Reflection on Renovations

Renovations. A dream for some, a nightmare for others. A concept that inspires magazine consumers and reality TV watchers everywhere.

Although the end result can be inspiring, often the journey to the destination can be treacherous, tedious and even torturous.

Take for example when we first started renovations at Crabtree Heights. It was the middle of winter, and for those unaccustomed to weather in the Huon Valley, it gets bloody freezing to say the least. No walls, no insulation, just the fashionable blue wrap around foil that only just protects inside-dwellers from the elements. I was in my first year of my Masters via distance, listening to a lecture in my study at home. Amongst the banging, the three builders yelled out that the power had to be turned out for the day, therefore no electric heater or wifi. By this stage, lets say 3 months in, nothing bothered me anymore. Donned in a beanie, explorers, ugg boots as well as several coats and blankets, I popped my hotspot on and got on with my day.

The very cold day…

When I was 13, my parents decided to renovate our family home. We doubled the size of the house and installed an inside pool and a bunch of new living spaces. It was a big job and took approximately 9 months to complete. One evening in the middle of winter, we returned home to a whole external wall that covered the length of the kitchen, dining and lounge area completely removed and open to the elements. Did I mention it was the middle of winter? My parents had to create a makeshift wall with a tarpaulin to somewhat protect us from the rain occurring outside. I remember sitting on the little camp stretcher with a doona over me to keep me warm. Thinking about it now, why didn’t I learn not to do renovations in winter?!

Now it’s the bathroom. With only one bathroom in the house, we’ve been living with my parents for several weeks. Luckily the shower and toilet are now fitted, so although it is not yet complete we have been able to move back in. And although we’re brushing our teeth at the kitchen sink, we’ve not yet had the experience of freezing ourselves. Perhaps I have learnt something from past experiences…

I am so looking forward to seeing the end result of these renos. And I’m grateful that the journey I have taken this time hasn’t left me out in the cold.






A Celebration of Home

I have had quite the hiatus from blog writing since trading my graduate cap for role of teacher. Now a year and a half into this role, any form of creativity extending beyond the classroom is a stretch. But like any good role model, I must practice what I preach and take the challenge of updating my creative space at least once a month! So here goes…

What a way to celebrate my love of my home and the Huon Valley but to appear in this month’s edition of Country Style magazine. I feel very grateful to celebrate the hard work, time, money and effort that my husband and I (and I must mention countless others) have put into our cosy little home. I have been a subscriber to the magazine for many years and keep all the editions which are of course prominently displayed on my coffee table. I think the newest edition may just take pride of place.


Like many old houses, it seems renovations are ongoing and Crabtree Heights is no exception. We are currently living out of home while our bathroom and laundry get tended to. Currently a bomb site, our aim is to create a warm, clean and comfortable space that complements our homes heritage. This project, for the first time, has been left solely to the professionals. Besides knocking out some walls (fun, but pathetic swing on my behalf) Boz and I are mostly removed from the process. Nice, as I’m tired of spending time tending. But slightly scary as I hope we get it right!

We always have ideas of making Crabtree Heights that little bit more perfect. But after five years of a lot of love, I think we’ve just about got it.

The Simple Life

“I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.”
– Laura Ingalls Wilder

“The simple life” often goes hand in hand with “the country life” but for those who live in the country know that nothing could be further from the truth.

When dreaming of the life I was going to have, I pictured an old weatherboard house (tick), chickens (tick), and a bit of land (tick). What I did not expect, or at least did not prepare for was our dog getting bitten by a snake, consistently chasing runaway cows, or quolls attacking and killing the chickens. These are just some of the realities of living in the country.


Now don’t get me wrong, I am a fairly practical person who grew up with a reasonably sound knowledge of life in the country, as did my Husband. And we were always prepared to put in the hard work when it came to living here because we believe this will be our forever home. But the constant anxiety of a potential bushfire or threat of a snake turning up at the back door, as well as ensuring that there is enough feed for the cows and that the chickens are locked away every night can be tiring. Although it certainly looks and is an idyllic lifestyle, it is not for everyone.

