Synergy. If there is one word to describe the partnership between Tony De Marco and Theresa Albiloi it is synergy. Business and life partners, this dynamic couple met later in life, yet together they have already accomplished more than many would in a long lifetime. We meet them at The Oxford, a large former guest house they recently refurbished and added to their portfolio of luxury accommodation properties, The Houses Daylesford. The Oxford is massive and sleeps 24. The walls are lined with over 90 original charcoal drawings by artist Derek Erskine. The main room is dominated by an impressive non-sectional double-sided upholstered banquette. "It was made for a house in Caulfield," says Theresa. "It cost them tens of thousands of dollars." Tony jumps in, "we paid a lot less than that," he says with a laugh. "It took a lot of work to reassemble when it arrived."
Nick Andrew is a Beaumaris boy. He has that air of a kid who grew up by the sea. He has limbs slightly worn from battling against the windsurfer and a big upfront voice from talking against the wind. But Nick was an observant kid and took in all those canter levered block houses in the sand dunes as he rode around on his BMX. Those preposterous Australian modernist creations with floor to ceiling windows, flat rooves and mixed mediums where brick, steel, wood and aluminium collided to create a new form of Australian architecture. He saw it all.
Lynda Gardener has an infectious enthusiasm. Her eyes light up as she describes a house she is styling or the new small hotel she is working on. The interior stylist, with her broad smile and signature mane of untamed hair, is an unmissable part of the local business community.
Back in 2007 the millennial drought was well under way. The country was dry and farming communities were hurting. Clunes, the historic town 40km west of Daylesford, was suffering. Shops were closing and there was an uneasy sense of decline in the community. A group of locals put their minds together and decided to gather some book traders and turn Clunes into a mini book fair for a day. They expected a few hundred people. Six thousand showed up.
It is the middle of winter, yet the garden bears a plentiful bounty. Wood sorrel, chicory, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Jerusalem artichokes, baby carrots. In the hothouse grows spicy red mizuna and the last of the bull horn peppers. This is Dairy Flat Farm, the kitchen garden of Alla Wolf Tasker's Lake House restaurant kitchen. It is part of Barcaldine House, a 15 ha property nestled in a bowl of rich volcanic soil at Musk. It is the realisation of a lifelong dream of the award-winning chef. "We have always had great produce from our growers," says Alla. "Now we are joining them. What is harvested in the morning is on the plates at lunchtime," she says. "There is nothing comparable on this planet to freshly picked vegetables."
The last of autumn’s leaves tumble down Daylesford’s Howe Street as grey rain clouds gather over Mount Franklin on the horizon. Chef Matthew Carnell wanders out into the cold embrace of chilly air. "I bloody love winter," he says, holding out his arms to accept the fat droplets of rain beginning to fall. “It’s a chance to eat all the good things,” he says. “Cheese, charcuterie, boeuf bourguignon, fondue," he says, dropping the words for classic French dishes like a waiter placing plates.
“Those bloody ducks!” says chef Hugh Maxwell, half frustrated, half exasperated. The wild wood ducks have been into the kitchen garden at Sault restaurant again and eaten his leafy greens. The gardens supply a good deal of the herbs, edible flowers, leafy greens and some of the vegetables for the restaurant. They sit under the airy dining room, with its 180-degree view overlooking a lavender plantation, lake, chapel and the kitchen garden. Hugh, however, doesn’t resent the ducks as they only nibble the leaves they can get to under the netting. “They also keep the grass down,” says Hugh with a grin. “Along with the kangaroos."
Elna Schaerf-Trauner cuts a stunning figure. With her crown of gold curls, and dressed in a traditional Austrian dirndl, she sits down at the marble-topped table with a glass cup filled with coffee. The co-owner of Das Kaffeehaus in Castlemaine she looks around the great space inside the former Castlemaine Woollen Mill, now known as The Mill. Since 2015 this has been a popular part of the Castlemaine lifestyle. It moved from the Old Castlemaine Hospital when it was founded in 2003. “Both sites have chimneys, important for venting the aromatic output of the coffee roasters,” points out Elna.
If you had to write a job description for Zack Grumont, it would take you some time. He does a lot of different jobs at Guildford Winery. He spends his week in the kitchen preparing for the weekend. This involves a lot of preserving, fermenting, making charcuterie and general prep. Zack also wears another cap as one of the winemakers on this small vineyard on the main road between Daylesford and Castlemaine. When we catch up, Zack seems relaxed. The busy weekend is days away and the 2019 vintage is quietly settling into the various barrels in the cellar.
