“Each animal has a story, each is loved and each has a purpose and a place. ” – Danielle White, The Countryphiles

Overwhelmed by the soul-enriching passion behind this week’s wonderful story, it’s hard to know where to start. So, the beginning will just have to do. A few weeks back, I was blessed to share a sunny afternoon {and some scrumptious macaroons + a superb homemade latte} at the FARM of Nats + Jono + their daughter Ruby {along with their menagerie of characterful + colourful animals}. Each animal has a story, each is loved and each has a purpose and a place. From rescued dogs, cats and chooks to finely bred ponies and rare-breed pigs, cattle and sheep, this energetic, adventurous and passionate duo put their heart and soul into their farm life and are what we at The Countryphiles like to call salt-of-the-earth fab folks!

While Nats breeds + trains small Welsh Ponies for children and makes natural skincare products from scratch for her burgeoning business RubaDub, Jono is busy growing free-range Berkshire pigs + British White Cattle for the plate as well as Finn sheep for wool spinners {not to mention running a successful garden + landscaping business}. Life at Springmount is busy, happy, fulfilled + cherished.So, I’m with Ruby – life’s that good there’s nothing else for it but to cartwheel across the paddocks!

“We left Melbourne with one car, one dog, one cat and a goldfish – we now have three dogs, two cats, 8 chickens, 40 Angus Steers, 22 British White breeding cows & calves, 4 Berkshire Gilts, 1 boar, 20 Finn Ewes & lambs, two utes, one four wheel drive, a tractor and 140acres” – Nats.

Tell us a little bit about your backgrounds – what path led you to where you are now?

The Country has called to me since I can remember and my passions grew when I was 12 and my parents purchased 80 acres on the Moorabool River near Meredith, with a historic shearing shed as our weekend shack. We had my horses and days were spent on riding adventures through the bush and creeks with a packed lunch. Friends and family would all cram into the small space of the old shearing shed. My dad was and still is a keen hunter gatherer, wild rabbit, duck, eel, trout, redfin, snipe & quail were frequently on the menu. My dad has so many skills that are now considered a “Lost Trade” and I aim to learn as much as I can. We had the old ex-army Land Rover, and we’d all pile in and go to the River for a swim on a hot day – so many memories and so much fun. I have a working background in Animal Health Industries, currently working in a local Vet Clinic on a casual basis, and recently completing studies in Equine Herbal Medicine and artificial insemination for cattle.
From 1988, I spent 5 years working in hospitality and interior design in London, then settled back in Melbourne, living in St Kilda & Balaclava and working in the Veterinary Pharmaceutical & Animal Nutrition areas traveling within Southern Australia and abroad.
Jono grew up working on the generational family farm “Braeside” in the beautiful valley of Waihaorunga, South Canterbury New Zealand, raising prime lamb, beef and venison as well as Deer Velvet. As an exchange student to Holland in his final year of school he returned home and studied Hospitality, which brought him to Australia where he has worked in establishing and managing some of Melbourne’s top restaurants.

“When our daughter was two, I remember watching her play on our front Veranda of our single fronted minors cottage in Balaclava, running from boundary to boundary (a whole 8 meters) that was the day we decided it was time to leave the city and head to the country.”

We found our 20 acre patch of paradise here at Springmount in the Central Highlands (halfway between Daylesford and Ballarat) 8 years ago, before we knew it we had purchased our farm, quit our Melbourne jobs and sold our Balaclava cottage and were living in the country – it all happened so quick, and some thought we were crazy, but we knew this was right for us and Jono was ready to return to the life he once knew.
We left Melbourne with one car, one dog, one cat and a goldfish – we now have three dogs, two cats, 8 chickens, 40 Angus Steers, 22 British White breeding cows & calves, 4 Berkshire Gilts, 1 boar, 20 Finn Ewes & lambs, two utes, one four wheel drive, a tractor and 140acres.

Photo: Danielle White, The Countryphiles

Photo: Danielle White, The Countryphiles

You have a farm that grows plants for your balms, breed Welsh Mountain Ponies in a holistic environment, have a garden/landscaping business, and a Free Range rare-breed pig, cattle & sheep farm. How did these business ventures come about?

