Sandy and Tim Palmer realise their decision to leave the year-round sunshine and laidback lifestyle of the Gold Coast left some people scratching their heads, but as they settle into Spring and the country lifestyle of Tenterfield, NSW, they know it was the right move.
“I’m still acclimatising and wearing five layers because the mornings are pretty fresh, but a couple of weeks ago we had a really nice day when you could feel the air had changed and it was warmer,” Sandy said.
“That’s why we moved here, to experience the change of seasons, and it happens before your eyes – the leaves that dropped in Autumn are now bursting out on the trees again in Spring.”
The Palmers met in high school in the Victorian country town of Drouin, in Gippsland. As newlyweds they decided to leave the eternal cold and head north to the Gold Coast, and as Sandy says, they ‘never looked back’.
“We had a pool and a great lifestyle but after 25 years of endless hot summers and humidity you think, right, let’s get some balance! A client, Claire, told me her parents’ Tenterfield property was on the market, and here we are at Delmont,” she said.
Sitting 850m above sea level, Tenterfield has a population of around 4000 people and several personalities – it’s the local hub for wool, beef and cropping farms; it’s a gardening mecca, thanks to below zero temperatures with occasional snow in winter and dry, warm summers; and it’s a tourist attraction, tagged ‘the birthplace of the nation’, thanks to Henry Parkes’ speech that led to Australia coming together as a Federation in 1901.
Since arriving on their three-acre former apple orchard six months ago, Sandy and Tim haven’t stopped. They’ve renovated the main brick home into a four-bedroom residence, cleaned out the spider webs and bird poo and painted the inside of an old packing shed, built a restful space inside a glasshouse, and continued to discover new plants emerging in their country garden.
And like a flower in Spring, the couple have bloomed in their new surrounds.
Tim, a carpenter, has been helping to renovate the heritage-listed Royal Hotel while Sandy, an antiques and furniture restorer and dealer, has completed a six-week free floristry course at Tenterfield TAFE, styled an event at Glenrock Gardens, and works two days a week in a local homewares store.
They’ve also accepted a gig at Mungindi, 400km west of Tenterfield, for the upcoming grain harvest which will see Sandy paint the shearer’s quarters and Tim drive the chaser bin or the harvester, relying on his experience from working as a greenkeeper at Sanctuary Cove Resort.
Sandy says it’s all about being open to the options.
As a mature couple, Sandy says it’s important to ‘put yourself out there’ in a new town, otherwise it can be a lonely life.
“We can choose to be here on our little farm or make a conscious decision to go out and meet people. I’ve walked into shops and introduced myself, struck up a conversation, asked ‘Do you need a worker?’ and next minute they’re calling me up!” she said with a laugh.
“We have friends visiting all the time, too. A couple of girlfriends came last weekend and shopped til they dropped, had lunch and coffees, so you feel you’re bringing money into the community. The first timers to Tenterfield can’t believe it’s just three hours drive from the Gold Coast.”
At home they’re discovering the Spring delights of their cottage garden, planted 15 years ago by local Mandy Reid, from White Cottage Flower Farm. Sandy has downloaded an app for her phone to identify the plants and says it’s a welcome change from the palm tree monoculture of the Gold Coast.
“We inherited a lovely rose garden at the front and we have Oriental poppies, bluebells and daffodils in bloom, the paeonies are about to blossom and a huge camellia at the side of the house hasn’t stopped flowering since we moved in. We have a beautiful big weeping cherry at the front and the green leaves have burst out all over it this week,” she said.
“We also discovered a cork tree that’s the same as the massive one that Tenterfield is famous for, that was brought out from England in a jam jar in 1861 and stretches right across Wood Street.
“Everything grows! It just all works, the soil and the climate.”
Sandy admits she’s not a gardener but is keen to learn. The other day she knocked on the door of a ‘lovely old fellow’ in town to ask for a lesson on dahlias, and as a result has planted 50 dahlia tubers.
She and Tim have also transformed the three-metre by eight-metre glasshouse in the garden, which has gone from being ‘a sad looking thing’, Sandy says, to a destination in its own right, not just ‘sticking out of the paddock’.
“Tim did it all himself, got his tripod out and made sure everything was level and used the excavator to make a lovely pathway to it, with coloured pebbles in the aggregate and a little retaining wall with sleepers and a Japanese box hedge around it,” she said.
“I wanted to make it more appealing, so I added some old shutters to the outside and decked the inside with old furniture and a big potting bench, and now it’s so toasty, we can sit or lay inside it in winter or summer.”
Sandy says the move to Tenterfield came at just the right time.
“We should’ve done it 10 years ago but the kids were still at home so the opportunity wasn’t there. Tim’s very happy, I don’t think he’ll ever go back, we go to the Gold Coast and can’t wait to get home because it’s too busy.
“Here it takes you five minutes to get into town, you can find a car park, there are no traffic lights, and all of the neighbours have made it their business to knock on our door with a box of chocolates or something and their phone numbers.
“I know I’ve changed because I’d rather put money into under-floor heating than a pool!”