In October 2011, during a holiday from yachts, I took a tour with mother Judy to see what kind of land was available 90 minutes from Melbourne. I was looking for a place I might one day make a business out of – a place where people could stay, stretch out and be away from noise and the city. I headed northwest to Kyneton, where a bunch of foody types from Melbourne had settled. I thought I was looking for 10 acres, but the first parcel of land of this size I saw felt like a suburban back yard. So I searched further west where I could afford a larger plot and on the last appointment of the last day was taken down a road that eventually became a red dirt track. And it felt more and more promising the hillier and dustier things became.
Prior to putting an offer in I dragged car loads of friends out to pass judgement. I hesitate to include this clip of one such visit because it makes my now deceased dog look like the smartest individual in the vicinity (Alice at her heels). But it is one of the first records of the land and anyway, the tweeting birds make a lovely soundtrack. In five years when I know how to pronounce agistment I hope I will look back on it and smile at the naked earnestness.
What I like about Yandoit Hills are the hills (and the fact that my spellcheck tries to change Yandoit to bandit, then sandpit, then handout). Flat land is no good – the eye gets bored, particularly if that eye has the misfortune of settling upon the predominating style of rural Australian architecture. Hills seem to bring lyricism, and bloody useful opportunities for directing water across the land.
Yandoit Hills was settled by Swiss-Italians and northern Italians back in the 1850s and 60s during Victoria’s stupendous gold rush, during which time the state (although it was not quite yet a state) produced at least a third of the world’s gold output. The Italians built absolutely beautiful stone buildings, like my neighbour’s below.
So the hills and the buildings decided things for me. And certainly the creek running through was a clincher. The soil – not so good. Deep mining took the topsoil off the area between Bendigo and Ballarat and left behind what is called Castlemaine slate and sandstone. In digging foundations for a house I’ll probably come across my building materials…
So now I have 21.5 hectares of hard ground to deal with. But there is opportunity in everything and if the grapes and olives all around are anything to go by, I have a good chance of growing some things I really love. The climate is considered temperate and not far off a Mediterranean classification. That means a few nut trees, figs, and a whole host of fruit trees that love a bit of frost. Cheers to four seasons!
And as for the colour palette, which couldn’t be any further from my native Auckland’s verdant green, I was inspired by a visit last year to Huzur Vadisi, a beautiful yoga retreat set in an olive grove in Turkey. At the end of summer it was dry, but there was much beauty in this dusky landscape (the yurts didn’t hurt either).
When the sale of the land went through I knew that a rusty gardening habit born in a suburban backyard would not equip me with sufficient nous to deal with 21 hectares of farmland. Not a project for the solo operator. Enter Briele!
I met friend Briele years ago over wine, when she’d come in and drink at Ume Nomiya, my bar in Melbourne. Briele wants to live in the country too and we’re going to practise on my bit of land together while she looks for a patch nearby. More practical than me, stronger, with hands-on knowledge of a range of small animals, she is seriously credentialed. She brings the art too. And she films stuff.
We decided we’d better educate ourselves prior to moving out to Yandoit Creek Farm (working title – grimly uninspired, improvement necessary, ideas welcome). So in January we did a two-week Permaculture Design Certificate. And that little adventure deserves a post of its own.