It was all a natural progression from our individual passions, which somehow all seem to tie together with the love of nature, the country, animals and ethically-raised food. Having Ruby changed our directions greatly, both wanting to spend more time together and having us all involved in what we do. Hospitality hours, working the nights and sleeping in the days just didn’t fit in with our family life, so Jono followed his passion in horticulture and started up Springmount Gardens & Landscaping, which now employs two locals who, together with their families, are more like friends.

RubaDub came about when I started reading the labels of skincare ingredients for Ruby when she was born, I was horrified and discovered ways to make my own products from simple food based ingredients. I believe that our skin eats, so whatever we rub on our skin is absorbed in our system, and how much more natural than to use food-based ingredients and go back to ancient basic recipes using herbal healing remedies – from the earth to your skin. The Gardening range was a progression from our gardening business, and the moisturiser I developed from a demand for a 100% natural product. I make the moisturiser upon order to keep its integrity and freshness, just like baking a cake! I grow most of the Chamomile and Calendula here at home when in season; the chamomile grows wild in our paddocks and sometimes the horses choose to graze it. The olive oil is hand-harvested and comes from a local organic farm in Blampied called Eastern Hill Organic Farm.

Jono’s father is a well respected farmer in the South Canterbury district of New Zealand and Jono grew up to respect and treat farm animals with compassion, kindness and a high quality of animal husbandry. He was at a bus stop in Melbourne some years ago and saw a poster on Sow Stall Pigs. It horrified him that this type of intensive farming was becoming the norm and he wanted to make a difference in the lives of those animals that are bred and reared for the plate. He remembers there was always a pig on the farm for their own consumption and how that pig was treated like a king, hence his passion to make a difference to the lives of farmed pigs destined for the plate.

We decided about 5 years ago this is what we wanted to do, raise rare breed free range pigs, and started the land search for the perfect acreage and found it last year, four years later. We came about the rare breed British White Cattle as I used to drive past a local farm that had these cattle and after much research decided they were the ones. They have amazing attributes for Australian conditions, excellent feed conversions, and they are brilliant mothers with low birth weight calves, yet high lactation, so rapid growth. The Finn sheep are very similar and are renowned for their multiple births and excellent mothering raising the lambing percentage anywhere up to 300%. Their meat is very lean as they hold their fat stores around their internal organs and have a supreme wool quality very much sought after by the hand spinner market. We have a few coloured Finn x Corriedale as well.

Nattini Pony Stud started as more of a hobby but has grown and came about from my passion with horses, and love of Welsh Ponies as children’s ponies. The name was derived from my first pony “Martini” given to me by my parents for my 11th birthday combined with my name “Nat”. Our ponies are all fed a natural herbal diet with no premix feeds or synthetic additives. Our ponies are sold and trained as children’s ponies, harness, show and dressage.

Can you give us a little insight into your various passions & projects?

Brooklands Free Range Farms are split between three properties, two consisting of 40 acres at Springmount and the main farm 100acres of highly mineralised volcanic soil in the beautiful valleys between the volcano’s Mt Kooroocheang & Kangaroo Hills. This farm is blessed with over 85,000 mega litres of water with two huge dams and the spring fed Captains Creek as well as plenty of deep shade trees and shelter belts. We cut about 50 rounds and 800 squares of pasture hay a year, with a rotational system in place for grazing, and drill seeding of brassica after the pigs for winter feeds. Due to the British White Cattle being an extremely rare breed and not many bulls in Australia, I’ve managed to use my artificial insemination skills to two of my cows and hopefully introduce a line from America.
We will be supplying ethically produced free range Berkshire Pork, & British White Beef in the very near future, both direct to home and to the restaurant industry as well as whole fleece raw wool sales to the hand spinners from our Finn & coloured sheep.
Choosing a rare breed conserves the breed for future generations, the British White Cattle and Finn Sheep stock are all pure bred and pedigree, with the British Whites being genetically tested for lineage. We have also joined the two breeding societies and will be active in the promotion and preservation of these breeds.
It’s funny as we are trying to arrange a birthday party and it has to be held around hay making, shearing & weaning – farm first!
RubaDub is going through an exciting growth stage as more and more people whom use our products return for more, and some rather large prominent business’ are taking the products on. With support on the wonderful on line store Farmhouse Direct, SLOW magazine editorials, our regular attendance at the famous Creswick Market and The Pop Up Collective in Ballarat growth is ticking along organically. At the moment, I’m frantically hand-making stock for the build up for Christmas and about to launch some new products to the range! The Chamomile will be starting to grow soon, as well as the Calendula and a small harvest will begin. I just love it that I can make a difference to peoples skin by making a 100% natural product, each single tin of balm, or soap or moisturiser I just smile!

