We crossed a line

There was a problem in the chook shed. Too many blokes. Only 1 could stay – but what to do with the rest?

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We asked around town. ‘Put a sign up in IGA’ said Dave, ‘just don’t use the headline “Free Cock” like I did. ( His sign mysteriously disappeared).

‘No-one will want them’ said others. ‘They’ll just end up in the pot or thrown to the foxes’.

We ummed and ahhed for weeks, enduring the blast of 3 roosters at dawn and winning no favours with our neighbours. Gary next door has gone a bit weird. I think this might be why.

‘They have to go,’ I finally said to Leo. He nodded and looked at the mountain for a moment before replying. ‘I’ll do it.’

Leo is a country boy at heart. He was born in a small town north of Rio de Janeiro where milk trucks are still drawn by horses. Almost every house has chickens who spend their days strutting around mangy dogs asleep in the sun. Leo’s lived in cities a long time though. But as I now know, dealing with roosters isn’t something you easily forget.

As luck (not for the chooks) would have it, Camila, his sister, was visiting for the weekend. Her eyes lit up when we told her. ‘I’m in’ she said. ‘We’ll cook up a feast’. It was decided.

It was time for Shroom-boom and Fatty to go

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The Brazilians swung into action. A fire was lit (for the plucking part), the biggest pot pulled from the pantry, and a knife sharpened. Our initial plan was to keep the kids away but they wouldn’t hear of it. The adults concurred: knowing where your food comes from is important. I felt uneasy but death is everywhere in the country. Driving to the next town involves veering around numerous carcasses. And the boys do love eating chicken…

Jem nabbed the front row

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The first rooster was calm

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The second one let out a horrible shriek that made us all flinch

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It was over pretty quickly though. Camila patted them and made soothing sounds as they left us. It took a few minutes.

Their feathers were the prettiest green

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Once dead (and trust me they were) they had to be dipped into the boiling pot to loosen the feathers for plucking which was a lot of hard work. Camila was totally in control.

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I dashed ahead home to prepare the vegetables. As the sun began to set, the stove warmed up.

Turns out my father-in-law is a whiz with a cleaver and a hammer

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The cooking part was a team effort. We poured cold beers and congratulated ourselves on getting this far.

Suddenly things began to feel familiar

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The aroma of simmering chicken with red wine, garlic and herbs filled our kitchen

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Finally, many hours later, dinner was served

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So there you go. We killed our own food. It was a strange experience and I still feel a little sad about having to dispose of our handsome feathered boys, but we all learned a lot and were lucky enough to climb into warm beds with full tummies.

I feel a little tougher and I guess, a little more connected to how many people around the world live.

Not having other people sanitise your food before you eat it made me appreciate this meal in a way I never have before. Which is saying something, considering how regularly I eat.

It felt important to do this. I’m not in a hurry to do it again but I’m pleased we saw it through and hey, this never happened in Bondi. And Gary just left me some chicken scraps on the fence. I guess he’s a little changed too.

1 year on…

12 months ago we packed our lives into a truck and drove off to start life in a town few had ever heard of (Kandos in the Central West of NSW – see, told you so). We had no idea how things would pan out but we also knew things couldn’t stay as they were.

Looking back I can’t believe we actually took the step to leave everything we love: our family, friends, Sydney lifestyle and beloved ocean. Some have told us they found this incredibly brave. In my mind it was an act of desperation. Maybe it was both.

But as that wise old Socrates once said, the secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

This is exactly what we did.

We created a home

I’ve documented the transformation of the old house we bought in other posts. This was a massive task, almost single-handedly done by Leo who had never renovated anything before. We LOVE our little home. It has such a happy vibe.

I recently learned that it was the first house in the street. Knowing that this cottage with its big yard is truly ours, and we can’t be asked to leave by a landlord wanting to sell, is the best feeling of all.

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We painted the door a bright pink. Strange decision but it works

We extended our family

Moving to the country meant 3 main things to us: space for the kids to roam freely, minimising financial stress, and getting pets! I was lucky enough to grow up with a few animals around – they teach us so much.

As my youngest son recently asked me, ‘mum are we an animal farm now?’ Well I am happy to confirm that yes we are – just without the communism bit; although we are enjoying doing the occasional labour exchange.

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We are yet to see an egg but the chooks are settling in well
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Kitty Misty is already ruling the house
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Our cattle dog Penny is truly a best friend (and intrepid bush walker)

We made friends

I am not sure how this year would have been if it weren’t for the amazing new people who’ve come into our lives. For a small town, Kandos has a lot of awesome personalities. Sure there are a few interesting hairstyles at the local IGA but people are generally pretty chilled and their looks would make an Eastern Suburb hipster turn kale-smoothie-green with envy. Put simply, they are cool without even knowing it.

