of my own. This was probably the catalyst that started me thinking about design in general and in time directed me to architecture. More than any other pursuit I could think of it embodied the natural world and the design disciplines with some maths and science thrown in for good measure.

What was a pivotal moment in your career?

Early in my second year of architecture at Sydney University I thought it would be a good idea to earn some pocket money by trying to secure work in an architectural practice. This was far from the norm in that college at the time and I may well have been one of the few to do so. I responded to a tiny SMH advert seeking a draftsperson with, amongst other things, a sense of humour.

Before I knew it I was working for this chap by the name of Espie Dods. It was 1981 and little did I realise it that this would set the direction for the whole of my career. After a very busy few years, during which time I completed my degrees, Espie and I in 1989 established Dods and Zuccon Architects — the firm that has endured all these years and in time became my own. I really do owe much to that wonderful man.

You have done a lot of work in the Hunter region over the years. How did that come about?

One of the wonderful aspects of our client base was that many were from the country. Well that suited me to a tee and I took to these commissions with relish. It’s through a number of these projects that I came to discover and love the Upper Hunter. The rare, if not unique, confluence of established rural families, viticulture, and the mining and equine industries has made for an eclectic mix of people and projects which has helped sustain the practice over an extended period of time. Apart from wonderful opportunities to build new houses and renovate others have been invigorating non-residential commissions.

Scone’s much loved restaurant The Cottage was one of those non-residential projects. Tell us about that brief.

Some years ago we were approached to re-purpose what was originally a single dwelling in the main street of Scone to create a restaurant. Central to the brief was that dining at the restaurant had to be free of pretension and be akin to having dinner in a friend’s country home. This was certainly a new and challenging project on a number of fronts. The building was tired and in places run down.

It was in no way compliant with the applicable codes and standards of today, had no kitchen, no parking facilities, inadequate just about everything. We recognised the opportunity to help deliver to Scone a high quality and enduring establishment and supported by our wonderful client at all times through a long and demanding process, delivered a sparkling re-purposed building which houses The Cottage restaurant.

And of course our own Bobadil gallery at Murrurundi is another important local commission.

When Michael Reid first approached me to design a ‘big shed’ I must say I wasn’t sure how that would equate to a gallery. It took just one visit to Bobadil however, to ‘get it’. Michael’s location for the new building was inspired — sitting opposite the existing impossibly handsome stone gallery — and nestled into an intimate forest. This was going to be fun.

Positioned on axis with the existing sandstone gallery building the new gallery creates a courtyard between the two buildings. Courtyards thus formed are achieved for ‘free’ and often create wonderful external spaces. The sheer presence and scale of the existing gallery dictated an equally strong new partner.

Rather than relying on masonry Michael was keen to introduce a clean-lined corrugated iron-based new volume — one that smacked of the rural shed. With these ideas underpinning the brief we set about designing a robust yet sophisticated ‘shed’ which addressed its neighbour across the courtyard with its own pure geometry and central opening. On the opposite side of the gallery and on the central axis doors lead out to an elevated platform which floats above the ground cover and is thrust into the forest. An external stair provides access to a full-footprint roof terrace — a wonderful bonus space for exhibitions, entertainment and just taking in the surrounds from a unique viewpoint.

Aside from design, you have several other passions — collecting cars and birding.

Yes, I recently did a three and a half week trip to Far North Queensland with my son Xavier (we only just made it out of Sydney and into Queensland ahead of the lockdowns of June 23rd) during which we found and identified 221 bird species (just over one quarter of the birds found in Australia). The grey falcons were one of 22 species of diurnal (daytime) Australian raptors found which is just two short of the total number of species here — a record for us. A great father and son adventure during which we made it to the tip of Australia, amongst other things, and criss-crossed Queensland covering 11,300 kilometres.

When did your interest in cars begin?

Ever since I could remember I’ve had an interest in automotive design, particularly sports cars. I have no idea where this interest came from but I am aware of being sat in a Lamborghini Miura in Newcastle when I was very young. As a child I would often draw imaginary sports cars, and whilst there’s nothing unusual about that my drawings showed the cars in technical elevation and plan views. It makes me think that I was destined to end up somewhere in the design world.