Springmount Gardens and Landscaping is about to be all systems go! Spring-to-Christmas is our busiest time of the year, and we recommend clients to book early so as to not avoid disappointment. We look after mostly Daylesford, Creswick & Ballarat and surrounding areas, lawn mowing, gardening, and general garden clean ups are busy coming into the fire season, as well as landscaping., building veggie gardens, installing watering systems, paving and fencing. With having such a wonderful team it enables Jono to spend time farming and between the two of us sharing the work load.

Nattini Pony Stud has just taken on the lease of a beautiful stallion from Tasmania with an old linage that I’ve been after for a while, he will be residing here at the home farm and meeting his mares at the beginning of October with a few outside mares on a list. At the moment we are awaiting for one mare to foal, have a young one away on harness training and about to start the training of last years foals.
Our daughter Ruby loves her horses, she attends a local Pony Club at Kingston which is small and family orientated and I’ve become involved as the secretary and we manage to fit in a few horse shows over the school holidays, she also swims, competes in triathlons, plays piano and next year the local Netball team. Yes, we are busy, but we are busy together and are working as a family and for our local community in the most beautiful area of the Central Highlands of Vic. By doing what we love, we hope to inspire and awaken the hearts of others to think about what they love, their choices in life and how those choices can make a difference and impact others and our earth.

You could have moved to New Zealand to run Jonathan’s family farm, but you stayed in Springmount. Why?

We came close, it wasn’t an easy decision to stay, the amazing opportunity to run a fourth generation family farm in the beautiful rolling hills between the coast and rugged snow mountains of New Zealand was there and every visit back to the family farm Jono could feel the pull to be back home. In fact, as I write this, Jono’s parents are moving to a smaller property to commence retirement, whilst his sister and brother in-law are employed as managers of the farm in which we wish them all the best. It is the most beautiful place at “Braeside” but when it came to the crunch we had so much going here, a wonderful community, friends, my family, schools, established business’ plus with all our connections here – so here we stay.

In some ways, it’s our own pioneering farming venture – we named the property “Brooklands” after the first settled family farm in New Zealand by Jono’s family, and just three months ago we had the pleasure of visiting this farm only to be shown hand written maps by Jono’s great, great grandfather and historic photographs of the homestead, which we have on our facebook page Brooklands Freerange Farms Blampied. Jono’s family are a pioneering NZ family, whom are very proud of their heritage.
There is a family pre-meal “grace” known as “The Brooklands Grace” that keep to continue the tradition and it will become part of the Brooklands label:

“Gratitude for this food most humbly we implore give us to taste immortal food nor thirst nor hunger more”.

Jono’s parents have given us their blessing, their support and countless time on the phone with farming advice, and now with their retirement we hope more frequent and longer visits – we are so lucky to have such wonderful and supportive families between the two of us.

Your businesses are based on holistic and healthy ethics. Where or who or what do you draw your country-life inspiration from?

Every morning, I open the curtains and smile. I hear the birds and watch the seasons and feel absolutely blessed to be living in this beautiful part of the world and I don’t want to see this environment ruined for future generations by chemicals in our soils, chemicals in our skin products and in our food. We are so lucky here to be surrounded by such a wonderful and abundant organic and diverse farming community, with the best local fresh produce to be purchased from Ballarat to Daylesford. We are surrounded by inspiration every single day!

What does a typical day in the life of ‘Nat & Jono’ look like; from when you wake to when you go to sleep?