We’re lucky enough to be living around many people who care about treading lightly on the earth – we’ve visited some amazing sustainable properties this year – and share our hopes to keep life a bit real. My anxiety is a lot lower and I think it’s because I feel the support of the ‘village’. I know it’s not for everyone, but it’s working for us.

For Leo, being around other artists, and people who care about art, has been really positive. He has started work on his studio and hopes to have it finished before Cementa 2017.

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Leo sneaks up the mountain when he can to do his ‘ephemeral’ art works like this one

So, in a nutshell, so far so good.

Here’s to a happy and healthy year ahead for everyone and more skies like this one.

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We’re home

This is our house. She’s been an absolute labour of love, conflict, perseverance and evidence that if you whinge and moan enough (sorry Leo) and put in a LOT of elbow grease you can ‘flip’ a house, as our American friends say, in less than 12 months. On pretty much no budget.

Let’s not be shy. She was a dump. A total dump – but with great bone structure and a lot of heart.

So here she is. In all her recycled glory.

The verandah is my favourite spot

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When I first saw the enclosed verandah that runs along the front of the house, she had rotting floorboards. But the sun was streaming in and I knew she’d make a great spot to enjoy a cuppa.

We were going to leave her until last (ie never) but when the plumber went AWOL one week, Leo and Dylan had a little time up their sleeve.

I begged, I pleaded.

So out came the floor sanders, nails and after some serious re-cladding and painting, she came back to life.

This is Penny’s room.

My plants are recovering

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These plants are my Maroubra survivors. Many of their succulent peers were killed during the blood-freezing Kandos winter frosts. City slicker lesson learned.

But these toughies love their new warm, sunny spot and are thriving again.

The marble-top coffee table they sit on was nabbed off the streets of Bellevue Hill last year in a throw-out. I can’t believe we managed to squeeze it into my friend Kylie’s hatchback (thanks Kyles, you were the first person I thought to call).

A little bit of Bondi is in the house

Dad is sending me lots of plants from his Bondi garden too. After nearly 50 years, he is dismantling his sacred place as he and mum prepare to move. His closing sale is my new opening and I am handling his cargo with much care.

This is 1 of his fragile orchards. I will see how it goes in this spot over summer. We plan to resurrect the old stove before next winter. She works perfectly but needs a new flu.

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Dad has given me a few knick knacks too – like this working oil lamp. He knows I appreciate the old things that no-one else wants. I clearly get my Vinnies gene from him.

 

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It’s so much brighter now

When I first came into the house it felt like a dark, claustrophobic coffin. I couldn’t believe that Leo actually agreed to buy it. He said it was a no brainer. We could afford it, it had paying tenants, and we were never going to live in it. Huh!

There is so much more light now. We were going to put in skylights but they were expensive. Turns out we didn’t need to. Another lucky break.

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The art is up

We’ve hung a lot of art. Much of it Leo’s, many of it friends’. The elephant below was painted by one of Leo’s refugee students who gave it to him. It has very intense eyes.

The green pantry in the background is part of the original house. It’s the only thing in the whole building that’s completely unchanged.

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This print by Quercus and Co is right next to the toilet door which is my favourite door in the house! Thanks Uncle Adam.

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I love the bathroom. Our rain shower (salvaged from a demolition site) is the best thing ever.

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We’ve tried to make the kids’ rooms feel cheery, happy and safe.

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Just like every kid on the planet deserves.

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I love cooking in my new kitchen. Food tastes good again.

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The garden is erupting

After weeks and weeks of rain the garden is coming to life. Spring is 150% here.

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The wisteria has burst out. Lots of little nesting birds have made it home. They wake me in the mornings.

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After a vigorous prune, which I was very nervous about, my roses are about to explode. Yes, cutting off a third of the plant does work.

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The fruit trees have leaves again. Next stop: preserving!

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Needless to say, Penny is completely at home.

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I think we are too.

Growing roots

It rained last night. Heavily. A big thumping storm that exploded above our sleeping heads, jolting the whole town from its sleep.

This was the first decent fall since we moved here, which is creeping to 3 months. I can’t believe it’s only that long. What I thought would be a long adjustment has strangely shot by.

I’ve been impatient though. Just ask Leo. I really really want to be living in our house now. But I’ve had to wait while the men with the power tools do their bit. In the meantime I just dig.