Whilst I didn’t pursue automotive design (which would have meant studying and/or working overseas — not for me!), I have maintained my passion in what have now become classic cars. This enduring interest has over the years resulted in a modest accumulation of eclectic sports cars, almost all of which, I realised many years later, were contained in a local Sports Car World magazine which I purchased when I was 9. I still have that very dog-eared issue somewhere amongst thousands of magazines.

What was your first sports car?

A Lancia Montecarlo — a lovely two seater with a mid-mounted 2 litre engine purchased back in 1986. It was designed by the Italian styling house Pininfarina — renowned in the world of automotive design. My ‘Monte’ was personally imported to Australia by one Rupert Murdoch and still occupies space in my garage. Unfortunately, as my interest in sports cars is principally a design one they do tend to sit around and are either impossible to start or soon break down..

Clearly you love the country and undertaking work there has bought with it many benefits.

Yes, undertaking commissions in the country has allowed me to pursue my passion for birding — particularly our eagles, hawks and falcons. No trip is properly prepared for without a pair of binoculars and lots of photographic equipment. The trick then is to arrive at a meeting on time by leaving sufficiently early to allow for the likely bird sightings on that particular journey.

For more information about the architectural practice of Dods and Zuccon, visit dodsandzuccon.com

William’s first car — Lancia Beta Montecarlo

Life on the land

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We leave Murrurundi this month and head to the Central Tablelands of NSW to visit Jack and Susannah White at Havilah North where they run Angus cattle.

The paddocks at Havilah North are full of feed and down the road, sheltering under a majestic apple gum, you can glimpse a group of Angus. Sleek and fat, the glossy black cows begin to move out into the pasture, while the bull ambles closely behind them. He moves carefully through the sea of grass, towering over any other animal in his path.

This magnificent coal- black mountain is called Joker Q57 and the two-year-old homebred bull represents everything that the White family have strived for on this property just east of Mudgee since 1881.

Today, Jack White and his brother Harry are the sixth generation to breed cattle on this land — and the seventh have recently made an appearance. Jack’s son Sid was born in June, 2020, while Harry’s son Ned arrived at 3am on the morning of the pair’s annual bull sale in August. It’s an important event at the heart of the Coffin Creek Angus operation which was started in 1991 by their father Nigel White.

This year the Whites sold 48 bulls and again broke their sales records with an average of $17,292 per head and a new stud record top price of $30,000, up $6000 from last year. Here, we speak to Jack and Susannah White for an insight into this progressive young couple’s life on the land.

The homestead pictured is the Havilah Homestead. It has been occupied by the White family since 1881, and is lived in today by Hunter and Sue-Ann White.
The property Havilah North, where we live, was separated from Havilah in the 70s as part of family succession. Interestingly re Belltrees, the architect Horbury Hunt designed both an extension to the Havilah Homestead in 1890, and the Havilah wool shed, as well as several buildings at Belltrees, including the Belltrees wool shed.

An avid racing fan, Jack and Harry’s father Nigel rode as an amateur jockey for a while when he was younger.
The bottom photos are of him winning in his father’s racing colours on a horse called Ly Low at the local Bligh Picnic Races in 1977.

Susannah, Jack, Sid, Harry, Bobby, Ned & sausage dog Frankie

Jack White

The 32-year-old took over formal ownership of the family property with his brother Harry in 2019.

“From an early age my brother and I inherited a love for livestock, particularly cattle,” he explains. Today the pair run around 800 cattle over Havilah North’s 2000 hectares plus some leased country.

What was it like growing up on the property?

We were extremely fortunate to grow up on the farm. Always outdoors, we would spend hours mustering on horses or motorbikes and helping dad in the cattle yards etc. We had plenty of animals; dogs, cats, chooks, horses, sheep.

What do you see as the key differences in the way you run the business and how the generation before you did?

Our land management style is probably different now to that of say our grandfather’s era. There has been a major shift away from set stocking animals in the same paddock, but rather rotational grazing and resting pastures, a practise which Dad adopted and we have continued. We are extremely fortunate to have access to amazing technology now that improves the efficiency of what we do, with all our farm maps and records on our iPhones, easy connection to a strong network of professionals such as business advisors, agents and agronomists, and ease of communication between everyone else at work. We embrace the science of artificial insemination, embryo transfer and DNA genomic testing to enhance our genetic gains in our seedstock herd.