People ask us “what have you been up to” and I smile, as our days don’t seem to stop! Jono usually rises about 5am, it’s his quiet time, he will do some invoices then on first light feeds horses, chickens, lets dogs out for a run then leaves about 7am checks or feeds stock at “Brooklands” then meets up with his Springmount Gardens team for a full days work usually home around 6-7pm but can be flexible and is either found fencing, moving stock or maintaining equipment til dark. I’m up at 6.30am, have Ruby organised for school then on the bus, she has 40min trip to Daylesford. I’m then on the computer for admin, orders, promotions and research. By 10am I’m either outside training a couple of the yearlings, in the garden, moving horses, consulting or writing up a horse diet, making RubaDub balms or moisturisers, checking stock at Blampied, helping Jono with farm work, after school activities, and in the evening feeding, rugging and checking horses and all animals for the night. We love daylight savings as we fit in riding lessons for Ruby, evening walks in the forest. The days are jam packed, but we wouldn’t have it any other way; because we are self-employed we have flexibility to change our days as they pan out, and mostly there is something that changes the whole day around.

Do you consider yourself/selves to be ‘Countryphile/s’? Do you love country life? Why?

We don’t just love country life; we live it and it is now deep in our souls. Jono is a country boy and is so happy to be re-connected. A friend of my parents said to me the other day, “Nat you were born for the country life” and I just can’t imagine living the city life ever again. Feeling very grateful and blessed. I just feel so grounded here.

What aspect of country life are you loving MOST at the moment?

Such a hard question as it’s the whole package of community and friendship, space, seasons, nature, opportunity, peace. But most of all I see our daughter growing in this environment, learning about birth, life, death, nature. Being responsible for her horse, and our earth, running, playing and freedom in her own open spaces and sharing friendships in this community where everyone says hello and helps each other. We also wish we had embarked on farming years ago as it’s definitely what we are loving most at the moment. Farming is very challenging, unpredictable and weather/season reliable yet so rewarding and with both our skills so natural for us.

What is the most CHALLENGING aspect of country life?

Sometimes, it’s fitting everything into a day, as the jobs list on each property is never ending. But we have learnt to be more relaxed about the list and prioritise. Bushfires and the CFA app beeping each summer – when I hear that app beep fear strikes, we have our fire boxes packed and near the door, horse floats are ready to go with water and hay and have system planned for the animals. I still haven’t got used to the snakes, but I’m getting better at spotting them and leaving them alone except when they are too close to the house. Jono’s more relaxed about it all, not sure if that’s because he wasn’t brought up with snakes and bushfires, but he keeps me calm.

Do you prefer Coffee or Tea? Your favourite country café and why?

We love both but the first thing that moved in with us was a coffee machine and a good quality grinder. Jono makes the best coffee due to his restaurant years and pumps out a mean latte at 7am to get us started. The barter system is alive and well and exchange lawn mowing for coffee beans with the owner of Buffalo Soldier Coffee Co in Daylesford. When we are out – Daylesford it’s Cliffy’s Emporium, as I just love to sit there and gather my thoughts in this gorgeous old store or catch up with friends, and sample the local and fresh produce. Creswick Le Peche Gourmand with its delish authentic French patisserie, Ballarat L’ Espresso gives us a taste of Melbourne on a Saturday morning. The Swiss Mountain Hotel at Blampied has just re-opened after years of being closed and about to soon open a produce store which we are all excited about. We are so lucky to have some of the best cafés in the region when it comes to Daylesford, Creswick and Ballarat, so we are never far from a good coffee!

What and where was the last great meal you enjoyed/shared in the country?

Kazuki’s in Daylesford – it is the most exquisite food, great for all food palettes, excellent wine list and just a delightful atmosphere plus Jono used to work with Kazuki at Lake House some time ago. Our other Friday night fav is Captains Creek Organic Winery, not only are Caroline and Doug good friends, but from spring and over summer they crank up the wood fire oven and do the most amazing organic wood fired pizza from their produce, plus a glass of their organic cider over looking the valley and vinyard at Blampied – heaven! We are also looking forward to heading out to the recently one hat Argus Dining room at Hepburn for the first time.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Always an early start, after livestock rounds, Jono takes Ruby swimming in Ballarat or I’m attending a local market with RubaDub, but if there’s an animal that needs to be attended to that takes priority. When we can we still love reading the Saturday papers with a late, but sometimes find we are reading them on Tuesdays!

