8 – 18 April 2021
After ten days living on a quiet working farm, we have fallen in love with the idea of a country life. ‘Let’s be farmers!’ Wide open space, zero neighbours but friendly cows and curious wildlife. Our conversation regularly turned to a growing desire to get out of Sydney and move to the country. Out of a two bedroom city apartment, into a house, with land.
Room for David to have a piano and not worry about noise. For me, room to paint in large format and make a mess. I wonder what we could do, if we had the space; physically and mentally?
This trip is partly about road testing the dream. Keeping an eye out for areas that we could see ourselves living. And to help shape an assessment criteria for what’s important to us.
We loved Shelduck Farm Cottage immediately. It’s a full sized three bedroom farmhouse with views to the Great Western Tiers. It’s heated by a central wood fire, has a verandah overlooking paddocks, walking and field guides, and even a piano. It’s perfect.
Our Hosts, Sally and Rob, had left us very generous welcome treats like a bowl of Easter Eggs; local produce including butter, cheese, yogurt, wine; and delicious home-made granola and a huge lemon cake.
“Shall we have a cup of tea and lemon cake?” I said clapping my hands together. The first order of business after unpacking the car.
“Oh my God, yes!” Was that glee in his eyes?
The Cottage was the perfect base for some interesting excursions to Higgs track, Devil’s Gullet, and Liffey Falls (previous three posts).
Our first outing was to ride the Railton Rattler from Railton to Sheffield. An out and back route, starting with a relentless uphill all the way to Sheffield. But then, ha-haa, downhill!
The route passed through back country dirt roads, forestry plantation fire-trails and a little single track. We pulled over in a pretty reserve parkland for a picnic lunch.
We stopped in at the local vineyard, 3 Willows, to pick up a couple of bottles of Pino Noir and got chatting to Susan, one of the owners. It’s a small property that they have been steadily improving over a few years and the wine is well rated.
“Did you know anything about wine making, when you bought the place?” I asked trying to imagine if we could do it.
“Not at all.” she said, “We’ve learned so much.”
They actually live in Sydney and commute here. The place is set up to self-water and fertilise, which is really clever. They dream of living in Tasmania full time one day.
We enjoyed exploring the farm, jogging down the lanes, meeting the cows, stopping and chatting with Rob when we crossed paths. Strolls in the evening to watch the sunset or getting out to see the early morning fog.
The Great Western Tiers were an ever changing backdrop to life on the farm. We watched them as the weather changed; some days they were dusted in snow, others they lurked in cloud or were out on display, resplendent in purple.
“Help yourself to the veggie patch” Sally had said when we chatted one morning. A few days later we did just that.
Following David over the possum-proof fence (slack wire) I rummaged around feeling completely out of my depth. Of course I could recognise tomatoes, and the beetroot bulging above ground, but nothing else. “Is this a weed, or garlic?” I asked Dave pulling up a plant.
“I want to learn how to grow our own vegetables.” I said giving up trying to identify anything, blaming Woolies for removing the leaves from root vegetables, and helped Dave pick tomatoes.
Back in the kitchen I unloaded the haul. “It’s quite the harvest!” I think I was as chuffed as if I’d grown them myself. “What are you going to cook?”
“A roasted tomato pasta surprise” Yum!
Staying in one place for 10 days allowed more focused creative time. Time for sketching, painting and for Dave, practising the piano and composing.
One day we set up on the deck in the sunshine and protected from the wind, another we sat beside a paddock and sketched, and on cold or rainy days we set up in the kitchen. I loved painting while listening to David working at the piano.
I had time to experiment with different watercolour styles and to focus on an oil paining. I’m quiet please with how it turned out. A view from the paddock of the great Western Tiers beyond a line of trees.
The sound of screaming pierced the night. My mind groped around in the dark. “What is that?” Like nothing I’ve heard before: mix the sound of a scream with a hiss and a sprinkle of screeching tires.
“Possums” mumbled Dave propping up on one elbow.
“Really? What time is it?”
It was close. Dave climbed out of bed and padded over to the window, it was pitch-black outside. He turned on the verandah light expecting to see them right there outside the window. But nothing. Too tired to do anything we tried to sleep through it.