What challenges have you faced? And the things you most enjoy about you do?

It is challenging and rewarding trying to find ways to improve our farm and prepare it for the next drought. Lately we have been investing in fence and water infrastructure to allow us to better manage our land particularly through dry times. It is incredibly rewarding to see the land in a healthy, vibrant state whilst also generating an income for our business.

Where do you see the future of the business?

A challenge for every farming family is that of providing opportunity for the next generation. Harry and I are extremely grateful that our family tackled succession early on in the piece. It has allowed us to hit the ground running at a relatively young age, and gives us the opportunity to build our business and look ahead to how it will provide for the next generation coming through. In 10 years’ time I would like to think we have greatly lifted our business turnover, but hopefully also increased our land holding.

How do you see success?

If our children are able to have an opportunity to live and work in agriculture, similar to what we have enjoyed, that to me would be success.

The magnificent Joker Q57, a homebred bull by Coffin Creek Joker J202, and full brother to the top priced bull in the 2020 bull sale.

Susannah White

She is used to living in Canada’s Arctic regions where temperatures can drop to −40 °C and spent her early childhood in the Northern Territory, but for the last eight years Susannah has called the NSW Central Tablelands property Havilah North home.

Today, the 32-year-old juggles her work at agribusiness public relations firm Cox Inall with looking after a very active toddler.

Where did you grow up?

My father was an engineer with BHP, so as kids we travelled around a lot with his work. I lived on Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria until I was 8, before we moved to Yellowknife in the North-West Territories in arctic Canada.  After two years there, we moved back to Queensland and today my parents live not far from here, near Denman in the Hunter Valley. My mother is from Bourke originally, and we still have lots of close family out west, so growing up we spent a lot of time on cousins properties at Bourke and Walgett.

Working remotely has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for many rural women. What has it meant for you?

The opportunity to work remotely has been wonderful and allowed me to both complete my postgraduate law degree and continue my career in communications, something which didn’t seem possible when I first left my corporate affairs job in Sydney and followed Jack to Mudgee.

I started with Cox Inall in 2017. Back then, convincing a new employer to take you on as a fully remote team member wasn’t really the done thing, but I was lucky Cox Inall had a well established model of employing regionally based staff, with a team based right around Australia from Emerald in Central Queensland out to the wheat-belt in WA.

Obviously, today a silver-lining of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a rise in the flexibility of workplaces and an increasing number of people working remotely, which I think is something that has and will only continue to boost the vibrancy and dynamism of regional towns.

I think it has also changed the way people work, in the sense that there is an increased willingness to use the technology available to keep the show on the road.  Before the pandemic, I would regularly travel to client meetings in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, often at short notice. I loved this aspect of the job, but now with a young family the prospect of jumping on a plane with less than 12 hours’ notice seems nearly impossible. Fortunately, COVID has meant the expectation around “being in the room” at client meetings has changed and the need to travel has reduced greatly.

What is a typical day like for you?

They’re a bit chaotic at the moment! With a 16-month-old son and another baby coming in January, I’m either up early trying to squeeze in some exercise before Sid wakes up or getting organised for a daycare and work day. I work three days a week at the moment — dropping Sid to daycare and going into a shared workspace in Mudgee. On non-work days, Sid and I spend as much time out of the house as we can — either doing things in the garden, driving around in the buggy and going to work with Dad, or playing with the dogs and Sid’s pony, Betty.

What do you see as the benefits of regional life?

The sense of community in regional towns is something that took me a little while to recognise, but now I think is one of the best parts of living in a small town. Geography is no longer necessarily a career handbrake, and regional towns are thriving as a result.  Also, space! Something which I definitely took for granted before Sid and the pandemic came along (at about the same time!)

Goonoo Goonoo Station

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Let’s get this one out of the way straight away — and residents of Murrurundi will relate to this, as it’s often a subject of hot debate amongst first-time visitors. “The most widely accepted version of Goonoo Goonoo is gunna-goo-noo, but honestly we have heard a lot of interpretations,” explains Sarah Haggarty patiently, who with her husband Simon, are part of the family behind the revival of this historic sheep station. The name means ‘running water’ in the language of the Gamilaraay, the language of the local First Australians. Today, the 4000 hectares just 25 kilometres south of Tamworth, NSW, have been transformed into luxury accommodation.

