Are we there yet?

When we first imagined unchaining ourselves from our urban lives of rushed neighbours, parking stress, and feeling like we were stuck in a rip while the Bondi Rescue boys were looking the other way, it all came with a dream.

This included fat chooks (tick), a luscious veggie garden (a bit scraggly after winter, but tick), a big backyard for growing boys (tick), meeting new people who had time to chew the fat (tick tick tick!) and a home that we could never have afforded in the city. Ever. Unless we won OzLotto. Thrice.

This latter part of the dream took a slight detour when we bought a sad old house that no-one else really wanted to buy. When we first showed the kids I begged them to ‘put on their thinking caps really tight’ and imagine a wonderful home. They cried and ran back to the car.

Reigniting the dream began with some doors upcycled from a house in Paddington


I spotted these 12 footers on Instagram looking traumatised and confused on a dusty rack (thanks @rescuesalvage). I knew they were the ones we needed for our still non-existent extension, and dragged Leo there to prove it. He agreed on the spot. We had no slab, no walls but hey, we had the doors!

I am fond of Paddington. My friends Adam and then Joseph used to live in Norfolk St and we’d regularly squeeze into their skinny run-down terrace and talk shit all night. My 88 year old Romanian friend Olympia still lives there in a tiny house with thatched walls. As does beautiful German Monica who helped birth one of the hippest shopping districts in Sydney by following her passion (the most divine pre-loved shoes on the planet. Pelle in William St.) If you love good foot-ware, go there.

So there I go, sounding all Eastern suburbs again. But let’s face it, I am a city girl at heart. Or I was at least.

Now I’m from Kandos.

On a recent week off, I started painting the old house a lovely sage green


It’s going to take me a long time to finish and we’re thinking of having a working bee (free booze and paint supplied if you’re free).

Leo is working hard painting, digging, grinding and gritting his teeth. He’s learned a lot since he renovated the old house. But we are desperate to move our gangly boys in. Our little cottage wasn’t really meant for four 21st century people.

We started painting the interior this week


I can’t wait to polish the floors


Oh so close. But still so far…


What’s that thing they say about it being all about the journey and not the destination? It guess it’s a little bit true but let’s face it, there’s nothing quite like arriving somewhere comfy after a long, muddy trip that took 3 times longer than you thought.

Bring it on.

2 years on

This summer marked our 2 years of living in Kandos. The heat was relentless. We hid inside for days, covering every window crevice with dark fabric. I even bought an air conditioner. We swam at the local pool, weir, dams (with snakes) and fled to the coast when we could. It was tough and I’m glad that autumn is now here.

Swimming spots like this one keep us sane


I’d like to say my garden is looking more established, but to be honest it looks like it’s barely changed. I’ve made a tiny dent but as soon as I turn my back, the leathery grass takes over. It is an ongoing war but I am determined to win.

The side yard with the veggie boxes and pear trees offers lovely shade

side garden 2

I’ve gone for a cottage garden look around the front. Wonder if the frost will kill it?

side garden 3

The roses along the front have miraculously managed to flower through summer


We’ve had endless tomatoes, rhubarb, celery, cucumbers, spinach, lettuce and now eggplant


The animals have thankfully managed to survive the heat. I set up a bath for the chickens which they seemed to like (although it’s very hard to tell what chooks are thinking).

Penny spends the heat of the day inside the studio with Leo


Misty does whatever she wants


The most exciting news is that the rest of our house is now underway. This was always our plan but as plans often do, it went its own way. It’s early days but we’ve waited a long time for this. It’s going to make a big difference especially with our long legged boys getting more long legged by the day.

The frame is finally up


Our future back door


It feels nice to be moving along again. We moved here for a few reasons and being able to have a lovely home with a garden and animals was one of them. I value this every day.

Our little rough diamond, with her wonky front fence, is coming to life.

Throwing flowers at the world

It came as a shock. Although in hindsight, it shouldn’t have. Bruce, the local collector/upcycler/hoarder/junk-yard operator was dead.

Stories about his early demise (he was 61) flew around town on the strong wind that suddenly arrived. ‘It was his heart’, said some. ‘Self neglect,’ said others. ‘He chopped his head when he was collecting wood and wouldn’t stay in the hospital’, said another. Whatever the truth, his death had come too soon and everyone knew it.

Bruce’s secret trove – he let customers rummage around when he felt like it


I originally wandered into Bruce’s one chilly May morning, dumbstruck by the scale of industrial and domestic debris scattered everywhere. I was in heaven.

Bruce shuffled out of his tin-shack bedroom and sniffed. He seemed bewildered to see me and completely oblivious to the smell of cat pee that nipped the cold air. There were kittens of all sizes everywhere, watched over by feral mothers who spat if you got too close (50 cats were caught after he passed).

‘You visiting? said Bruce.

‘No, we’ve moved here,’ I replied.

He said nothing, making him the first person I’d met so far to not ask why.

Bruce lowered his tall body onto a plastic chair in the sun and sighed. He was quite a good looking man if you looked past his troubles.

‘Let me know if you see anything you want’, he said closing his eyes and tilting his face into the delicate autumn sunlight. ‘I just need to rest a bit.’

I began to poke around. There was no-one else in sight and I hadn’t told anyone I was coming. Would I end up in an old bush barrel?

I glanced back nervously but Bruce sat in the same spot unbothered, zen-like amongst his cement statues.

I figured if he trusted me to look around unsupervised I should trust him back. So I did. And nothing was going to hold me back from exploring his wonderful treasures.

I love my cement duck. He had a matching friend. Wish I’d bought him too 


These old farm storage boxes became home to my thriving veggie patch 

garden boxes

I came back the next Sunday and the next, and the next. I bought something every time. Sometimes I haggled, but not much. Bruce had a great eye and knew exactly what was worth what. I never got a bargain

Strangely, he sometimes seemed a bit miffed once he’d made the sale. Occasionally he offered to carry things to the car or deliver but other times he didn’t.

Letting go seemed hard for him.

The park bench and love chair (a gift from friends) are our favourite summer spot


Bruce had the BEST pots. I’ve mixed some of his with Dad’s ones from Bondi


My little attempt at a Japanese cottage garden – rocks and pebbles by Bruce

rock garden

On the day after Bruce died, I arrived home from Sydney to find the sky bruised with dark menacing clouds. Trees were doing backbends in the wind. I had heard that he’d died alone in his depressing tin shed and I was feeling sad. What would Kandos be like without Bruce?

As I pulled up, a huge cockatoo swooped over my head and landed on our house’s roof. Despite the gale it somehow managed to grip the corrugated iron. It squawked loudly until I looked up, then threw its head over its winged shoulder and took off north, straight into the wind.

I later learned that Bruce was buried by his loving sisters and aunties in his hometown of Ulan.

Ulan is north of Kandos.

See ya Bruce. I hope you find lots of fab unloved junk to love in your next chapter. Keep throwing those flowers.

Bruce in the sun – courtesy of Claire Conroy

Bruce McMaster















Feature image: Bruce’s site was used during Cementa 2015 and 2017. Part of an artwork by Genevieve Carroll remains.


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?


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


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


The first rooster was calm


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


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


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.


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


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

Suddenly things began to feel familiar


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


Finally, many hours later, dinner was served


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.

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.

We are yet to see an egg but the chooks are settling in well
Kitty Misty is already ruling the house
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.

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.


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


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


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.


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.



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.



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.


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


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


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


Just like every kid on the planet deserves.



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


The garden is erupting

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


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


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.


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


Needless to say, Penny is completely at home.



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)


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


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


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


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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