Would you ENCOURAGE others to live a country life? Why/why not?

If it’s what you have always wanted to do….just do it! We found the first two years we were finding our feet with regular trips to Melbourne for a “fix”. In the beginning, there were times of “why are we here?” especially over the long, cold winters that this district attracts. Then, there’s all the things that in Melbourne we take for granted, water and gas flowing freely to our house – in the country we have a pump and the gas is purchased in large bottles. But, we have this beautiful space, we don’t have traffic lights, every day is clean air, and every season brings new surprises and sparks new interests. Here, in the Daylesford region, we are blessed with the best local produce, wonderful schools and wonderful people.

What ADVICE would you give those dreaming of making a TREE CHANGE?

Over time, we have learnt to adjust. The secret is to not stress, just let things evolve, take your time and realise that some things are just out of your control. Patience is important to country living and give up some of the city values, as they just don’t count in the country. Be prepared for the seasons, cutting and storing wood for winter, preparing for fire in summer. If you’re unsure, rent where you think you would like to live, but give it at least two years. If you have children, check out the schools, especially secondary as boarding might be your only option. When you move, get involved with the community; I joined a few committees and playgroups, which was a great way to meet people, be involved.

What can we expect NEXT from you/your businesses in the future?

You will be shortly seeing Rare Breed Berkshire Pork & British White beef from “Brooklands Free Range Farms” , as well as beautiful ready to spin fleece from our Finn Sheep. We have a few exciting plans next year in stall for “Brooklands Free Range Farms” with a boning room in the process and small goods products. It’s very exciting and there are so many wonderful Free Range Producers in this region, we are honoured to be within their company and creating an end product for the plate with ethics and flavour.
RubaDub is growing at a steady pace with more retailers stocking, website sales, sales through Farmhouse Direct and editorials in magazines. My aim with RubaDub is to keep it honest and not too big, as it’s a 100% natural, handmade product using local and home-grown ingredients that heal and protect and not to be sold in the likes of any big supermarket.
I will be completing a Diploma in Herbal Medicine and nutrition for small and large Animals and have just finished testing a healing balm for horses and dogs that will be launched soon, as well as a new Beer Soap and some Scrubs! Jono has an amazing and skilled team of hard workers, Rohan & Glen behind Springmount Gardens that are all reved up for the busy seasons ahead.
Nattini Pony Stud will continue in the small holistic scale it is, breeding two to three ponies a year, and training ponies for children, harness and show.

What are you looking FORWARD to and why?

“Brooklands Free Range Farms” making a difference to the welfare of food bred animals, educating people in what their choices are and how they can make a difference by choosing correctly.
The more people demand true “Free Range” the less we will see of intensive farming practices – these practices are guided by demand.

What would be your dream project?

Building our own eco house at “Brooklands”. The house will be made from re-claimed timbers and stone from the farm, with grand views straight over to Mt Kooroocheang and the water filled valleys below. It’s a dream at the moment, but hoping it will be a reality in 10 years’ time.

Can you list for us 5 specific things you turn to/do when you need of a ‘dose’ of city life?

1. Family and friends – My brother & Sister and their families live in Melbs – I love nothing more then a good catch up in Melbourne, be it their house or a restaurant on the beach or the city. We don’t do it as often as we should.
2. Beach – I grew up in Brighton and later lived in St Kilda and holidays at Sorrento. I miss the beach and the smell of the sea. When I was young Brighton was like a country town, even two blocks away from our house were horses in a paddock. No body wanted the beach boxes, so we had one to use as a teenager. When in Melbs I often take Ruby for a walk along Brighton Beach.
3. We love taking Ruby to musicals, stage shows and catch the train for the day to Melbourne.
4. South Melbourne and Vic Markets – the smells, the atmosphere, the variety and fresh seafood!
5. AFL Football – Jono loves his dose of footy, he takes Ruby and heads to a night match some weekends on the train.

Link to article: thecountryphiles.com/2014/10/10/interview-rubadub-nats-jono/