Here, we ask Sarah a few questions about the award-winning restoration.

What were your first impressions of Goonoo Goonoo?

Our first visit was in October of 2011. I was overwhelmed by the scale of the property, and the terrible state of repair that every building was in. I remember that The Inn had no floor and had plants growing inside, and that the Chapel was so rotten and full of junk that you were unable to get more than 6 feet from the door. I think that on the first visit we didn’t really get a good grasp on what was possible, it was more a case of simply trying to understand the buildings and their relationship to each other.

The restoration was such a massive project. Did you realise that when you first took it on?

It was! I don’t think anyone involved realised the scale of the project. Due to the volume of buildings and the size of the building team at this point, we focused on the Homestead and the Office. I think that as we neared the halfway point of completion on the Office, we started to really finalise the plans for the inner staff buildings, the Butchers Shop, the Stone Store and the Inn, and at this point realised we still had half a dozen more buildings to go, along with the construction of the brand new restaurant building, and the remediation of the Woolstore which took over 12 months on its own.

In terms of process, we focused initially on how we wanted the final property layout to work from a functional point of view. Once this was determined and locked in, we focused on on finalising plans and finishes for each building, before moving onto the next. This way we were not spread too thin at any point, and could ensure that the quality was maintained throughout.

What were the highs and lows?

I would say the highs were the completion of each building, and also walking through the Village on days off when there was no-one around, being able to really appreciate the spaces as they came back to life. The lows through the construction would definitely have included the incessant rain. There was no roads or pathways, and the clay that is found all over the property would stick to your shoes and make it a chore to simply walk around.

Any surprising discoveries during the restoration?

We found the original hymn books and Sunday school records in the Chapel from  the 1950s-60’s. These were made even more interesting as we actually became friendly with one of the families who used to live at GGS and their names were in the book!

We also found old envelopes and other historic scraps of paper that had been stuffed in holes behind window frames and the like in an effort to keep the wind out! Unfortunately when the property was sold in 1985, the vast majority of original furniture, fittings etc was sold in a clearing sale. Luckily some of the staff at the time used their own money to buy some items and kept them on site.

What do you love about the time you have spent at GG? I love the Village garden. It is so peaceful to walk around, particularly on an early morning and view the buildings from the outside. It really gives a sense of what the property used to be, and how the buildings related to each other.

What’s your day like when you are there? A typical day would include staff meetings, visiting the restaurant to hopefully sample some new ideas, a trip into town to collect odd supplies, phone calls with suppliers, and a fair bit of time on the computer, making sure everything is running smoothly. Most of my time is spent wandering around, talking to the staff and guests, making sure that standards are being met and that our customers are having the best experience possible.

For more information, visit goonoogoonoostation.com

Video thanks to Destination NSW

Murrurundi: a garden playground

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In what can only be described as a continuing lockdown article double-down, amateur whore-to-culturalist Michael Reid will literally drift off whilst wide awake on discussing the joys of Long Bed planting which he shares in this month’s first story.

But wait, there is more. Possibly not to be read out loud to the kiddies, but Hell why not….as every parent scares their children, you could at least make a concerted effort… in our second article he shares his general thinking on the use of Blood & Bone in the garden. It is bone crunchingly revolting.

Mulch On or Mulch Off

During early January I was deeply concerned as to my Hellebores (Helleborus orientalis). Don’t you just hate that – when a pretentious garden writer throws in the Latin botanical identification- after having already provided the reader with the perfectly recognisable and widely used common garden name. Well, I have done it now, so let us move on.

So, there I was at Bobadil House, Murrurundi NSW, in 41-Celsius temperatures and my Hellebores, planted under the English Elm-forest (Ulmus procera), were wilting under continuing water restrictions. A body can stand a great deal in life – hypothermia experiments in the Arctic, having your ATM network go down, travelling Economy – but let me tell you, when your Hellebores droop in the shade, then the world’s gone to hell in a bucket. To combat this vegetative shrivel I was up from 6am till well after 6pm every day, watering, watering, watering from what was left of my rainwater tanks. Madness. Then it struck me – the answer is mulch.

