When my husband, John, and I moved from the centre of Double Bay, Sydney to the quiet little country town of Daylesford six years ago, we didn’t really know what to expect. Would we enjoy living here long term, was there enough happening to keep us entertained, would we find good friends, could we create the life we craved, is this the place we want our children to grow up?
Anyone who has been to Daylesford knows that it is very picturesque, with natural mineral springs, state forest walks, massage and spa retreats, cafes, lavender fields, restaurants, boutique shops, beautiful lakes and gardens and so on. But loving a town is one thing, and feeling like you belong there is another.
So how exactly do you enter into a small country community? First stop: THE PUB.
We didn’t have children when we made the tree change, and although our master plan (or atleast my master plan) was to create a family home to raise our kids in, where they could pick their fruit straight from the trees and grow their own veges in the garden, our priority on arrival was to settle in for 12 months and then assess our situation. This meant we could continue our most excellent tradition of regular afternoons at the pub, chatting to locals and visitors, meeting the wood man, the plumber, the builder, the publicans (very important) and so on. A thoroughly enjoyable learning experience.
Every Sunday, for example, we would go to the market to buy our veges from Con, our honey pot from Des O’Toole, and search for any little bargains in the trash and treasure stalls. We’d have lunch then put the roast on (slow-cooked lamb usually) and head down the pub. We’d happily drink the afternoon away, talk absolute rubbish and stumble home just in time to enjoy the evening meal. That was our idea of heaven.
So after 12 months, and a very large renovation job on our cottage, we sat down and decided that Daylesford was the spot. This was where we wanted to build our lives, raise our family, get healthy and get super happy!
For me it probably took another 4 years before I really started to feel like part of the local community. This was partly because I commuted to work (medical sales for Western Victoria) so I left early and got home late and never really felt settled. When I went on maternity leave this all changed and I began to appreciate just being in town,day after day, without having to leave. When Jasper arrived, Daylesford really turned on the charm as everything was in walking distance so all I had to do was pop him in the pram and away I went. Wonderful!
I think this was the point where I really “checked in” and started to make effort to become a part of this wonderful community in some way. I was running my business (SHE-TEA ) and painting from home while raising Jasper, so my time was fairly flexible. I started to do the Daylesford Makers Market with our tea range and then when the call went out, I became a volunteer on the organising committee. I also started volunteering my time to the Daylesford Christmas Cheer Group, a community initiative for families and community members in need over the Christmas period.
The decision to become involved in both of these projects has been a fantastic one as it has allowed me to meet some wonderful people, work on some really worthwhile projects, and also feel like I am starting to contribute and shape the community that my children will grow up in.
And just today, I was lucky enough to be helping in the creation of the Daylesford Community Food Garden out the back of my home (I can literally walk out of my back gate and into this space).
This is a wonderful community-actioned food garden on council land that everyone in the community is welcome to enjoy. It means that families have access to healthy, organic fruit and vegetables and acts as a community-building space for people from all different backgrounds and situations. People from all over turned up today to help with digging holes and planting trees for the food forest.
I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of this community and it only really happened when I made the decision to check in and contribute to it. I am grateful for the experiences I have had and the knowledge I have gained from others. I am especially grateful, however, to be able to watch my 20-month old son help to dig the holes for the trees that he will be lucky enough to grow up enjoying. What a lovely realisation of a dream.