Relaxing in the Australian Outback
It feels like the weather for the past few months has been on a timer, changing abruptly from month to month. It rained for the whole of July, then not once in August. September saw rain again, but mixed with warm, sunny days – perfect for sprouting mushrooms. October was crisp and clear with a fascinating array of sunsets as the sun moved lower in the autumn sky. It remained clear until after All Saints’ Day, a very important date in the Lithuania calendar. Then, on November 2nd, the sky became grey and overcast and the air damp and heavy.
I find it very hard to be indoors when the sun is shining outdoors. Thus, all my indoor activities – cooking, reading and writing – get pushed to the rear over the summer months. I am only now getting round to telling you about the wonderful time I had in Australia, and in particular about my birthday treat – a few days at Chesleigh, a homestead in the Australian outback just a few hours west of Sydney.
This was my third visit to Chesleigh but my first in winter and, if I’m honest, I think I preferred it. It’s hard to even call it winter, given the clear blue skies and mild temperatures – a sweater and a sleeveless jacket were all you needed to keep cosy. That said, it did get a little chilly after sundown and the nightly bonfire that is a feature of the Chesleigh experience was most welcome.
Chesleigh is a vast homestead located in the old gold-mining village of Sofala. The area is sparsely populated with humans but densely populated with kangaroos, wombats, kookaburras and other wonderful wildlife. The best way to see around the estate is on horseback or on foot. When I took off into the bush with my camera I was advised that I was safe from predators but reminded how quickly the sun sets in winter – finding my way back in the dark would not be fun.
There were eight in our party – three adults and five kids. These city kids were completely in their element, running about freely, collecting eggs from the chicken coop, feeding the pigs, petting lamas, chasing kangaroos and generally causing mischief. They went on hour-long pony trek each day and you could see their riding confidence growing each time they climbed into the saddle. I’m not a great rider, a legacy from a back injury in my teens, but I love being in the presence of horses. Their smell and their strength calm me, so I was delighted when I was asked to walk a pony for one of the kids.
We spent a leisurely afternoon panning for gold. A shallow creek runs through the property and small specks of gold dust can be found with a little patience and perseverance. Patience and perseverance are not the preserve of all children, but my niece was rewarded for her tenacity with three tiny flecks of gold. She was given a small vial so that she could bring them home as a souvenir.
For me, the real joy was that I had no responsibility whatsoever. No cooking, no cleaning, no digging gardens, no tending veg. Food is provided family style, with everyone (including other parties) eating at the same time around a number of large tables. There is no menu and no choice – you get what you get*. This was sheer bliss for me – I’m not a picky eater and loved the surprise of not knowing what was coming. Jan, who owns Chesleigh with her husband Mike, has a food philosophy much like my own. She makes everything from scratch using simple local ingredients. Perfectly crisp and deeply flavourful meat pies were accompanied by light salads straight from the garden. There is no fuss or pretension here – this is home cooking at its finest.
*Special dietary requirements can be accommodated if advised in advance.
I had brought my laptop with me thinking I might get some writing done while I had some quiet time. I never took it out of the bag. Being outside, enjoying everything that was on offer, was too good to miss. You really get a sense of being cut off from the world and at one with nature. There is no cell phone coverage and no wi-fi – you just have to make do with the people you’re with! And if they start to drive you crazy, there’s always the kangaroos for company.
Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. My stay at Chesleigh was a birthday gift from my sister. Neither of us are affiliated in any way with Chesleigh Homestead. All opinions are my own.