Now mulch, for those of you who do not know, is not some trippy Nimbin, Age of Aquarius hippy thing. No, no! Mulch is shredded plant matter that you surround and lightly cover your plants with. It acts both as a slow-release fertiliser and organic blanket, designed to reduce evaporative water loss. So a-mulching we went, spreading about a dozen bails of old hay around the garden beds and under the young trees. It must be said that stock-feed hay is far from perfect mulch, as it tends to carry seeds, but we were desperate gardeners.  Therefore, the first gardening tip from me is that mulching works a treat but do avoid livestock hay.

Now for those that know me (and those legions who would rather not,) it may be apparent from this missive that in my late middle age I have become somewhat of a gardening convert. Displaying, unfortunately, all the signs of the zealous convert – an affliction that is vulgar when it comes to religion and no less so I suspect, when it comes to gardening. I have discovered gardening as an art form. It must also be said from the outset, that I am not a physical gardener as such. However, I do good ‘garden supervision’. My gardeners, Mitchell Black & Hayden Kayne, are a marvel of ability and small country town patience. I tend to water, potter about and contemplate improvements – I think of the Palace of Versailles and work my imagination up. Mitchell and Hayden on the other hand, tend to do.

I like scale in a garden and am fortunate enough to be able to design over nearly six hectares. In its early days the garden layout was dictated by the old garden plantings of the late Trixie Kelleher (my wife’s very distant relative), a garden of large gracious trees that had been slowly abandoned over the decades, too much blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) and privet (Ligustrum lucidum). The bones of the garden were resumed and redefined nearly twenty years ago under the talented eye of the late Sydney garden designer, Kimberly Appleby.

Like much contemporary living, the garden is intended to be an extension of the house. Above all I want the garden to complement the art gallery. Large sculptures will one day be placed in a parkland setting – a joy that one is unable even to consider in Sydney. I want the beauty within the four walls of the former convict cell block and new gallery to be echoed within the garden. The buildings themselves are on the whole old and established. The house and stables were built between 1840-1842, from locally quarried sandstone, for the A.A. Company surveyor, Henry Dangar. When Nellie’s great-great grandfather bought the house, it was called The White Swan Inn.  Later it was known as The Woolpack Inn and then The Mountain View Inn, finally being renamed Bobadil House in the 1860s. Maintaining the architectural simplicity of the buildings, which are early Victorian bordering on the austerity of the Georgian, the garden is straightforward and largely no nonsense.

  I like trees. I think in another life I was an Edwardian tree-hugger. Hopefully a wealthy, privileged, landed and wearing-of-tweed one, but a tree- hugger nonetheless. So, the garden is largely one of trees, with one significant garden bed – populated in summer predominantly by Hollyhocks (Alcea) and foxgloves (Digitalis). In the Long Bed I am not one for colour schemes, preferring a jolly good sprinkling of self-sowns. Self-sown flowers are a bit like self-made people, in the end you reap a vigorous mixed bunch that do not always play well together in the sandbox – their fission however, is most stimulating.

We are fortunate to have a forest of various elms surrounding the house, creating a moody break from the strong western sun. The trees and sun converge to direct much of the gardening action. Take another all too obvious tip from me: you cannot fight a garden’s microclimate. Deeply concerned as I was with my Hellebores over summer, I was nonetheless ruthless in expunging Hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) from the smaller front beds. Perfectly in keeping with the house they were, but in the wrong, way too hot spot they were a-planted. Their melted grandeur was transplanted elsewhere. In middle age and under the soothing influence of the garden I am learning to bend like the willow. Having said that, if that noxious bastard should end up on my garden, then out by the roots it would go.

So, there I was in January mulching, working with the local microclimate and, best of all, moving all and sundry hither and yonder with a bobcat. Gardens, I have discovered, are moveable beasts capable of being settled only when they are successful. Possibly the most fun boys’ toy ever invented, a bobcat is like a highly manoeuvrable toy Tonka tractor on steroids. I truly recommend everyone have access to one. Lose the four-wheel drive.  Bobcats are so much more fun in the suburbs. Darryl Walsh – my almost permanently employed bobcat man – rips, tears, digs, clears, rebuilds, levels-out and repositions the land with swift skill. You see, if you plant a tree and then want to move the whole thing elsewhere- then a bobcat is for you. With said bobcat, and some care and skill you can almost do anything.

