MEG LAW finds a farm stay adventure with her family in Victoria brings back memories of a simple childhood
‘… And into the field I go, to lose my mind and find my soul’ (Anon)
My husband had been itching to get the family to do a farm stay for years. Finally, here we were, driving through the big wooden gates, the car vibrating as it passed over the cattle grid, competing with the raucous animal noises coming from the surrounding paddocks.
Having grown up on a dairy farm, my husband was well versed in the rituals of milking and feeding cows, collecting eggs, rounding up sheep and tending to the animals before the sun rose each day. He was eager to introduce the kids to this notion of getting back to basics and living off the land, with acres of paddocks to explore, animals to meet and fresh country air to breathe.
Unfortunately, my experience with farm life was not as legitimate (nor sentimental) as my husband’s, and was more about fulfilling a fantasy of being a ‘McLeods Daughter’, wearing checked shirts, designer jeans, boots and looking good in an Akubra. But there is something to be said about the tourism phenomenon, which has soared worldwide as farmers have sought to supplement their incomes by providing accommodation and hands-on experiences to guests. This desire to trade in the city life for a weekend in the bush is real, and we were about to find out what all the fuss was about.
FRESHWATER CREEK COTTAGES AND FARM STAY
Arriving at our ‘home away from home’ for the next five days, Freshwater Creek Cottages, the kids flung open the car doors and raced down the gravel path to get acquainted with their new animal friends. We pulled up at our farm cottage, which shared the same name as our daughter Daisy, and were greeted by a bright, cheerful weatherboard building oozing country charm, with a front porch lined with terracotta pots full of colourful flowers.
Imagine masses of delphiniums, daisies, roses and hydrangeas mingling together and spilling out of the beds, evoking the whimsical child within and making me want to skip to the front door! I almost felt like Calamity Jane in that scene from the musical where she transforms a run-down cabin into a darling cottage, all while singing the song ‘A Woman’s Touch’.
Seven charming self-contained cottages are the centrepiece of this sprawling 20ha property in the Freshwater Creek area. A 15-minute drive from the popular surfing mecca and coastal town of Torquay in Victoria, it’s the perfect base to take in everything the region has to offer.
The cottage has views over the grass paddocks, with a large queen-sized master bedroom and a second ‘bunk room’ for the kids, as well as a large lounge area to reconnect together in front of the fire each night. The kids helped dad collect wood and light the fire, which was a great family ritual during our stay, and the porch was ideal for stargazing and watching the epic sunsets cast their orange glow over the paddock each evening.
MEET THE FARMERS
Owned by Marissa and ‘Farmer Phil’, the property provides a great family getaway, with natural bushland and farming paddocks to explore. Phil is the quintessential Aussie, who likes a firm handshake, isn’t afraid of hard yakka, and who has a deep affiliation with, and love of, the land. He has a down-to-earth manner and cheeky grin, and his old, weathered hat could tell a thousand stories.
Marissa is the backbone of the farm stay business, who enjoys a good natter and is as stoic and honest as they come. She oozes country hospitality and warmth with her sunny disposition, tales of farm life and her passion for organic fare and the ‘paddock to plate’ movement, whereby their hard work pays off and they are rewarded with their very own chemical-free, paddock-raised beef.
They make a great team, and standing there on the wrap-around verandah at the front of their homestead, it felt as though we had been friends for years. Within minutes we had arranged to have a tractor ride, ordered a pound of bacon, milk and fresh eggs as part of the breakfast pack, and were given instructions on where to meet that evening to feed the lambs. Marissa and Phil encourage their guests to join in with the daily activities across the farm, or to sit back and take in the scenery. Wildlife is abundant in the area, so they told us not to be too surprised if we caught the odd kangaroo or echidna ambling about the place.
On arrival, we told the kids there was only one rule on this adventure, and that was to switch off the screens and plug into nature to embrace the farm life. Thankfully they follow similar rules at home, so they were more than happy to wolf down their porridge each morning, throw on the gumboots and take off for the day.
Each day was all about exploring outside, helping with everything from sorting the animal feed on the trucks to collecting eggs, rounding up the sheep and picking apples from the orchard. When there were no chores to be done, it was time to ride bikes, play hide ‘n’ seek, talk to the animals and have some good ole fashioned fun!
As I watched them walk back to the cottage each evening hand-in-hand, covered in dirt in their denim dungarees and muddy gumboots, a smile overcame my face. There isn’t a sight as beautiful as kids experiencing life on the farm – a natural sanctuary for them to run free and be wild, not dissimilar to our childhood when it was less about artificial stimulation and plastic toys and more about being outdoors all day, building forts, having picnics, collecting worms, chasing each other on our bikes and getting grubby! Childhood nostalgia is a strong emotional hook, and this farm stay certainly brought it all back.
There is so much to keep the kids entertained, including a children’s play area set amongst the trees, loads of picnic areas dotted throughout the property, a cubby house, swings and even a seesaw in the paddock.
The best part is that, while the kids are so engrossed in their farm duties, the adults get a chance to kick back on the porch with a cuppa and read a book. Mind you, it’s hard not to want to get amongst it each day, and we found ourselves joining the kids in their quest to learn more about farm life. At one stage I even donned an apron and made a country-style, home-cooked meal – and actually enjoyed it, probably due to the fact there were no time pressures and I had fresh, organic fare readily available.
The memories of our farm stay are endless. Dad giving the kids wheelbarrow rides; the smell of freshly cut hay; kids screaming and running scared from the pecking chickens flapping their wings as they collected eggs from the coop; nightly chores of bottle-feeding calves, rounding up the sheep when the same crazy calf would always playfully ram one of us over; sitting in the back of the open tractor listening to Phil’s stories; waking up to cattle mooing outside the bedroom window; and the bleating of a tiny lamb, born overnight.
As far as our family is concerned, farm stays are an absolute winner. The kids get to learn first-hand what no book or school could teach. When it came time to leave the farm it was a long drawn-out farewell, with a few tears from our youngest, Jasper, who was very attached to his new friends, in particular ‘Percy the pig’. They clearly had some sort of ‘bro code’ thing going on, like a silent handshake. He reluctantly waved goodbye through the fence, and Percy replied with a loud snort, a flick of sticky mud and an almighty huff… no doubt telling him to return soon.
With heavy hearts we waved goodbye to farm life and headed out the gates, with the familiar chorus of cows offering their symphony of moos… ’until we meet again!’