beautiful Byng + a bygone era

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Byng is another village steeped in time just outside of Orange, and full of glorious history.  It’s not that easy to find, but if you’re approaching Orange from Sydney there is a turn-off to the right before you come to the Millthorpe turnoff. And if you’re coming from Orange, when you’ve passed the Millthorpe turnoff you’ll need to do a sharp left as soon as you see a gorgeous bluestone church.

It’s definitely worth the small drama of finding it, because once you’ve turned the corner you’ve turned a page in history. Settled in the 1830s by a small group of Cornish settlers, by the 1850s this is the area where scores of miners descended to search for gold in the rivers and hills around Ophir. In fact, William Tom, a local Cornish man and the first discoverer of gold in Australia, is buried in the Byng churchyard cemetery.

Sadly, the chapel and graveyard are all there’s really left of the original Byng village, but the surrounding countryside is delightful.  Taking a spin around the dirt track that circumnavigates the area really takes you back into a bygone era of horse drawn carts and walking to church on Sundays.

There are also several original homesteads such as Springfield and Bookannon, but the true delight is the Godolphin property (established in 1839) which has self-catering accommodation available in the homestead’s Old Dairy colonial cottage and the convict-built converted Stables (1859). If you want to experience living like a local in the pioneer days, this place is fabulous.

We picked up supplies from The Agrestic Grocer in north Orange before we headed out – think artisanal cheese from The Second Mouse Company,  venison salami from Mandagery Creek, as well as locally produced pancetta and pork sausages that we flung on the bbq when we got there. But first, we stopped at Millthorpe on the way to pick up a few bottles of Angullong wines – the Italian swears by this vineyard, he is in heaven every time we visit this cellar door.

By the way, this is the best thing about this region. The concept of the cellar door and ‘trying before you buy’. It’s just so enormously civilised. Take a seat at the bar of the cellar door, sample the entire range, chat with the owner, purchase several bottles of your favourites and depart. Bottleshops are so last century.”

We also stopped in at The Old Mill Cafe to pick up delicious desserts, and we weren’t disappointed. We spent the whole evening on the verandah of the Old Dairy cottage, drinking + eating + chatting + listening to the crickets. We were lucky enough to get a tour of The Stables which sleeps 6, and next time we come out here we’re bringing a bunch of Sydney friends to experience the bush in the chillier months so we can get a fire roaring.

Byng’s a great place to stay if you want a weekend of exploring, and Millthorpe is only a five to ten minute drive away for antique shopping, fine dining and great coffee. Mayfield Vineyard is also only a short drive away along the Icely Road, and I’ve said it once I’ll say it again, this is one of my all-time favourite places to visit

Enjoy, Kelly

Sydney: we came, we renovated, we left.

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We attempted to live in Sydney, truly we did. But it was a lost cause from the start.

Maybe it was because of the non-stop rain the first fifteen days we arrived. Maybe it was due to the amount of dead and decomposing wildlife we found in the abandoned terrace house we had come to help renovate – spiders, mice, cockroaches and a magpie. At least one very large rat was still alive (well, at least it was until it made the mistake of standing next to The Italian when he was holding a shovel).

With the rain came the rising damp, and the mould, and the humidity. There was fog inside the lounge room each morning and we spent an entire week cleaning mould an inch-thick off the kitchen walls before we even got started. The Italian’s first learnt Australian word on Australian soil was “yuck”.

And then four months of pain commenced, trying to assimilate into a city that tenaciously clings to its own hype, while simultaneously renovating a beast of a terrace house to pay off a karmic debt and trying to find a job.

Australia is at risk of squandering expat expertise as brain drain hits reverse…Ten years ago a Senate inquiry concluded that expats were an under-utilised resource. The inquiry recommended a series of measures to encourage the most mobile sector of the nation’s workforce, but it seems little has changed. ABC News, 13 July 2013

Nope, nothing’s changed. In fact, returning as an expat with international experience is viewed as a negative in the Sydney job market. The Committee for Sydney have acknowledged that the city struggles with the concept of attracting and being open to global talent.

And then there’s this.

Leading chief executives have conceded that many Australian companies have a problem with women in senior roles. Sydney Morning Herald, 25 October 2013

Usually the first thing people ask me when they hear that I’ve worked in the Middle East, is what was it like being a woman there. It was bloody awesome. Total respect. At work, if you were asked your opinion or thoughts in a meeting, you were listened to. In fact, you were actually asked your opinion. Whenever I’ve experienced any harassment, bullying or patriarchal patronising it’s all been in Australia. And what’s with the eye-rolling here guys? 