But we are getting closer.

We no longer have nicotine-soaked walls

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We have a few rooms that are officially finished (mind the cord)

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The boxy 4 rooms that were the awful dark kitchen are now 1 bright room

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The old rotted verandah has a brand new lease on life

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This last achievement is thanks to Dylan who turned up in town from Moree a couple of weeks ago with his pregnant girlfriend, massive P-plated ute and big black dog. He stuck up a sign in the main street saying ‘I can do anything, call me!’ So I did.

He is hilarious and very very good with a power tool. He’s full of advice having renovated a few houses despite being only 22.

Dylan keeps (strategically) coaxing us to do things that we probably would have postponed until never. He now works alongside Leo most days – the chatterbox and the silent. They make a great couple.

I’ve kept going with the garden and despite the lack of rain it’s starting to look a little better I think.

I’ve ripped out all Carol’s tatty old geraniums, which would probably infuriate her, and replaced them these sculptural things. I don’t know what they are called but I like them.

They run down the side of the house on the west side

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On the east I am trying a succulent garden. Not sure how it will go in winter. My dad tells me gardening is all about experimenting.  So we will see.

We’ve had the old fruit trees pruned. They look much better. You can see how brown the lawn has become.

My Tuscan fantasy is to set up a lunch trestle table under this tree in Spring and eat delicious local delicacies made with love (if the local IGA has any in stock)

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Today we finally planted out the fence line with tiny plants that will become a hedge. I’ve been wanting to do this for ages.

When it eventually grows you will only be able to see green and mountain

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And in the meantime our new baby sleeps through all the drilling, banging and cursing. We’d been thinking of having a third child for a long time. Yes, I’ve become a fur mama.

She is called Penny. We love her as much as this funny little town.

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The thorns amongst the rose

It’s official. We are now K-Town residents. 2848-ers. Country folk (well, kind of). The move was tough, as all moves are. But as our truck pulled in, wobbling with the weight of our life possessions, I felt a sense of great relief. The anticipation, the build-up, the unknown – well, we are now looking at it in the face. No more guessing.

Leo is passionately working on the house, day in, day out and loving it. Progress is slow, but satisfying.

We have rented close by to give ourselves a chance to get the house finished without choking on dust and depression, and this has proved a wise move.

This is the view from our temporary house. I spend a lot of time on the back-step.

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My job at the Kandos house is the garden. And boy is it a hard one.

To start with, it’s big. Much bigger than our Maroubra balcony and larger than any garden I’ve tried to tame before.

The garden has fruit trees, an old chook shed and plenty of space.

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I have transformed 3 gardens in my life. Somewhere between giving up late nights at the disco, and having babies, I found myself on my knees every Saturday and Sunday morning pulling at the suburban earth, hacking into mountains of weeds and coaxing stolen cuttings to grow. I had never gardened before and much to my surprise I discovered I have a green thumb. This is clearly a genetic fluke. My dad Don is a passionate gardener and I was raised in a thriving, lush backyard which was and still is, an oasis.

This 50 year old garden in Bondi, created by my Dad, is my inspiration. 

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My first garden challenge in my new home is the existing rose garden. If someone had of told me 1 year ago that I would be living in the Central West of New South Wales attending roses, I would have told them to get off the green stuff. But here I am.

Step 1 was to clear out the thick, choky, mean grass that was strangling the bushes

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Step 2 was to dig up a few bushes and relocate them. They fought hard, ruining my hot pink trainers along the way.

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I groaned and moaned as I struggled to pull up their root system which is probably as old as me. In between swear words, I admired their tenacity. They didn’t want to be uprooted. They didn’t want to face this unexpected disruption. They held on until they  were weakened and worn out by the battle. But change won out in the end. As it always does.

Step 3: I clumped them together against the front of the house to thicken the spindly row that was already there (I know it’s hard to see this improvement; you’re just going to have to trust me on that one).

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I also found a spot for my Bondi/Maroubra succulents that have been raised on sea-air and neglect. I have no idea how they will go in their new mountain setting, but they look pretty good for the moment.

My heavy river rock, that I have dragged between 4 apartments to use as a door stop, now has an outdoor spot too

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The move has left some of the roses looking a little yellowed and wilted, which Dr Google tells me is normal. I can relate to how they are feeling. Being uprooted comes with much bruising, and plenty of prickly thorns, as I’ve learnt this past few weeks. I suspect the roses and I simply need to find our new root system; tap into the surrounding nutrients; gets lots of sunshine and water; and settle. Watch this space.