After the busy harvest and demands of vintage, a veil of a contemplative calm has gently descended over Curly Flat, a small winery near Lancefield. “This is the time of year for reflection,” says winemaker Matt Harrop. He’s been here for 18 months now. Before that he was at Shadowfax, making wine from vineyards across the state. Now he lives a few minutes away from the vineyard and feels every frost and every northerly wind. “May is a time working out what we did right and what we did wrong,” says Matt matter of factly.
Abbie the truffle dog runs excitedly beneath the oak trees. She stops at a small mound of earth under a tree and gives a delicate scratch at the surface of the soil. Her handler Sue Daly looks pleased. “Another truffle,” she says. She takes out a small trowel and carefully digs around the mound with archaeological like delicacy to reveal the subterranean source of the bulge. It’s a truffle. A great big black truffle. A delicacy originally from Europe they are so valuable they are sold by the gram. Two dollars and fifty cents per gram. A decent sized piece to shave over your pasta will cost $25.
The aroma of baking bread fills the backyard. Sweet, dark and nutty it rolls around on the breeze. In the kitchen out the back of a home in the heart of Daylesford, two women perform a much-practised dance as the knead, shape and bake beautiful looking sourdough loaves. The space is not expansive, so they have worked ways to move around each other that are almost balletic. They are Katy Bauer and Alison Wilken, the brains, brawn and passion behind Two Fold Bakehouse.
Ralf Fink is a Fleischmeister. A German master butcher. Born near Dortmund in the north east of Germany he grew up around smallgoods. His father Otto was also a Fleischmeister, and they both graduated from the same academy in Frankfurt. "I was sixteen when I started my apprenticeship," says Ralf. He speaks English with a soft German accent and grammatic perfection. Clean cut and well-presented he maintains high standards.
Fashion designer Tiffany Treloar stops on a lonely road near Glenlyon. She takes out her camera. She lines up the lens on an old gum tree, tortured by the prevailing wind. “It is so beautiful around here,” says Tiffany. Around the corner, she stops by an old barn with a ramshackle windmill. “This is just brilliant!” she says. The Melbourne based designer uses photographic images of rural scenes, night skies, industrial landscapes and beautiful found objects to make designs. She manipulates the images on her computer and the designs are then printed on fabric and then hand made into women’s clothing. “I design here in Australia and I make the clothes right here in Australia,” says the vivacious designer. Last month she opened a shop in Vincent Street, Daylesford and is working on a range of locally inspired prints for summer in her St Kilda design studio. She has two other stores, one in Flinders Lane, Melbourne and another in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy.
Cameron Saunders and Sallie Harvey have a well-honed repertoire. They set up gags for each other and finesse the others' sentences. They have spent a lot of time together. Sallie is a huntress, cook and singer. Cameron is a DJ and record producer. Both locals, they met through their children’s schools. This summer they spent hours in Cameron’s recording studio, hidden in the bush on the outskirts of Daylesford, making an album that will be performed live on Friday, June 21. Cameron, sitting comfortably in a plush upholstered chair of the Palais in Hepburn where they are performing this month, explains the process.
Wife and husband Karan Hayman and Mark Howson are both successful modern artists living on a beautiful property on the edge of Kyneton looking out over the town towards Mount Macedon. They have both been influential in the Melbourne scene of the late 20th century being founding members of ROAR Studios, an artist collective where emerging Melbourne artists could paint and show their work.
Now I know what you're thinking; July - we're in the depths of winter, the weather forecast is looking dismal, and the last long weekend for the foreseeable future is over and done with... life is looking pretty bleak. Well, I'm here is to tell you otherwise. We are so lucky to live in such an incredible part of Australia, so magically beautiful all 12 months of the year. In fact, Winter has got to be our absolute favourite season here in spa country. Whether it's a cold night spent by the fire with a glass of local pinot, or waking up on a frosty morning with the landscape shrouded in fog; there really is no better place to get Lost in Winter.
This time last month we were still experiencing warm dry days and the ground was yet to be dampened by any rain. By the time May edition hit the streets, the rain had started. And now, only a short month later, we have not just had days of gorgeous, soaking rain but frosts and snow. A farmer's life has never been easy but in today’s rapidly changing climate, many are being stretched to their limits. You can support them directly by attending a local Farmers market where you can buy their beautiful produce direct.
As we hurtle at break-neck speed toward Winter, there is still no sign of any real rain or even a dramatic cooling of temperature. The hottest, driest Summer on record is still wreaking havoc for our farmers and gardeners although the brilliant Autumnal colours showering streets in reds and golds seem quite oblivious to this unusually mild weather. Here's hoping the rains come soon before the frosts arrive.