There’s also this increasing global trend – the concept of women as the primary breadwinners doesn’t register here, even remotely. Which is funny, as I’d say about 70% of the Australian couples I met while working in the United Arab Emirates were there because of the woman’s job. And the guy stayed at home to mind the kids. A little more about that here.

Oh, and there were tonnes of single Australian chicks in their mid-to-late 30s and 40s seriously rocking their careers over there, whereas in Australia once you hit 35 you’re done for. Blokes get until 45, but Australia has a major ageist issue it needs to get over at some stage.

And so yeah, no permanent job materialised. But I did get some freelance work paying me less than I earnt in my first entry-level job. It kept us in groceries at least, while our life savings went up in smoke on international student fees and subsidising renovations.

Here’s where I should probably add in a list of things we actually did like about Sydney. Umm…the Opera House is pretty. It’s fun driving over the Harbour Bridge. The ferry to Manly is awesome. We lived virtually next door to Porteno. The Night Noodle Markets in Hyde Park were a highlight. And after laughing at the hipster queues at Gelato Messina for 3 months we spent our last four weeks in Sydney at the top of the line every day. And umm…yep. 

So the renovations got finished. The house went on the (overinflated/outofcontrol) market and sold. The baby boomer was chuffed and we were homeless. And jobless. And broke. Yippee, welcome to Australia.

There was nothing else for it, we packed our suitcases, threw everything into storage, and did a reverse running away from home and headed over the Blue Mountains for the vineyards. If nothing else changed, we could at least console ourselves with damn good cold-climate wine.

And we did, and we are, and the tree change has been glorious. Some more on that later….

Thanks for listening, Kelly

explore Borenore

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This is soul country for me, the picture is a snap of my great-grandmother’s house in the heart of Borenore where she apparently brought up 13 children – good grief. There’s lots to explore in this rural community, just 15 minutes west of Orange – top class vineyards, orchards, restaurants, a cider house and the old convent where my Great GM went to church every Sunday (which is now a gourmet destination restaurant, wedding venue and B&B).

Driving west out of Orange along the Escort Way towards Borenore, you’ll pass the charming Hedberg Hill Wines and the unparalleled Philip Shaw Wines vineyards. This is just the start of the Borenore Trail and you’ll need to pace yourself – but if you stop off at these two places and sample the entire ranges of both you can always take a break at the nearby and contemporary Black Sheep Inn to sleep it off.

If you make it past the vineyards, you can stop in at the Hillside Orchard to pick your own cherries in season or to grab some fresh stone fruit, apples, pears as well as jams, honey and sauces from their public store. Orange Mountain Wines is just a stone’s throw away, and then you’ll come to the Borenore dilemma: a crossroads offering a multiple choice choose-your-own-adventure.

Follow the Borenore Road option and you’ll come to the Borenore Store, a breakfast and brunch restaurant open Wednesdays to Sundays and with one of the greatest selections of local wines. Check out the abandoned 1885 Borenore Village railway station while you’re in the neighbourhood (it’s just across the road) and then follow the signs to Small Acres Cyder, where they’re making some champion Australian apple cider – read the glowing reviews here.

It’s at this point that you need to chuck a u-turn and come back the way you came, otherwise you’re going to hit the start of the Cargo Road wine trail, and that’s another story entirely…

Coming back through Borenore village (blink, you’ll miss it), now venture down the Amaroo Road to discover the Faisan Estate and Printhie vineyards. Printhie has a five-star rating from James Halliday’s Wine Companion, with its cellar door open weekdays from 10am-4pm, and Saturdays from 12-4pm. Faisan is an upcoming local contender, well worth a visit but you’ll need to book ahead for a wine tasting visit. Just join their Dead Pheasant Society and be done with it.

And now heading back into Orange along the Amaroo Road, onto The Escort Way, you’ll see a left turn onto Convent Road. This is where the charm offensive really commences. The winding lane of Convent Road, a dirt track dripping in Eucalyptus, will take you back a couple of centuries and bring you to The Old Convent. This gourmet destination is a bit of a #localsecret, and it’s only open for breakfast + brunch on Sundays. And you need to book in advance. And when you get there it’s all worth it. There’s also stylish overnight accommodation for 2-4 people in the former nun’s cottage, so you may as well stay.