The entire architecture of a garden can, and possibly should, be continually honed and defined. Good gardens require constant reinvigoration and improvement. This summer, I moved the fence line closest to the house about four metres to the left. A bobcat and two fencers did this job in four days. You see, when we first took possession of the house we immediately dog-proofed the two hectares of the grounds surrounding the house. Instead of clearing a portion of dense forest adjacent to the house, we fenced in front of the forest, and the result was just a tad too close to the house for comfort.  So it has been moved. Oh the joy of a bobcat – simple and quick in achieving its goal!

Seventy-five eucalypts of varying species have been planted in the Creek. Eucalypts are a selfish species by nature- so big, and yet they throw so little shade. On the topic of blood and bone alone, one could bang on for days, and in the next article I do.

Death in the Garden

If I stop to think about it, and rather macabrely I quite often do, the garden at Bobadil House Murrurundi is the last resting place for a good many beasts of the field.

Having presumably been butchered for their meat, livestock (or one could then say deadstock) have their bloody carcasses brutally crushed and finely ground down to make an aromatic, tasty little garden meal, known as Blood & Bone. The killing fields that are my garden are lightly sprinkled (not) – almost carpeted (yes)- with the Blood & Bone fertiliser from dozens of deceased beasties. I fear the ghosts of dead cattle are everywhere. I mourn them – but I do love their work.

An animal product rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and calcium, the fertiliser Blood & Bone, due to its slow release of organic nutrients that do not burn, is ideal for preparing garden beds, planting shrubs, trees or roses and when feeding all garden plants especially Australian natives… blah, blah, blah.

To my mind, if it stands still in the garden, then it could do with a handful of Blood & Bone.

All the advice you will ever receive on the subject of applying Blood & Bone to the garden recommends a light sprinkling of the preferably genuine article, heavily watered-in. Shock, Horror there are some Blood & Bone products out there that are only BASED on Blood & Bone. Buyers beware of the difference. The pros and cons of organic versus composite fertilisers aside, on a metaphysical level I have a sneaking suspicion that the granularly add-in fertilisers are an insult to dead cattle everywhere. My God, if stock are going to be slaughtered and reduced to a dry bloody pulp, then I am quite sure that they would want to end up being a part of the real 100% deal.

In terms of application, the light sprinkling of dead animals is a rather namby-pamby conservative nonsense, for, as anyone will tell you, if steroids work a treat at the Olympics then an excessive use of Blood & Bone in the garden is guaranteed to bring home a gold medal in horticulture. Throw the stuff around; I buy 20 kilo sacks of the wonder.

As for the gardener, dutifully watering-in Blood & Bone, that is so yesterday. Any web-literate gardener in their right mind will tell you to log on to weatherzone.com.au, punch in your postcode, follow the weather map and throw around the Blood & Bone on the days designated to 90% rain. Remember it is upstairs for dancing, and if you use just a little web nous, all your effort and your subsequent water bill will be greatly reduced. Natural fertiliser combined with natural watering-in methods work for me.

Blood & Bone smells – death generally does. In regards to sensitive issues of the nose, you need to let this one go. If the somewhat sweet pungent reek of carnage is a problem for you, then I suggest you book a holiday in Rome around about the time your gardener gets down and dirty. It is surprising however, how nostalgic many gardeners are about the lingering waft of pong. The stench of Blood & Bone is to many- like the smell of Napalm in the morning – one of victory.

Take a few tips from me; do NOT liberally apply Blood & Bone to the garden in the midst of summer, on the day friends are popping over for a BBQ. Like the eyes of the Australian Taxman turned towards a Cayman Islands revenue shelter, the application of Blood & Bone attracts the attention of others. Our Border Collie loves to eat the stuff, and although doing so does save on dog food overheads, their little paws do tend to leave the ‘ground-in body of a cow look’ on the bedroom sheets. Flies, flies, and more flies can also be expected to attend the party. Oh, and having ‘sprinkled’ the vegetable garden with Blood & Bone, do not forget to thoroughly wash that little green salad before serving it up at the BBQ. There was the little episode of the slightly tinged pink, crunchy garden salad, but let’s not go there.

Deciduously yours,
Michael Reid OAM

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