Australia to Texas — Our Last Learning Experience in Australia

Reader Contribution by Jim Christie
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We’re in the final stages of planning our return to Texas. After years of planning and working on the property in small bursts and slowly through contractors and others via remote control, I will be in Texas from early February for the foreseeable future. While I’m really happy to be “going home” and essentially going from being involved in the IT industry on a daily basis to working on the homestead and doing projects I’ve only dreamt of for years, there will be some sadness on leaving Australia. After all, we’ve been here ten years this year and that constitutes over half of Julie’s and my life together.  We have some wonderful friends here and have an exceptional number of memories of fun places, lovely people and business and personal growth and adventures. We will truly miss Australia but at the same time are incredibly excited about the future and the opportunity to be close to family and friends again in the USA.

As we have evolved our plans and aspirations for the homestead and projects in TX, it has become more and more clear that food is going to be a central theme – learning more about food, growing food, canning and preserving food, and encouraging our friends and family to become more aware of the implications of food and the food chain on our health and well-being. While here in Australia, one of the people we have come to appreciate (and final meet and know) is Matthew Evans, aka “The Gourmet Farmer” a wonderful program here in Australia on the SBS.  Here’s a bit about the Gourmet Farmer and Matthew:

“Ever wondered what it’d be like to leave a cushy city job and set up a small farm without any experience of rural life? Join Matthew Evans as he adjusts from being a restaurant critic to learning exactly where his food is coming from, on a farmlet in Tasmania’s beautiful Huon Valley. Matthew Evans was once trained as a chef, before crossing to the dark side of the industry and becoming a restaurant reviewer. After five years and 2,000 restaurant meals as the chief reviewer for The Sydney Morning Herald, Matthew realised that chefs don’t have the best produce in the land, normal people who live close to the land do. So he moved to Tasmania, to a small patch of earth where he’s raising pigs and sheep, milking a cow and waiting for his chickens to start laying.”
The show has been a fun thing for us to watch over the past few years and we become more and more interested in meeting with Matthew and finding out more about what he’s doing, how he made the change and what advice he might offer us in our upcoming adventure.
One of the things Matthew has done is a “long table” dinner in his new home town of Cygnet, Tasmania (population about 800 I think).  When we got the email about the upcoming dinner in August (middle of the winter here), we made our reservations right away.  We also decided to make it a long weekend, travel to TAS on the “Spirit of Tasmania” – an overnight ferry from Melbourne to Devonport on the north coast of TAS (Cygnet is on the opposite side about 4 hours away).   We’d see a few things, stop by Hobart and the Salamanca Market (where Matthew and his partner Nick Haddow have a shop called A Common Ground.  Here’s a couple of pictures – Salamanca Market, A Common Ground – the store, and Nick Haddow and I in the store.
It’s a really wonderful shop where you can get all manner of fresh meats (from Matthew’s pigs and other local sources), cheese from Nick’s Bruny Island Cheese Company and many others.

From there, we went on down to Cygnet (an hour or so) to stay at the Old Bank B&B.  Not only was this a very nice place to stay, but the long table dinner to be held in a day or two would be at the Orangery connected to the Old Bank B&B so getting home after the event would be easy.  Here’s the B&B and Orangery:

Shortly after we checked in and got settled, Matthew Evans himself came by the B&B to check out various things about the setup and to bring in a fair amount of provisions and items to be used at the dinner the following day.  This gave us a great chance to meet Matthew and talk with him for awhile.  Even better, since pork from his farm was on the menu (along with many other seasonal produce products like swedes, turnips, parsnips, etc – remember August is winter here), he was really happy to get our recently produced apple sauce (the jar he’s holding) as an additional item to serve with the pork.

This was a nice treat for us and we got to spend a lot more time with Matthew and his wife Sadie not only the evening of the dinner (Matthew was pretty busy cooking and serving) but for breakfast the following  morning.  The only caveat was that I had to help Matthew carry the tables a few doors down to the community centre the morning after the dinner.  Fortunately everything in Cygnet is pretty close by so we didn’t have to carry things very far. 

Here are a couple of pictures of the dinner – including a couple pictures of Julie with various people.  The first is with our host (left) at the B&B and Sadie – Matthew’s wife.  The second is with Winsor Dobbin – a wine critic now also residing in Cygnet.  Winsor gets lots of bottles of wine to sample and clearly can’t drink all he gets so was happy to bring some of his nice bottles over as part of the dinner.  The beauty of this dinner was that nothing (save the apple sauce we brought from Victoria) was raised or grown and harvested more than about ten miles from where we were eating.  While eating nothing but products grown or raised within ten miles of your house wasn’t a new concept when I was a small boy, it’s almost unheard of now.  I can tell you that there’s something very special about having a meal like this – both in the food and the conversation.  What a delightful evening.

To share a little of the beauty of a small part of the world in southern Tasmania – here are a few of the pictures we took in and around Cygnet Tasmania – population 800:
So we fondly and sadly bid farewell to Tasmania, Australia and this huge part of the world called Asia Pacific.  We will miss Australia and our friends while at the same time look forward with anticipation and excitement to the next phase of our lives – friends, family and our homestead in Texas.

Next time I blog, it’ll be from Chateau Christie in Texas.  Julie will be still in Australia (in all probability) wrapping things up (it takes quite a bit of effort to unwind ten years of activity and “stuff”) and I will be busy getting Chateau Christie livable.  And since it will be February in South Texas, I need to get cracking on things like gardens (the property has never had anything cultivated on it), chicken coops and other things that need to be done before we’re into Spring.

Good bye Australia.  Hello Texas.