Our awesome hosts at the Spa Villas have treated us with a gift voucher to the Red Star Café across the road for breakfast. A homely little café, it’s buzzing this morning with locals. And so it should be – this funky little place, stuffed with knick-knacks does a mean breaky. Fluffy scrambled eggs, buttery sourdough and awesome mushrooms washed down with a really good coffee, all served very efficiently by super friendly staff. We feel bad that we aren’t paying for our meal and vow to come back another morning.
Today is for discovering Daylesford. I first visited oh so long ago, possibly back in my teen years – way too far back to remember much. Except for this place – the Convent Gallery. Overlooking the town of Daylesford, they 19th century mansion houses a three level multi-award winning art gallery. It was built as a private residence for the Gold Commissioner and was known as the Barney Castle before being bought by the Catholic Church in the 1880’s for its presbytery. It also housed a boarding school until the 1970’s.
In a corner of the convent used for functions, is a large painting by an artist named Barbara Hauser, whose work I immediately fall in love with. German-born, Barbara studied art and design in Munich, where painting became her medium of choice. Her recent exhibition at the Convent, titled “Fame & Glitter” featured paintings of famous musicians from the 60’s to today.
“Fame and Glitter – I love their interesting and colourful lives. I make portraits of artists I love and bring the feeling of their music to canvas. I want to honour them for the good times they give to me. I want the audience to hear and feel the music when they look at my paintings. It is simple, isn’t it? But it is not easy to do.” – Barbara Hauser
Unfortunately I have missed the exhibition, but there are two of Barbara’s paintings still here – the Courtney Love (titled “Mrs Love”) and one of Slash (titled “Electric”). The paintings are stunning to the eye, vibrant and passionate, capturing the artists vibes, perfectly. I can’t keep my eyes off them. Maybe its time to enter the art world? Hmmm.
The Convent shop also stocks an array of jewellery, clothes, candles, knick-knacks, teas, treats and books. Including this one, which I’ve had my eye on for a while. It’s a fabulous book threaded with recipes and highlights of the restaurants that dot Melbourne’s alleyways, coupled with a history of Melbourne. THE perfect coffee table book, I can just imagine visitors picking it up and being immediately tempted to head out onto Melbourne’s alleys and laneways to try some awesome cuisine. Teppanyaki Beef, Middle Eastern Lamb Pizza or Bamboo House Dumplings anyone?
Popping into Finishing Touch Décor, you’ll find all sorts of things for your home, and host Theo. Friendly Theo is quick to put out a tasting plate of his homemade Chilli and Capsicum Jam and Lime Marmalade, explaining what he likes to add them too whilst cooking. He talks us into a jar of each and a visit to the Chocolate Mill not far out of town.
Still on the hunt for a couple of bits and pieces for my new apartment we decide to hit up the Amazing Mill Markets in Daylesford. These markets, found in three locations throughout Victoria, house Australia’s largest mix of collectables, retro fashions, antiques, vintage, industrial, art, home décor and jewellery. It takes a bit of sifting through to find the gems, but most items are generally well priced and it would be well worth the hunt if you found what you were looking for. I didn’t, but I did enjoy the hunt.
We take Theo’s advice and decide to head on out to Mt Franklin. The Chocolate Mill hand makes all their chocolates with certified fair trade, palm-oil free Belgian chocolate and they aim to be as environmentally friendly as possible. There are simply no reasons not to try some of their delicious chocolate. There are demonstrations, a whole array of different chocolate goods for sale and a café serving all sorts of sweet treats.
Be warned that it is an extremely rich experience so take it easy. And if you’re game, try a mug of chili hot chocolate!
Daylesford is also playing host to the Absolutely Fabulous Fresh Food Festival today. Held at the town hall, there are cooking demonstrations, food stalls and tasting, health checks and tips on how to grow your own food. We get to try two different salads, one with lettuce, strawberries, slivered almonds, feta and drizzled with balsamic vinegar and the other with pumpkin, quinoa, baby spinach, feta and chicken cooked in baharat (middle eastern spice blend). The salads were fabulous and especially welcome after all that chocolate!
Out along the country roads, we spy a turn off for something we read about earlier – the three lost children memorial. It commemorates the tragic story from Daylesford’s gold-rush era when three small boys (aged 4, 5 and 6) wandered away from their homes. Although there was a massive search effort launched which lasted 25 days, the boys were not found alive, the bodies of the youngest boys found in the hollow of a tree and the remains and clothing of the older boy nearby.
This detour turns out to be quite an interesting little detour. One thing that doesn’t seem to be missing in these parts is wombats – they can be found regularly on the roads, along the roads and with various tourist spots named after them. There’s even a wombat statue in Trentham. The facts are that, in 1848, an Irish immigrant took up land on the future town site of Daylesford, then known as Wombat Flat, whilst on the hunt for alluvial gold. He and his party of searchers were successful in 1951 when they found gold on ground now covered by Lake Daylesford and this initiated a gold rush in the area. With the arrival of alluvial gold, a town site was founded in 1852. They called the town site Wombat (I can only assume due to the abundance of the creatures in the area), later renaming it to Daylesford.
How about a winery next? Why not – and here’s where Passing Clouds comes into view. A very playful dog greets us, throwing his toy our way and begging us to throw it to him. Any indecent throw is met with an ‘oh really’ look from his face and a bout of inaction while he waits for you to throw it properly. In between tossing the toy, we get to taste some of what Passing Clouds has to offer.
I’m sure there’s more to see out this way, but it does seem like we are driving and driving without reward. We pass a town called Bullarto, which isn’t much to look at, but I notice it has a primary school and this primary school actually tends its very own herd of goats. The people of Bullarto love their goats, which is evidenced by the only other thing I notice about the town – a sign advertising the Goat Festival. The festival is held every year in honour of the goats with stalls of goat products, soaps and cheeses, goat sausages on the BBQ, cooking demos and of course, a meet and greet with the school’s goat herd. It’s a shame we’ll miss it when it is held next weekend.
Next we come to Trentham – a somewhat empty looking town on the edge of a wombat forest, but a town no less. Like Daylesford, Trentham was founded in the days of the gold rush. Not much is open, but Redbeard’s is, and it makes up for what isn’t open, with it’s tasty looking sourdough bread.
The Egyptians discovered how to make bread rise using natural fermentation around 6,000 years ago and since then, bakers have kept a brew of fermenting flour and water (known as a leaven or baker’s wort). The term sourdough was coined during the Alaskan gold-rush when miners carried their worts in warm saddlebags, giving off a pungent, sour odour. The sourdough at Redbeard’s is handmade from certified organic flours, salt and water, and baked in a woodfired oven. And it looks amazing. I can’t wait to get home and try some of this awesome local produce.
We’ve travelled all over the countryside today – I’m feeling a little bit like one of the Leyland Brothers! Does anyone remember that show? Hosted by Mike and Mal Leyland, Ask the Leyland Brothers was a popular TV show in Australia that ran from 1976 until 1984. The Leylands dragged their wives and children all over Australia, exploring the countryside. They became millionaires and even had a theme park at one point, but high interest rates hit Australia in the 1990’s and the park unfortunately went broke. I’ve been hearing the theme song in my head all day…
travel all over the countryside,
ask the Leylands, ask the Leylands,
travel far and travel wide,
ask the Leyland brothers!