Later that morning while we were painting on the verandah, it started up again. We found their den in the eves between the roof and the verandah. Clearly a turf war. Not wanting to cause a fuss, we debated ignoring them or letting the hosts know.
We asked ourselves: if we owned this house, would we want to know? They could be damaging the house.
Sally and Rob were really good about it. Sally brought down a possum trap. So simple. It was ingenious. How can I have gone my whole life, not knowing about possum traps?
The next morning we peaked from the curtains, sure enough a huge dark brown and black possum was curled up in a ball, trying to hide. Perfectly unharmed. I texted Sally to report on a successful capture. Rob popped over a few minutes later to collect and relocate it. Securing the trap to the back of farm vehicle, releasing the possum in a local reserve, and resetting the trap.
And thus a tradition was born. We trapped and relocated a total of six possums! And bonded with Sally and Rob in the process.
I made the mistake of looking into the eyes of the first possum as Rob carried him to the truck. “I’m so sorry little guy” I said. His big sad eyes killed me.
I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for the possums being stuck in the cage overnight. One evening we heard a possum drop down onto the verandah at 6pm so I ran out side to shoo him away saying it’s too soon – come back late tonight. He was torn between the tomatoes in the trap and me standing in front like a goalie. I closed the trap door and reset it when we went to bed. I heard it trigger half an hour later.
Before we arrived, Sally mentioned that a couple peacocks had mysteriously turned up on their property. Dumped, probably.
At first, we enjoyed watching a pair of male birds wonder around the garden. The luminous iridescent blue feathers of the males are so exotic. They were a little shy and stayed away from us.
The next day and a pair of hens turned up. One was bigger and more confident than the other. I thought of them as a mother and daughter. The mother hen, was the boldest of the four.
Opening the front door to bring in some firewood before breakfast, we startled each other. The two hens were standing on the table, almost bringing them to eye level.
“Oh! Good morning, you two” They just stood there, looking at me. I noticed they’d left poo on the table and made a mental note to clean it up, after breakfast. When I came back, Rob had already cleaned it off, when he re-set the possum trap. And this too was added to the tradition.
As the days went on, the birds became more familiar, and hung out on the veranda. I looked up from painting one day to find Mother-hen standing on the table looking into the living room, watching us.
“That’s a bit weird.” I said to Dave. “Do get the feeling we’re being watched?” We chuckled.
And I swear the poos got bigger. One poo was so unbelievable, I had to photograph it with a 50 cent piece, for scale. Think Mr Whippy.
“Oh Noooo!” Dave yelled. Instinctively I pictured why. We’d walked into the garage. As Dave approached the driver’s door he found a male peacock sitting on the hood, next to a giant poo.
David, me and the bird all startled each other. Dave instinctively shooed it off. The bird, cornered, scrabbled up the hood and windshield, his huge claws gaining no purchase. Wings beating, claws screeching on the paint work, he madly flapped towards me. I’d opened the passenger door and ducked down as this huge flapping ungainly beast clawed its way over my head, across the roof and plopped down onto the gravel driveway and together with the other three they took off.
I’ve watched David pick a stray leaf off the hood, watched him blow dust off the back door, and pull into a car wash when ever we pass one. So a huge steaming mount of peacock poo and scuff marks on the hood…well. Not cool.
We went from admiring them to dreaming up recipes: “Roasted Peacock was a medieval delicacy” I suggested.
“Moroccan Peacock…Peacock Vindaloo…” he chuckled.
Staying on farms has us curious about farming and what’s involved day-to-day. What is life like for farmers? We saw a tiny fraction of what Rob was up to, one moment passing the cottage in a tractor, or the little farm-ute (possum-mobile). Cows would appear in one paddock, then another. I was itching to ask them a million questions about it all. So when Sally invited us to join them for dinner, along with Susan and Pete from 3Willows Winery, we were thrilled.
Under a crisp cold starry sky, we climbed into the Everest for the drive to the other side of the farm. As we turned onto the narrow lane in the dark, our field of vision was limited to the beam of headlights.