Instead of heading back to Orange after our visit to the convent, we followed the signs to the old gold town of Forbes instead. This took us past the historic Boree Cabonne homestead, past Escort Rock (the scene of Australia’s most dramatic gold rush era robbery), through Eugowra and the heart of bushranger country, and finally to Forbes which must have been a bustling city centre in the late 1800s and is the final resting spot of infamous bushranger Ben Hall.

Enjoy, Kelly

oldconventroad IMG_1064 IMG_1213 IMG_1217 IMG_1206 IMG_1209

cosmopolitan country cafe culture brewing

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The surprise of the new century is the cosmopolitan cafe culture that seems to have percolated throughout Orange recently. It was still cups of Nescafe and shortbread creams last time I lived here more than 20 years ago.

Bill’s Beans set the pace in 2007, with a move from Sydney to open an espresso bar and bespoke coffee roaster in a converted butcher’s shop in East Orange – with roaring success. In March 2012 they opened their flagship roastery and espresso bar ‘Factory Espresso’ in Kite Street, with its murals and black tiles giving it a distinctly ‘Surry Hills-vibe’ in the big heart of a country town. Here’s a great blog article on the Bill’s Beans / Factory Espresso experience from A Food Story.

Byng Street Local Store appeared in 2011 – on Byng Street – with its Allpress espresso and toasted Turkish bread and sourdoughs and bull nosed verandah causing an excited stir on the scene. Find ’em on Facebook.

Sipping a latte surrounded by blossoms and blooms on Summer Street, just a puddle jump away from Cook Park in the centre of town, is a drawcard for Anything Grows Cafe – which also moonlights as a boutique garden nursery. These guys are very active on Instagram, check ’em out.

With an electric combination of Campos coffee and a recording studio, the Dotted Eight cafe also sprang into action in 2012, channelling a distinctive ‘inner city laneway’ ambience by tucking itself away up McNamara Street (corner of Summer Street, just up from Hotel Canobolas) which was previously only home to some second-hand shops and garbage bins. Much has been made about the emergence of this local contender, and it was declared the ‘best coffee in town’ by the online Orange Post

(ps: The Italian agrees these guys do a mean espresso shot, so if you’re going to drink it black shoot it down here. But we personally reckon it’s a toss up for ‘best coffee’ crown between Factory Espresso and Dotted Eight).

Like a wildfire bloom The Agrestic Grocer sprang up overnight in 2013. These guys make superior iced lattes and smoothies, seriously – and/or maybe I have a penchant for slurping stuff out of jam jars. Stop for coffee and lunch and then pick up some fresh farm produce before going home, I’ve got more info on a previous post on how to ‘live like a local’.

I’m also a big fan of The Lakehouse out at Lake Canobolas, ten minutes drive out of town – we drift out every Sunday just for the coffee. I gave it a plug in a previous post ‘lapping it up at the Lake’.

And then you’ve got marvellous Millthorpe, 15 minutes outside of eastside Orange with the The Old Mill cafe and The French Press. Locals in the know also make the short pilgrimage to Borenore 15kms west of Orange to show up for weekend breakfasts at The Borenore Store and brunches at The Old Convent, but that’s another story…

Enjoy, Kelly

anyone else noticed the recent profusion of owls?

this little fella was given to me by my Italian fella for my birthday. Apparently owls are considered lucky in Italy, and according to ancient Etruscan legend you need to keep one in the house to ‘protect you’.

I’d been kind of noticing a profusion of owls popping up in homeware and gift stores over the last couple of years, replacing the usual kind of table props like ceramic apples, and doves and twin pears. It slightly registered at the time, ‘what’s with all the owls?’ but only imperceptibly. And then this festive season there seemed to be an explosion of owls – on cards, wrapping paper, bloody everything. It was a bit like ‘whoah, we’ve hit the collective consciousness here’, so what’s it all about?

Well I’ve done some digging. Starting with the Etruscans (who preceded the Greeks + the Romans), it looks like the owl was the symbol of the moon Goddess Menerwa. The owl was also sacred to Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom + learning who became known as the Goddess Minerva in Roman times, ruling over music, art, poetry, medicine, wisdom, commerce, weaving, craft and magic. Fairly busy lady, then.

Further back in the mists of time, the ancient Egyptians, Hindus and Celts revered the owl as a symbol and guardian of the underworld. Not in a drastically spooky kind of way, but as a companion of souls finding their way to the next life. In Native American, West African and Indigenous Australian cultures the owl is considered a keeper of sacred knowledge. And then, of course, you’ve got the recent phenomenon of Harry Potter – OWLS AHOY!

