Nick Andrew is a Beaumaris boy. He has that air of a kid who grew up by the sea. He has limbs slightly worn from battling against the windsurfer and a big upfront voice from talking against the wind. But Nick was an observant kid and took in all those canter levered block houses in the sand dunes as he rode around on his BMX. Those preposterous Australian modernist creations with floor to ceiling windows, flat rooves and mixed mediums where brick, steel, wood and aluminium collided to create a new form of Australian architecture. He saw it all.
Lynda Gardener has an infectious enthusiasm. Her eyes light up as she describes a house she is styling or the new small hotel she is working on. The interior stylist, with her broad smile and signature mane of untamed hair, is an unmissable part of the local business community.
Back in 2007 the millennial drought was well under way. The country was dry and farming communities were hurting. Clunes, the historic town 40km west of Daylesford, was suffering. Shops were closing and there was an uneasy sense of decline in the community. A group of locals put their minds together and decided to gather some book traders and turn Clunes into a mini book fair for a day. They expected a few hundred people. Six thousand showed up.
Danny Wootton is a quiet man. Softly spoken with a calming energy about him. You get the distinct impression that he sees the world differently. And not just because he spends most of his time looking at it through a lens.
The last of autumn’s leaves tumble down Daylesford’s Howe Street as grey rain clouds gather over Mount Franklin on the horizon. Chef Matthew Carnell wanders out into the cold embrace of chilly air. "I bloody love winter," he says, holding out his arms to accept the fat droplets of rain beginning to fall. “It’s a chance to eat all the good things,” he says. “Cheese, charcuterie, boeuf bourguignon, fondue," he says, dropping the words for classic French dishes like a waiter placing plates.
“Those bloody ducks!” says chef Hugh Maxwell, half frustrated, half exasperated. The wild wood ducks have been into the kitchen garden at Sault restaurant again and eaten his leafy greens. The gardens supply a good deal of the herbs, edible flowers, leafy greens and some of the vegetables for the restaurant. They sit under the airy dining room, with its 180-degree view overlooking a lavender plantation, lake, chapel and the kitchen garden. Hugh, however, doesn’t resent the ducks as they only nibble the leaves they can get to under the netting. “They also keep the grass down,” says Hugh with a grin. “Along with the kangaroos."
Daylesford’s Farmers Arms Hotel is the type of character-filled, friendly pub that every country town wishes it had - and which dozens of metro pubs have tried try to emulate. The beautiful red brick building, complete with red geraniums in window boxes, gilt sign-writing on windows and clipped hedge houses the quintessential character filled bar.
If you had to write a job description for Zack Grumont, it would take you some time. He does a lot of different jobs at Guildford Winery. He spends his week in the kitchen preparing for the weekend. This involves a lot of preserving, fermenting, making charcuterie and general prep. Zack also wears another cap as one of the winemakers on this small vineyard on the main road between Daylesford and Castlemaine. When we catch up, Zack seems relaxed. The busy weekend is days away and the 2019 vintage is quietly settling into the various barrels in the cellar.
After the busy harvest and demands of vintage, a veil of a contemplative calm has gently descended over Curly Flat, a small winery near Lancefield. “This is the time of year for reflection,” says winemaker Matt Harrop. He’s been here for 18 months now. Before that he was at Shadowfax, making wine from vineyards across the state. Now he lives a few minutes away from the vineyard and feels every frost and every northerly wind. “May is a time working out what we did right and what we did wrong,” says Matt matter of factly.
Drive to the eastern edge of Daylesford, where the elms begin to give way to farmland. Turn at the Farmers Arms and just before you get to the old railway bridge, take a left and follow the road for a few hundred metres to the old butter factory on your left. What you’re confronted with is a building that is distinctly Ye Olde Worldly, even King Arthur.
The aroma of baking bread fills the backyard. Sweet, dark and nutty it rolls around on the breeze. In the kitchen out the back of a home in the heart of Daylesford, two women perform a much-practised dance as the knead, shape and bake beautiful looking sourdough loaves. The space is not expansive, so they have worked ways to move around each other that are almost balletic. They are Katy Bauer and Alison Wilken, the brains, brawn and passion behind Two Fold Bakehouse.
Ralf Fink is a Fleischmeister. A German master butcher. Born near Dortmund in the north east of Germany he grew up around smallgoods. His father Otto was also a Fleischmeister, and they both graduated from the same academy in Frankfurt. "I was sixteen when I started my apprenticeship," says Ralf. He speaks English with a soft German accent and grammatic perfection. Clean cut and well-presented he maintains high standards.
Cameron Saunders and Sallie Harvey have a well-honed repertoire. They set up gags for each other and finesse the others' sentences. They have spent a lot of time together. Sallie is a huntress, cook and singer. Cameron is a DJ and record producer. Both locals, they met through their children’s schools. This summer they spent hours in Cameron’s recording studio, hidden in the bush on the outskirts of Daylesford, making an album that will be performed live on Friday, June 21. Cameron, sitting comfortably in a plush upholstered chair of the Palais in Hepburn where they are performing this month, explains the process.
Wife and husband Karan Hayman and Mark Howson are both successful modern artists living on a beautiful property on the edge of Kyneton looking out over the town towards Mount Macedon. They have both been influential in the Melbourne scene of the late 20th century being founding members of ROAR Studios, an artist collective where emerging Melbourne artists could paint and show their work.
Delay for a moment, as we did, and I’ll take you to a country town, place you at the entrance of an old Scout Hall on a Saturday afternoon, where ladies have set up tables and laid out their stalls with their kids, selling knitwear, soap and not much else to the few who wander in.
This time last month we were still experiencing warm dry days and the ground was yet to be dampened by any rain. By the time May edition hit the streets, the rain had started. And now, only a short month later, we have not just had days of gorgeous, soaking rain but frosts and snow. A farmer's life has never been easy but in today’s rapidly changing climate, many are being stretched to their limits. You can support them directly by attending a local Farmers market where you can buy their beautiful produce direct.
As we hurtle at break-neck speed toward Winter, there is still no sign of any real rain or even a dramatic cooling of temperature. The hottest, driest Summer on record is still wreaking havoc for our farmers and gardeners although the brilliant Autumnal colours showering streets in reds and golds seem quite oblivious to this unusually mild weather. Here's hoping the rains come soon before the frosts arrive.