I love living where I do and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but that is because I was prepared to take on responsibility and make adjustments to my life to meet those needs. We have suffered heartbreak at the loss of animals, stress during bushfire and snake season, and a lot of weekends working as opposed to socialising. What I have learnt in return is hard work, resilience and persistence, as well as a number of other practical life skills.


My life may not be more simple, but it certainly is more complete and more real. And if that is my trade off from living in the country then I am simply happy with that.

Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival

Old Apple tree we’ll wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear.
The Lord does know where we shall be
To be merry another year.

To blow well and to bear well,
And so merry let us be.
Let every man drink up his cup
And health to the old apple tree.

In light (or perhaps darkness) of the upcoming Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival, I spoke to Ellie Smith, Function Manager of the Apple Shed and wife to Andrew of Willie Smiths Organic Cider, to discuss her love of the Huon Valley and this weekends celebration.

Ellie grew up in the UK, from the Midlands to London and also to Scotland where she later pursued a career in television at the BBC. In 2000, Ellie travelled to Australia and a year later she met Huon Valley boy Andrew Smith. Unable to convince her to stay, Ellie and Andrew tried long distance for two years, travelling from Huonville to Glasgow: two very separate and distant worlds! Ellie decided to make the tree change in 2004 and in 2008 married into one of the oldest families in the Huon Valley: the Smiths. Together they live on the family property with their children Harry, 9 and Ruby, 6.

Ellie and Ruby MWF 2016.jpg
Ellie with daughter Ruby at the 2016 Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival

The family business goes back to 1888, when William Smith planted the first orchard at the age of 20. William is great grandfather to Andrew and namesake of the cider brand. His parents were convicts transported from Ireland and England. William married Elsie Oates, daughter of Charles Oates, another old Huon Valley family. Like many family businesses, the company was handed through the generations, first to Ron, then Ian and now Andrew who has been working on the family farm on-and-off from the age of 15.

In 2012 the Smiths recognised they needed to value add to their business in order to secure its future and so was the beginning of Willie Smith’s Organic Cider. They saw the opportunity of the old Apple Shed museum on the Grove Straight and bought it a year later, transforming into a bar/coffee shop/restaurant/museum/function centre/locals watering hole.

Ellie is proud of the Apple Shed’s success as a place for locals to meet. When she first visited the Huon Valley it was a different place, slumped after the forestry wars with no clear vision of the future. Although a beautiful place to live, there lacked a sense of pride in the community, which can be said of Tasmania as a whole. This has shifted in recent years largely in part to the MONA affect but also to families such as the Smiths who are putting Tasmania back on the map with their creative intuition and of course their brilliant product. Since its opening in 2013, the Apple Shed has become a special place for locals, townies and tourists to meet and share their stories over food and drink.

As Function Manager, Ellie gets to take that one step further by utilising the shed for Weddings, Engagements (mine included), and corporate and charity events. Now the shed is getting ready for the annual Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival.

Big Willie – Image courtesy of Willie Smith’s Apple Shed

The Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival, or the Mid-Winter Fest, was an idea established by Andrew Smith and business partner, Sam Reid. Wanting to develop a winter festival, Sam travelled to the UK to research the pagan traditions, specifically those that focused on the apple harvests. Now in its fourth year, we celebrate a healthy harvest by wassailing to scare evil spirits and wake the apple trees under the watchful eye of our Sleeping Beauty. The wassail must be seen to be believed: a bunch of Tasmanians in a paddock banging pots and pans around a bonfire and hanging bread off a tree seems a little odd. But it’s the celebration of the Huon Valley from all walks of life is what Ellie loves about the Mid-Winter Fest. On top of that, there is delicious food from a variety of Tasmanian producers ready to warm your cockles as well as brilliant music to boogie to. And of course, endless flowing cider.

Sleeping Beauty

The Mid-Winter Fest is an event I look forward to every year. It kicks off this Friday night and goes through till Sunday with tickets available online or at the door. Bring your winter woolies, your blunnies or your gumboots because it is sure to get muddy.

Finally, I asked Ellie if there are any traditional apple recipes passed down through the generations. The Smith family favourite is apple crumble with either fuji or gala apples. Cream or ice cream? Hot custard is the go to for the Smiths! Perhaps that’s the secret? After all, the Smiths sure know their apples!






