“It’s so natural here. It feels like technology hasn’t even been invented yet.”
These are the words of a 10-year-old whose hands are usually used to play Minecraft. Today they’re collecting kindling, stoking the fire and cooking homemade sausages.
At Tuki Retreat, near Daylesford, Victoria, there are no food miles: “From the pond to the pan, from the paddock to the plate, everything here draws upon our organic farm produce,” according to host, farmer and creator, Robert Jones. No unnecessary chemicals are used, all glass and plastic bottles are re-used, and soap, detergent and shampoo are phosphate-free.
Robert and his father, Don, built the six bluestone cottages by hand, using timber from the farm to build furniture. The view from the verandah is breathtaking: a watercolour of ochre paddocks under a pink-smeared sky. His dream is to connect city folk with the earth, farming rainbow trout in spring-fed ponds, slow-growing Tukidale sheep and low-line Angus cattle.
It takes two minutes for Robert to teach Taj to hook a trout: niblets of corn are the lure, the line is lowered, a bite and jerk snags the prize. For kids, the reality of paddock-to-plate can come as a shock. Taj recoils as the farmhand whacks the trout’s head, to put it out of its misery. Soon it’s on the plate, along with dip, pickled vegetables, green salad and horseradish cream – all from the garden.
Robert encourages Taj to eat the cheek first: “It’s the sweetest bit!”
“Delicious,” our charming son replies. But you can’t fool a farmer: “You’ve hidden it in your check. I can see it bulging!” Taj swallows in shame.
Then there’s lamb pan-fried with garlic: the sweetest meat I’ve tasted.
That afternoon, we walk the boundaries, petting foals, climbing trees and spinning yarns. Taj wonders aloud whether animals will one day rise up and eat humans. I tell him about the classic ’90s song Cows with Guns, which outlines this: “He was a scrawny calf who looked rather woozy/No one suspected he was packing an Uzi.” (Check it out on YouTube: hilarious.)
That night I relax in the spa, while Taj reads a book on his sofa bed by the fire. Blessedly, someone has turned on the electric blanket and fluffed the pillows on my sumptuous queen-sized bed.
“This is a truly wonderful place,” he says, as I kiss him goodnight. “We’re going to have beautiful memories of here.”
It’s why families keep coming back. Robert and his wife, Jan, have lovingly kept every visitors’ book from when they opened: couples have returned with children, some with grandchildren.
“This has been a wellbeing region for hundreds of years,” Jan says, “with people coming on horse and dray, seeking healing from the spring waters.”
It’s a salient message today. How often do you disconnect from the incessant beep of technology? When was the last time you had one-on-one time with your child? Are you feeling a growing sense of unease with the circus of life?
Staying at Tuki, time is elastic: days feel like weeks. For city kids – and their harried parents – a farm stay provides the perfect dose of sanity.
Tracey Spicer and her son Taj stayed at Tuki Retreat courtesy of Daylesford & Macedon Ranges Regional Tourism.