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The butterfly starts to emerge

So while the rest of Australia was drinking beer at the beach last week to celebrate that strange period between Xmas and NY when everyone forgets to pay the bills, we donned masks and canvas gloves and got ourselves busy. With just 10 days until we pull up stumps in our beloved Maroubra, we had a serious deadline on our hands: to make the house (slightly) liveable so we can half move in. Our goal? To do the floors, clean 50 years of nicotine off the walls, and make the garden tidy again – all without killing each other.

But there’s nothing like knowing you’re about to be homeless to move things along and keep the peace. Step 1 was to remove the 400,000 staplers and nails that 4 layers of lino and old carpet had left behind. Nasty buggers but there was no way I was going to leave even 1 behind.

I pulled and pulled until my key-board preserved hands bled.

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We hired a big sander but Leo the pedant ended up doing most of the work by hand using this mini baby that my brother gave him last Christmas (thanks Kier, keep those Breville presents coming).

Leo treated the floor like he was creating an artwork

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And boy did the hard work pay off!

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While the floor sealer was drying we moved into the bedrooms to try and finish the painting. Our beachy blue has come up nicely. You’d never know we are 232 kilometres from the sea (not that I’m counting).

Finally, colour!

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My spirits began to lift (and not just because bum crack always makes me giggle)

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While Leo was tackling the window sills I decided to get moving on the lawn which was really bugging me as it had grown knee high. I gave it my best shot but I have a lot to learn.

If there are any whipper snipper instructors under 60 out there, please PM me.

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Afterwards I collapsed in a heap under our big apricot tree and had my first country wife disco nap.

It felt good.

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Next stop: KANDOS 2848.

Welcome to the neighbourhood

Neighbourhoods are funny places and can really determine your sense of connection and the happiness you feel (or don’t feel) when you pull into your street. I’ve lived in a few in Sydney – Bondi Beach where I grew up and spent a lot of my adult life, Maroubra, 7ks and 1000 miles away down the coast, Woollahra (a posh suburb where my girlfriend Carrie Ann and I partied like it was 1999 – because it was. Naturally our neighbours ended up hating us – as I would hate us too in my current life – but boy we ‘created some memories’ as the hipsters say). I also snuck in a few stints in London and New York where I miraculously managed to live in the best neighbourhoods on a waiter’s wage. I think I ate a lot of bread.

But I have never lived in a street that looked like this:

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Or this (note the industrial peek-a-boo – there’s a bit of that round here):

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Or one that is surrounded by mountains (Combamolang):

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Or one that has a house as cute as ours (?). I’ve nicknamed her Bella

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This weekend Leo and I got to be in the empty house for the very first time together. After an eternity of renting, we own our own house! We scrubbed and swept and coughed. It might not look like much, but if you peer very hard you will notice some tiny tiny progress.

The hideous carpet has gone:

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We found some trippy lino. We’re ditching it but I do like the pattern:

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We made a decision to keep this linen press and use a dash of the green in our repainting

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We cleaned out the old garage (okay, Leo did) which will become my work space and guests’ quarters. Isn’t she charming!

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Here’s the inside [activate imagination now]. We found ‘1937’ carved into the slab

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(Don’t worry future guests, we will be adding insulation and heating. Cosy Swedish plywood box is the brief.)

I’m coming around

So there we have it. Another step forward towards our very unknown and unexpected country life future. I still get the wobblies and regularly have what my therapist would call a mild panic attack, but I can see there are possibilities and the idea of Change with a capital C sounds pretty damn delicious. So does the idea of ‘creating memories’ and I have heard that Carrie Ann who now lives in London is coming for a visit soon.

I’ve started looking for signs from the universe that this is the right thing to do. Here’s the first one I noticed – this rose survived the 42 degree heat wave last week.

Now that’s what I call resilience!

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A challenging state of affairs

It’s official. The house is now empty. Carol and Bob have moved down the road. They’re not happy about it mind you. They loved this sad, little neglected cottage too. But she’s now officially ours, asbestos, bad ventilation, lead paint and all!

When we pulled up, big storm clouds glared down at us. The house looked defiant against the ominous nasty black sky. A row of old rose bushes threw gorgeous hot pinks, reds and yellows into the strange light. I felt frightened, and slightly excited. But only slightly. What the fuck have we done?

Is this a sign?
Is this a sign?
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Someone loved these ladies once

My in-laws, who now live down the road, strode in with me as Leo is working overseas. We flung open doors, ripped down curtains that almost disintegrated in our hands, and instigated the moment of truth: what lay beneath these old carpets? Sweet relief. Immaculate floorboards. Cypress pine we think. God bless dubious taste in floor coverings.