“Woah!” We said in unison. Startled and confused by our lights hundreds of small dark pademelons bounded every which way. Some hopped out of the way, some hopped along with us, others froze in the lights. Dave slowed right down and deftly navigated through the cute chaos.
“This is what I must have seen in the grass this morning” I said thinking back to watching a clump of rustling grass at the fence line, thinking is might have been a wombat.
Dave slowed the car to a stop as we reached a heavy iron gate. I jumped out and went to open it. I reached over the top rail and grabbed the latch and pulled. It didn’t budge. I tried again. Nothing. Okay put your back into it Carol. I put a foot against the fence post for leverage and pulled hard, and it opened! You city-softy.
Pushing the gate open also needed my full effort, the roller catching in the gravelly dirt.
“Where’s the intercom buzzer & remote control” I joked suddenly feeling very Eastern Suburbs “…imagine if this is the wrong house…”
Warm house lights glowed in the distance and we followed the lane between paddocks and pulled into the gravel driveway. What a beautiful house. We’d seen it in the distance, from an afternoon run. The entry light switched on, the huge timer door swivelled open and Sally and Rob came outside to welcome us. I handed Sally some flowers and kissed hello.
“Thank you, I love lilies” she said warmly while David and Rob were shaking hands.
We noticed another set of car lights in the distance and knew Susan, Pete and Ollie were arriving.
“That’s good timing” I said and turned to shake Robs hand hello.
The house is a contemporary design with a golden rammed earth spine, high ceilings, polished concrete floors, floor to ceiling windows, a cosy fireplace and interesting artwork. Not what springs to mind when you think ‘farmhouse’.
Rob and Sally moved to Tassie four years ago, to try farming where it rains. Sally referred to themselves as ‘climate refugees’. Oh how we relate. They spent two weeks driving around looking for property and found this beautiful part of the world. NW Tasmania, they decided had the best climate and access to Launceston and Davenport Airports, and the ferry. Living in the existing house (‘our’ cottage) they spent 18 months building their dream house. This is also something we’ve been considering.
Their property has plenty of underground water. In fact the neighbouring property is for sale, and they considered making an offer but for the lack of water and the bottom of the hill where the house and sheds are situated. This means you couldn’t easily sub-divide and sell that bit off. It suddenly occurred to me just how little we know about evaluating land. Both Rob and Pete offered to give us a second opinion on Tasmanian property we were considering. So generous.
Pete and Susan live between Sydney’s Northern Beaches and their boutique winery 3Willows around the corner. We could tell how much Pete loves Tasmania and Launceston. They’ve built a couple of townhouses there with the intention to live one. I was surprised to hear that Susan couldn’t find a job here being a secondarily school teacher, particularly after she mentioned the incredibly low literacy rates in the state.
“Which subjects do you teach?” asked David
“Ancient History and Latin.” Oh, I see.
3Willows has been on the market, because Pete and Susan want their young son to do his schooling in Sydney, and they announced that they had just made a sale, today. We could see the strength of the friendship between these two couples in the mixed response from Sally and Rob: happy for them and yet disappointed that they’re leaving.
Sally had prepared a delicious meal for us: homemade smoked salmon moose made from the neighbouring salmon farmer. A cheese plater and homemade oatcakes. A roast lamb and home grown potatoes and veggies. And for dessert was a delicious apple and rhubarb pie and homemade ice cream. What a treat.
I can’t remember how it came up in conversation, but after dinner Sally said
“I hope the peacocks haven’t been a problem?”
“Not until yesterday, when they crossed the line!” I chuckled
“I thought we weren’t going to talk about it?” said Dave with rising concern in his eyes.
Did I heed the warning in my husband’s eyes? After a warm meal and a few glasses of sparkling wine? I felt like we were all friends now, and besides it’s hilarious.
Pete thought the contrast between us was funny, my Swiss directness and David’s English ‘don’t make a fuss’.
We have thoroughly enjoyed meeting this group of friends. It was a night of connecting with like-minded people. Even though we have different lives to each other, I feel like we could be great friends.
I painted a watercolour and charcoal scene of Shelduck Farm for Sally & Rob. I was a little embarrassed leaving it for them, but I wanted it to be a small token of thanks for welcoming us into their lives, for a moment.