Australia Day at Homestead
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Australia Day at Homestead

Celebrating their 175th anniversary, Tarndwarncoort Homestead offers something a little different when Australia Day rolls around. So we pulled up a hay bale and had a good yak in order to find out just what they have in store.
Hi Tom, thanks for taking the time to chat with Forte. How are you and what are you up to at the moment?
Summer is a busy time on the farm with harvest and shearing. We upped the ante this year to include preparations for a fun event on Jan 26.
For those who aren’t familiar with what you do, could you please give us a rundown of your role at Homestead?
My family set up Tarndwarncoort Homestead in 1840, and I manage it now as the 6th generation here. We are a working sheep farm where the Otways meet the Plains, with a wool shop, guest accommodation, small café and event space at the heritage-listed Homestead. I’m organising this event as a way to share our place and 175-year-old story with the wider world.
What does Australia Day mean to you?
Australia Day is about having a fun, relaxing day with your friends as you spin a few yarns. It’s backyards, BBQs, pools, Hottest 100 on the wireless, eskies. But it’s also the day when we consciously think about where we are as a nation. The fact that Australia Day can mean so many different things to so many people is a reflection on our maturing society, where we can have sensible discussions about Australian culture.
On Australia Day, I think every Australian should take a minute to pay respect to all the people that have come before us, and then take another minute to reflect on what we want to see in Australia’s future. With all the history around the Homestead, it’s a great place to trigger some of those thoughts.
The event is to celebrate 175 years of the Tarndwarncoort Homestead. What kind of things has the Homestead been known for in the past?
We have a number of events planned in 2015 to mark the 175th year – and Australia Day is dedicated to fun and community. Hundreds of people have lived and worked at Tarndwarncoort. They were shepherds on the plains, families of orchardists, governesses, shearing teams, cooks, swaggies and gardeners. There is a huge amount of people who have a connection to this place.
In the colonial days, it was a meeting place for the Gulidjan people. A bushranger was treated for gunshot wounds on the kitchen table. Wool prices rose and fell – and when the times were good, more rooms were added to the Homestead.
The mainstay of the farm has been sheep and wool. Richard Dennis, second generation Australian, developed a type of sheep called Polwarth in the 1870s which was the first time a sheep had been bred to match Australian conditions. They are now found all around the world in similar countries.
We have always adapted our farming business to meet the market conditions of the day in order to survive. Now our sheep are white, black and green!
What made you decide to celebrate it the way you have?
I wanted to create an event at the Homestead to bring some life to the old farm to make sure it’s still as purposeful and modern as it was back in 1840.
This event is all about storytelling. Not just stories about wool prices and bluestone houses, but about all the little things that have happened over the years.
We’re lucky to have a great music scene in Australia. When I was younger and lived overseas, the one thing I missed most was listening to triple j. Now you can stream it, but music is such a feature of our Australian life, I thought we have to put it on the pedestal and let them tell their stories.
Also, the Otways are becoming known for the outstanding food and drinks that are grown and made here. Music and food are two pleasures in life that everyone can relate to.
Will there be a little bit of a tour or history available of the property on the day?
The Ciderhouse Gallery will have an exhibition of 175 years of farming life at Tarndwarncoort, and tours of the Homestead will be running during the day. The hay rides around the farm on the back of the 1963 truck are a big hit too. Cider fans will discover how apple cider was made at the Homestead during the 1800s during one of the master-classes.
We saw there’s also going to be some poetry reading. Will they be related to Australia Day? What can punters expect?
Bush poems. So in-between bands, Michelago Mick from Buninyong will present snapshots of Australian bush life. Bush poetry was made famous by Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson, and they tell classic stories of how rural Australians lived. Michelago Mick will share some of Tarndwarncoort’s trials and tribulations, with a few nuggets of wisdom to take away.
You’ve also got five local bands performing. How did you go about selecting just five?
We were looking for young original artists who can tell a story. With this line-up, we’ve got a bit of alt-country, pop, blues and folk – a great variety that will be just what you need on the last afternoon of a long weekend.
Andy Forssman of Roseneath Recording in Birregurra has been a great support in pulling together this part of the day.
What kind of vibe are you hoping to create with your event?
Relax and reconnect. It will be picnic rugs and hay bales spread out amongst clumps of friends and family enjoying the surrounds of garden, Homestead, sheep and paddocks with some good local food and drinks.
Why should people boycott other Australia Day events and come down to the Homestead?
I’m aiming to create an event that doesn’t overdo the nationalistic stuff we’re starting to see. Australia Day at the Homestead is simply a day out on an old farm with talented musicians, great drinks and food where the focus is on sharing stories.
Ideally, guests will be able to support their local government event in the morning, and come later to the Homestead.
Do you think you’ll get the chance to enjoy the day’s festivities? Who are you most looking forward to seeing perform?
I’ve got a Jackson McLaren and the Triple Threat song buzzing around in my head – It’s a Whole Day Nearer. I’m looking forward to seeing them, but also, I’m keen to see city and country people sharing a few of their own stories.
Thanks again for having a chat with us. Is there anything you’d like to add before we finish up?
It’s BYO for food, but not drinks – they’re available for purchase at the bar. We’re supplying BBQs, and you can pre-order an Otways Produce Picnic Pack online. Our café will also be open with light food and coffee. Transfers to and from Birregurra train station are also available.
When&Where: Tarndwarncoort Homestead – January 26