So back to where I’m going with all this – what’s with all the owls suddenly surfacing in the collective consciousness? Crikey, all you have to do is type in ‘owl trend’ and see what comes up on Etsy. And here’s a piece on owls in fashion and why they’re so ‘hoot’ right now. 

“The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk” said the well-known 19th-century philosopher, Hegel. Meaning that an epoch or an era can only be understood when it has entered its closing phase or is actually completely over and can be viewed with the clarity of 20:20 hindsight vision.

I’m going to hazard a wild guess here, with absolutely no qualifiers: a resurgence of balance at the dawn of a new era perhaps? if so, bring it on.

[postscript: this now just leads me to ask what was with the apples, doves and pears before the owls? hmmmm]

An owl in flight

An owl in flight

Carcoar – the town that time forgot

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I didn’t make this title up, this is seriously how this town pitches itself on the only sign on the Mid-Western Highway that gives any clue as to where it is. The charming historic village of Carcoar should possibly be more of a tourist-magnet than it  is, but for now it’s a wonderful hidden gem of a #localsecret township nestling on both sides of the banks of the Belubula River (just past Millthorpe and Blayney if you’re coming from Sydney or Orange, or you can come straight over from Bathurst).

the very lonely, abandoned railway station of Carcoar

the very lonely, abandoned railway station of Carcoar

One of Australia’s most beautifully preserved goldrush-era villages, Carcoar was originally the third settlement west of the Blue Mountains (gazetted in 1839) and earmarked for grandeur at the time with a courthouse, two banks, post office, tearooms, three churches and about three times more pubs and hotels. The Carcoar School of Arts was also erected in 1901, and the town is classified by the National Trust of Australia due to the number of intact 19th century buildings.

Starting off as an agricultural hub, the town exploded Wild Wild West-style in the 1850s with the discovery of gold. By the 1860s the place was swarming with gold-panners, escaped convicts and bushrangers, and the old Commercial Bank in the main Belubula Street was the scene of Australia’s first daylight bank robbery. The Frank Gardiner and Ben Hall gang counted the Carcoar district as their playground.

Walking down the streets here is like stepping straight back into the late 1850s – except where is everybody? Carcoar’s current lonely ambience feels a little wistful, as it was obviously a hopping place at some stage. The town got passed by as a major railway route in favour of Blayney in the 1870s, the gold started running out in the 1890s, and then in 1893 the town struck tragedy with the axe-murder of an esteemed bank manager and a female family friend by a wealthy local grazier’s son. You can read the details of the sorry tale in the local courthouse, and apparently it took the community decades to come to terms with. Not long after, WWI rolled into town and took quite a few more of the local sons – never to return. And it feels like the place kind of gave up the ghost after that.

A highway bypass in the 1970s sealed its fate, however wandering though the wide deserted streets of Carcoar now you kind of get the feeling that this place has just drifted off into a forgetful slumber and is almost, just quite on the verge of possibly, maybe waking up.

Stay + Eat

Five Frogs Guesthouse – beautifully appointed rooms, a lovely cafe and some of the best room tariff rates in the region. You can find them on Facebook

Stoke House Carcoar – charming bed + breakfast with charming hosts, and a garden cafe attached.

The Royal Hotel – recently refurbished and offering dinner, bed and breakfast.

Explore + Shop

This Sydney Morning Herald article on Carcoar provides a comprehensive list of the historic buildings, history and things to see in Carcoar. This place really comes alive once a year for Australia Day, with Cobb & Co coach rides, a re-enactment of the town being held up by bushrangers and the atmosphere of a 19th century village fair.

There are quite a few small homeware boutiques, but the real secret to Carcoar is it’s amazing antiques. Here are my two favourites (and I was really tempted not to share the details of Carcoar Trading…):

Bridge Tearooms – step straight back into the 1920s, treat yourself to a devonshire tea and shop to your hearts content if antique silver, glassware and lace doilies are your thing. They don’t have a website, and they don’t do social media. You’ll have to go there and have a real life experience.

Carcoar Trading – ummm…this is a terrible shop. really not worth the drive. I’m kidding, I’m kidding. It’s about one of my most favourite shops in the world, it’s packed to the rafters with antique porcelain, china, glassware, crystal, linen and lace. When you step inside the front door, onto the floorboards, the whole shop rattles. LOVE IT.

Enjoy, Kelly

Top tip: when you get to Blayney, the signs to Carcoar to get through town are atrocious. Follow the signs to Cowra, and then once you’re on the  Mid-Western Highway just out of town you will see a sign with poor little Carcoar tacked onto the bottom as an afterthought. Hopefully one day someone fixes this.