Visit to rellies on their farm in the bush

Trip Start Jun 04, 2005
Trip End Apr 05, 2006

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Well, our time in Oz was always going to be about a catching up with 'rellies' (Aussie abbreviation for relatives), so we'd decided to take a trip up the coast to go and see Rich's aunt and uncle, Marion and Alex von Korff, on their newly acquired farm near Kyogle in northern NSW. They had warned us that their living conditions 'in the bush' were pretty basic - caravan, long drop loo, no electricity or running water - but of course that would not deter hardened campers like ourselves.

So, on Monday afternoon 10 October, after a pleasant visit to Sydney's Taronga Zoo and a beautiful ferry ride across the Harbour, we boarded the short flight to Gold Coast/Koolangatta, a two-hour drive from the Von Korffs' farm. They met us at the airport - we very nearly did not recognise the slim & trim figures in the arrivals hall! Life in the bush seems to have taken years off them.

We arrived at their place as the light was fading: their temporary home (a caravan and two containers), located in a paddock on a slight slope, overlooks a beautifully lush valley with the forested slopes of the Border Ranges in the distance. Stands of tall, elegant gum trees dot the property, and wallabies and colourful birds are in abundance. We were shown a few of the innovative constructions they've installed - the 'chook tractor', a hen house that gets moved along every two days, so that the chickens gradually scratch and fertilise a patch of land where potatoes are then planted. And a sturdy breeze-block fire place built by their sons Nick and Carl on their previous visit.

We pitched our little silver tent beneath a magnificent old gum and joined Marion and Alex in their caravan for an evening of chatting and catching up. We worked out that we had not seen them for at least nine years!

On Tuesday morning we were all up bright and early, and took a nice long walk on the property. Along the way, Alex and Marion pointed out all the invasive weeds they're trying to get rid of, and Rich helped with swinging the machete at some tall, nasty-looking thistles. Phew, seems like the Von Korffs have their work cut out for them trying to control the invaders!

As we stood higher up the hill, looking out over the valley below and the Border Ranges in the distance, Alex explained his plans for self-sufficent water and energy sources and a sustainable earth-dug home, and we discussed the potential of the farm for various crops. We followed a rather overgrown track through a gracious stand of tallow-woods and through some lush bush - a bit further than Alex and Marion have ever been themselves, so it was an explorative walk for them too. Alex has been mapping out the property with his GPS, but unfortunately, at our furthest point, we realised the thing had not been tracking our movements for quite some time.

The day grew steadily hotter, and by the time we returned from our walk at 11.30-ish the sun was beating down. Well, in such blazing weather there is nothing to do but kick back in the shade with a few beers... which is what we did. A few more relaxed hours of chatting under the enormous gum tree followed, and as sunset approached we hopped into the car and headed down to the 'local' to meet a few of the neighbours.

The local pub is actually a small grocery store and bottle shop with a few tables and benches outside, where everyone gathers to enjoy a few drinks; there's a fridge where folks can leave their beers until their next visit. We arrived at about 4.30pm and the place was pretty busy... quite a few 'utes' (pick-ups/bakkies) and old vans parked by the side of the road and a bunch of weather-worn farmers and their families gathered around the tables.

"They might look like a rough bunch, but they're salt of the earth," Marion and Alex had told us, and it turned out to be true, especially of Neill, the Von Korffs' neighbour. With an enormous beard, tattoos, scarred hands and weathered features, he looked pretty menacing, but what a gentle man. He has helped and advised Alex and Marion on quite a few occasions and is softly-spoken. We smiled as the smell of dope smoke wafted past us... these guys were really relaxing after a day's hard labour on the land.

We returned to the farm as darkness fell and our hosts set about preparing the evening meal over an open fire - 'roo mex'! Fajitas made with kangaroo mince. This was our first taste of roo, and we loved it: being very lean and a bit gamey, it reminded us of ostrich meat. Very tasty.

On Wednesday morning, Rich and I took another nice long walk in the bush, and then it was time to start making our way in the direction of the airport. We thought we'd leave a little earlier to go and explore a few places along the coast, but by the time we reached the Murwillimbah, the weather had set in and the rain was pouring down! We took a half-hearted drive around Fingal Beach, decided that there was nothing to see in the rain, and instead dashed into a Thai cafe in Tweed Heads for a bite and a beer. The best plan!

So we said goodbye to Marion and Alex after a short but super-fun visit on their farm. We admire their guts in going for it - selling up their home in Sydney and buying their dream patch of bush; settling in on the property despite the lack of facilities. A lot of work lies ahead for them and we wish them all the best in this life-changing venture!
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