A day spent at Tamsin’s Table in south-west Gippsland, is like dropping in on the nurturing, food-loving country aunt you always wished you had, finds Leanne Clancey.
Nothing quite prepares you for the intense, saturated green of Tamsin Carvan’s Gippsland property.
When other parts of the country are wilting or drying out to a dull brown, this impossibly picturesque pocket of hilly Victorian dairy country looks as though it might have been painted on.
As a contrast to my usual day-to-day environs in the big smoke, the beauty of this place is almost a little too much to take in at first. It’s jaw-droppingly stunning.
We arrive on a chilly Sunday morning after an easy 90-minute drive from Melbourne. With faded weatherboard cottages, old halls, bushy groves and pretty wildflowers dotting the way, the winding roads of Poowong feel somehow nostalgic.
In some ways, it feels more like English countryside than Aussie bush, and makes me think this might be what rural Australia was like when my mum was growing up, not too far from here.
I get out of my car to take a stretch and look around. Cows graze, the sun shines, birds tweet, and perfectly rounded hilltops overlap against a backdrop of blue sky and white clouds. It’s as if we’ve just stumbled onto a set for a farmhouse cheese commercial.
But we’re not here for cheese (although some delicious local sheep’s milk blue did make an appearance for our morning tea), we’re here to spend a perfect day in the country at the perfect country house doing perfectly country things.
As the day unfolds we’ll slow down, eat well, learn new skills and be inspired by our host Tamsin’s life of elegantly rustic, self-sufficiency.
Since opening the doors of Tamsin’s Table to visitors in 2013, Tamsin has welcomed folks looking for the same thing she was seeking when she first bought the 45-hectare property: simplicity, inspiration and reconnection.
“Our guests tend to be people who care less about status, wealth and the trappings thereof than they do about being true to themselves and their values,” she says.
Every weekend, Tamsin opens the doors of her beautiful hilltop farmhouse to a handful of visitors who come for a range of hands-on workshops and lunches.
Depending on the time of year you might spend the day baking bread, learning the art of floral arrangement, bottling the summer harvest, or just enjoying a languid seasonal lunch at Tamsin’s shared table.
“People come here seeking something real,” explains Tamsin. “They value experiences over ‘stuff’. And they tend to love eating, too!”
On this particular day we’re here to learn the art of watercolour painting from talented illustrator Pip Compton, a good friend and longtime collaborator of Tamsin’s.
Pip’s class ‘Looking Further’ is an opportunity to reconnect with the painting and drawing skills many of us left behind in our childhood, and to practise the art of fine observation.
Pip grew up in the country herself, and as a child would spend hours wandering her parents’ garden, picking flowers, finding treasures like seed pods, feathers and birds’ eggs.
Today, she invites us to explore that same world, a world that I soon discover is unchanged and just as enchanting as it was when I last knew it all those years ago as a little girl.
Armed with aprons, note books and pencils, Pip leads us out into Tamsin’s rambling kitchen garden to find inspiration for our drawings.
It’s only early spring, so at first the garden looks a little bare. But – with an eye for seeing beauty in small things – Pip encourages us to look closer. Before long, I’m meditatively immersed in the intricate folds of an artichoke I find growing in the vegie patch.
Memories of childhood days spent lost in nature come flooding back; butterflies, ladybirds, bugs, worms. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when we make the transition from childhood wonder to distracted adult cynicism, but it’s nice to know it’s still there.
“I have a huge appreciation for the natural world and I love helping people discover beauty in the ordinary,” explains Pip. “When I take people through these exercises they get completely immersed in each moment. Time slows down. There’s a meditative quality to it that is really beautiful.”
Pip encourages us to focus less on the outcome and more on the process. We’re taught techniques on shading, colour mixing, and brush work; we’re offered foraged props like delicately spotted turkey eggs and fluffy white feathers.
There’s no rush. Between brushstrokes I look out the windows at the rolling hills, the flowering fruit trees, the blue wren observing us from the other side of the glass. I feel more relaxed than I have in weeks.
Before long, Tamsin is calling us for lunch. Like a loving aunty, she’s been cooking away at the other end of the room all morning while we’ve been painting.
Our day ends at the shared dinner table with a beautiful seasonal feast featuring Tamsin’s handmade pici noodles with mint, walnuts and burnt butter, pork eye fillets with creamy polenta (from pigs Tamsin has bred herself) and toasted applewood ice-cream with rhubarb and quince crumble.
“I love that food allows us to come together around a big old table and enjoy the company of others. To me, that is true nourishment,” says Tamsin.
“It’s easy to forget just how enjoyable conversations with strangers can be. In a way it’s a special kind of travel – through new ideas and experiences that lie outside our own immediate circles of family, friends, work.”
The details: Tamsin’s Table, South Gippsland, Victoria
Getting there : Tamsin’s Table can be found in Poowong, South Gippsland, a 90-minute drive from Melbourne.
Playing there: Tamsin and other special guests run regular lunches and gatherings throughout the year. Coming up in 2017 will be various events including seasonal cooking classes, preserving, flower arranging and Tamsin’s popular Sunday Table long lunches.
• Marge’s Cottage – A delightfully rustic two-bedroom farmhouse surrounded by farmland and undulating hills just down the road.
• Vivere Retreat – A little further away in Neerim South you’ll find this spacious, designer-built retreat with wood fire, incredible views and all mod cons.