In April I met a group of women at a week-long slow living retreat led by Beth Kirby of Local Milk. Among us was Annabelle Hickson of The Dailys, who lives with her young family on a pecan farm in the Dumaresq Valley in inland northern New South Wales.
We were all enchanted by the way Annabelle captures the beauty in her daily life so there was talk of making a road trip out to visit her. It’s a testament to Annabelle that we were willing to travel from far and wide for a long weekend, and for two new friends to join us.
Our Weekend with the Dailys was about being inspired by the beauty of Annabelle’s world and embracing the fun of adventure and creative play that grown ups can too readily let go.
Annabelle introduced us to her husband, Ed and their three gorgeous children. She showed us her cottage on the hill, her brilliantly transformed studio and the ethereal tobacco barns where her beautiful shoots of foraged foliage and flowers often take place.
Annabelle also opened up her local community and introduced us to wonderful people, places and stories.
Her neighbours, Julia and Philip Harpham at Moorabinda Station, were our generous hosts. Not only did they offer up their 1940s shearers’ quarters (which inspired us no end), they took us searching for brumbies, up the hill to drink Prosecco as the sun set over their 10,000 acre property, and they entertained us with their stories of growing up and making a life in the region.
Other neighbours, Paul and Jenny Magner, invited us into the home they had built from scratch to hear their inspiring story of healing, self-sufficiency and sustainability.
As they hunt, gather and grow most of what they eat, Paul brought us back to the heart of knowing where our food comes from by showing us how to kill, pluck and prepare two chickens and a duck for us to cook that night.
My parents grew up on farms but as a city girl I hadn’t witnessed this before so I have to admit I was a little apprehensive. However, Paul’s quiet, confident manner put me at ease. We went with him to catch the birds and he explained the process to us so we both understood and knew what to expect before he swiftly and respectfully killed them for us, and then took us through scalding, plucking and preparing them.
I was sobered and grateful for bearing witness to the reality of what consuming meat involves and surprisingly relieved at how simple it is and how mindful it can be. I wondered how we’d all feel if we connected with our food in this way.
In further unstinting country hospitality, Paul and Jenny made pizzas in their outdoor wood fired oven with the toppings we brought to share.
Then there was the magic of what we created together back at the Moorabinda shearers' quarters, the most idyllic setting for our winter gathering in the Australian bush.
The modest quarters were made cosy by foliage, open fires and candlelight. We warmed ourselves on the cool nights with hot toddies and hot water bottles, and we gently greeted the mornings sipping cardamom and vanilla-infused coffee. I remember lying in bed at night thinking of the shearers who had been here over the years and what kind of life it must have been, moving about from station to station. And how did they wrestle with the vagaries of the wood-fired oven to fill their hungry bellies? We novices had our work cut out for us deciphering the oven's secrets and we yielded to the respect it commanded for simple, unfussy food.
But don't for a second think we didn't see beauty and inspiration all around us. The smallest details brought sighs of wonder and delight, such as grasping the roots of enormous cabbages, exploring the stillness of the woolshed and setting the table in the creamy long grass outside.
There was joy to be found in every moment - from raucous laughter as we sat around after dinner to the gentle conversation that unfolds when you are completely absorbed and time feels suspended, like a dream.
A particularly dreamy highlight was taking part in preparing and sharing the Sunday Suppers winter brunch we adapted for our Australian bush setting. It was a loving dedication to slow living and the challenge of trying our hand at making bagels from scratch and negotiating with our wood-fired oven.
Our Sunday Suppers Winter Brunch Menu
Homemade everything bagels with nigella and poppy seeds
Tea and ginger cured barramundi
Whipped cream cheese with lemon, crème fraiche and olive oil
Citrus salad with a warm honey, lemon and sparkling wine dressing
Pecan tart with honey
You can read more about our brunch and all the other wonderful things we got up to in the Weekend with the Dailys ebook. You can view and download the ebook for free here and perhaps be inspired to create your own country gathering.
Most of all, I hope you are encouraged to seek out some adventure and play for yourself, especially if you're a grown up. Stuart Brown describes play as intensely pleasurable. It energises and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities. I left the weekend feeling all of those things and returned home full of inspiration and eager to keep up the creative momentum in my daily life. It was just what I needed. It's what we all need.
Heartfelt thanks to Annabelle, Ed, Julia, Philip, Jenny, Paul and all the Weekend with the Dailys women.