A lot can change in a weekend, especially when you’re visiting the Cedar Glen Farmstay in the Lost World region of south east Queensland.
A weekend at home lasts two days. Saturday is for children’s sport, then there’s the lawn and the shopping. Sunday is for the papers and lunch with friends and family. A great weekend away somehow lasts so much longer. Cedar Glen, a cattle farm at the foot of the World Heritage listed Lamington National Park is a portal into that time warp. The farmstay, an hour and a half from Brisbane is a world away from the suburban routine. It is an authentic slice of Australian pastoral life, with the kind of unpretentious family hospitality that money can’t buy. It is also the kind of experience that can turn young PlayStation pilots into budding bushmen and transform bovine-phobes into rookie milk maids. But that’s perhaps one talent the kids won’t be boasting about when they get back to school.
To stay at Cedar Glen is to become part of the Stephens family. The affable and entertaining Peter Stephens hosts his visitors like they are old friends, making guests comfortable with an old-fashioned welcome and guiding them through the rural experience with his local insight. The family has been hosting visitors at their historic farm near Beaudesert for 25 years. Accommodation is offered in the lovingly restored original homestead. Its walls carry a pictorial history of the Stephens family who have been farming cattle here since the turn of the last century. But a great option for families is one of the three other houses on the property. Here the children can make as much noise as they like. The only disapproving looks are going to come from cows in the neighbouring paddock.
A thick mist hangs over the valley at daybreak. As the sun starts to heave itself over the mountain range, a pony leans over our front gate waiting for signs of life from the dairy house. Its body is in silhouette against the white mist. If this isn’t the proverbial pastoral idyll, I don’t know what is. The only thing missing is the smell of bacon and eggs cooking. But it is too early in the morning for that. This is a working farm and there are jobs to be done. Animals need feeding. Eggs must be collected and there’s a cow to be milked. Milking proves to be a popular chore. The cow is securely tied up, making it less of a threat than the flapping chickens and noisy pigs. My sons pursue the milking with the sort of single-minded dedication they normally reserve for rugby. I have to drag them away when we begin to run the risk of missing out on breakfast.
Eating is a major part of the farmstay experience. Breakfast is a spectacular spread of home-made produce – fresh conserves, local honey, home-made yoghurt and of course locally cured bacon and eggs fresh from the hen house. Lunch is served either at the top of an escarpment, overlooking the farm or in the shade of an ironbark, by the side of the Albert River. This isn’t the kind of sandwiches and chips experience that qualifies for off-site eating at home. Cedar Glen picnics start with a 4WD excursion through rugged terrain and across shallow waterways. Then the chairs are unpacked, the rug is laid out and the billy is boiled. An array of carefully prepared goodies are fished out of the picnic basket – zucchini slice, sandwiches stuffed with roast beef , bacon and egg quiche and a selection of sweet slices that are irresistible.
There’s the chance to burn off a few of those excess calories with a session of boomerang throwing and whip cracking. This all looks very easy. But it’s not. Whips end up wrapped around bodies and boomerangs are lost in the bush. But our hosts remain patient and by the end of the session we are all cracking whips like stockmen – shots echo around the valley confirming our success. (Although I have to admit we need a bit more practice with the boomerangs.)
The next morning my sons are both confidently riding horses, feeding the animals (except for those noisy pigs) and planning their next visit to Cedar Glen. The Cartoon Network clichés have disappeared from their vocabulary and they have even stopped making jokes about the cow dung. What has happened to those two city children I arrived with on Friday afternoon? Their cultural transformation is complete when they start swinging on the Hills Hoist. If ever there were an unsophisticated yet fabulously fun childhood pursuit, this would be it. But a note to Mr Stephens: I promise it wasn’t my children who bent the clothes line. It was like that when we arrived.