Thank you to whoever covered these floors 60 years ago
Thank you to whoever covered these floorboards 60 years ago

We found newspapers from 1947. I can’t wait to read them. I’ve saved them for my Dad. He was 17 when they were published.

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The headline is about a lorry full of lollies that crashed. Pics of happy kids grabbing booty!

The kitchen is tragic (but has a great old wood fire stove). She’s a Welcome Dover – is anyone knows anything about them please come over and teach me!

The original Welcome Dover stove!

In the living room we ripped off an ugly sheet of plywood that was covering the old original fire place. With a little love, she has a good chance of showing her pretty face again. We’ve asked Rob our local handyman to do her makeover. He will need a lot of botox.

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We think the old fireplace has a lovely arch but won’t know until that lovely cement render is removed

So, depressed yet? I am to be honest – but with a little dreaming and a lot of luck I think we will get there in the end. Just not sure exactly how.

If I look worried it's because I am
If I look worried it’s because I am

A busy day in Kandos

On a recent visit to Kandos (the one before we had to ask our lovely tenants to move out because our Sydney landlord told us she wasn’t renewing our lease even though we’d just moved in. ‘Oh no,’ said a dear friend. ‘You’re Maroubra-ing them!’ Trust me, we did feel bad.

Anyway, on a recent visit to Kandos I took a stroll down the main street called ‘Angus Ave’ which makes me thinks the Scots may have been here before me. I saw about 4 people, 2 dogs and a couple of passing cars (it was after 3pm). When my girlfriend Kylie, who’d come along for the roadtrip, went to IGA later on she saw a young couple having a massive fight in the street over something he’d posted on Facebook. Don’t be scared I said, that could happen anywhere in Sydney and you wouldn’t even notice. She nodded and looked a little nervous for me. We city folk take a little adjusting to the regions.

But what a town! As neat as a pin and pretty too. You can tell there’s a lot of love gone into making and keeping this special little place so special. I feel like I could fall in love. Maybe. Hopefully. Soon.

Welcome to Kandos
Welcome to Kandos. Not even one letter is missing.
Adhoc Furniture
Can’t wait to get inside this wonderful furniture studio and have a peep. I hear they are lovely.
Kandos has its very own hat maker!
I nearly did a happy dance when I saw this hatmaker’s studio
Art piece in the shopfront window of Kandos Projects
Art piece in the shopfront window of Kandos Projects
And another. Can't wait to come back when the doors are open
And another. Can’t wait to come back when the doors are open
Wish I could revive Aunt Betty's Tea Shop. Just sayin!
Wish I could revive Aunt Betty’s Tea Shop. Just sayin!

Nothing will ever be the same again

In 84 days everything is going to change. Big time. You see we are moving. Not down the road, to the next suburb or even across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the northside where I’ve heard some people from the East go to die. No, we are moving TO THE COUNTRY. Not to Byron Bay or Lennox Head where everyone I know from Bondi now lives, not to Brisbane, Melbourne or some trippy Australian small city,  but TO THE COUNTRY. WEST. INLAND. AWAY FROM THE SEA. Good Goddess.

WHY?

This is something I ask myself every second morning and about every third day as I oscillate between excitement and pure terror. The long answer is that our family feels stuck and vulnerable to the heart-palpitating Sydney property market. The city is too expensive, too crowded, strangely lonely and sometimes mean. The short answer is that we need a change and we want to live without debt and all the toxic stress that comes with it. We have to get off this rat wheel. It’s making us dizzy.

WHERE?

We are moving to an ex-company town called KANDOS. Kandos had a thriving cement works which had its plug pulled 7 years ago leaving the locals nervous about their kids’ future and the continuation of the town’s good schools, hospital and IGA supermarket. Many pulled up stumps and left. Some stayed and wondered what will happen. And then the artists came. Lured by the stunning scenery, Wollemi National Park, the waterholes, the nice townsfolk and the breathtakingly cheap real estate, they’ve slowly begun to set up camp which has had a very mixed reaction (check out the Cementa Festival Kandos documentary, Welcome to Kandos). So to add to the demographic uncertainty our little family of 1 weird artist dad, 1 complicated writer mum, 1 10 year old with autism, and 1 eternally pissed off 5 year old, are about to join the mix. How fucking nuts is that!

Our new home
The 123 year old girl we’ve bought for the price of a good piece of art