Lest we forget

“We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.”
– Dr John McCrae

ANZAC Day means so much to so many. Whether it be commemorated through a one minute silence, attendance at a Dawn Service at the local Cenotaph and RSL, or putting together a batch of ANZAC biscuits, ANZAC Day allows us to reflect on the atrocities of war and recognise the sacrifices over the past hundred years by so many of our men, women and animals.

Everyone has an ANZAC story. Mine takes the form of my Fathers Grandfather, Frederick Theodore Bender. Raised in Glen Huon, like all Benders, Frederick was son to Christian Bender and Henrietta Wagner who arrived from Prussia and then married in Richmond in 1870. Frederick was born in 1889 as one of ten children and made his living as an orchardist. Frederick married Elizabeth Heeney, a Cygnet girl and had children. In 1917, Frederick enlisted himself at the age of 39 as regimental number 752 in Machine Gun Company 4, Reinforcement 14. He was a Private and received the British War Medal and the Victory medal for his time at the Western Front. At the end of the Great War, Frederick returned to his home in Glen Huon victorious. Unfortunately, like many, his wife and children had contracted Spanish Influenza and in 1919 Frederick was a childless widower.

There are countless sad stories derived from war, and time often does not heal the wounds. Luckily for me, Frederick remarried a Miss Mabel Isabel Grubb and had three children, one being my Grandfather Raymond Theodore Bender.

I ponder how Frederick must have felt after his successful return from war, only to be faced with more death and heartbreak. Frederick died on Boxing Day 1959 in Huonville. 2017 marks one hundred years since Frederick enlisted in “the war to end all wars.” If only we would learn from the past.

Henrietta Wagner and Christian Bender, parents to Frederick.

ANZAC Biscuits

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup plain flour
¾ cup desiccated coconut
¾ cup caster sugar
½ teaspoon bi-carb soda
2 tbsp boiling water
125g butter melted
2 tbsp golden syrup


Preheat oven to 160ºC.

Combine oats, flour, coconut and sugar. Dissolve soda in boiling water and add to melted butter and golden syrup.

Pour into the dry ingredients and mix well. Place teaspoonfuls on paper lined baking trays.

Bake for 15 minutes or until golden.


*Unfortunately, I do not have any photos of Frederick.


Fish Friday

In the spirit of Easter, fish is on the menu.

Sold off the back of a ute on the local Dover wharf, the Husband and I purchased some Stripey off a colleague and her fisherman partner. At mates rates too, I was reminded of how wonderful it is to live in a small community where fish caught the day before is sold from the back of a ute in a Huon poly box.


I may not wholeheartedly believe in the story of Christ, and in an ever increasing secular society neither do many of my peers. What I do believe in however is the importance of community, kindness and a sense of belonging. Those values are evident in the Easter story and also from my experiences today in my little home town.


So during this holiday break, be mindful of the spirit of Easter and what it may mean to you. Catch up with loved ones, go home and have a rest, and remember your roots.

And eat fish.

Apple crumble: the timeless classic

The successor of the Sunday roast, the apple crumble must be one of the most classic desserts from country kitchens. Simple to whip up and a reminder of cold wintry Sundays, the apple crumble is my favourite dessert!

Harking back to the days when the Huon Valley was considered the eye of the Apple Isle, the apple crumble has been a regular at the dinner table throughout the generations for all locals. It’s unapologetically modest, making it a winner in my books. Never using a strict recipe, the quantities of my crumble vary every time. To me, this is the best way of cooking.

Using the apples from our orchard, I make a lot of crumbles throughout this season. With the rest of the apples, apple and blackberry jam is also on the menu (another recipe to be shared).

In a saucepan, I add a small amount of water to soften the peeled and finely sliced apples. I don’t add sugar as the apples I use are Mutsu’s or Granny Smith’s, which are already very sweet.

For the crumble I add weetbix, oats, desiccated coconut, brown sugar, cinnamon and butter and crush in my hands till it’s fine and mixed together. I use the weetbix and oats as a base, and add smaller amounts of the rest to taste.

In a 180º oven, I cook for approximately 15-20 minutes or until warm and golden brown.

My Husband prefers ice-cream to serve, but nothing can beat apple crumble drowning in full fat proper cream. Simple country cooking at its best.