For the past couple of days, Ant Spielvogel has been working as a roustabout at Corynnia Station, near Carathool in the NSW Riverina, certainly toiling physically harder —much, much harder — than he’s used to in his day job as a Melbourne businessman.
And he’s revelling in it, simply lapping it up: “Sure beats having to go to the gym.”
He and his wife Marnie Phillips have only been to Corynnia once before but they’re already treated by owners Bruce and Julie Armstrong as part of the family.
“He’s working so hard that I just had to feed them,” said Julie. I guess that’s what it’s like in the Riverina if you’re a decent person and show a propensity for hard yakka.
I feel almost guilty as I take up the offer of the last grilled chop on the communal plate rather than letting it pass through to Ant … but they are delicious.
I first met Bruce and Julie about six months ago, when they were undergoing a baptism of fire, hosting a large travel group that had come to the Riverina by vintage train.
Bruce had shown all his laid-back charm and wit, giving us a tour around the largely sheep-and-cotton property, while Julie, with much able help from future daughter-in-law Emily Porter, took on the much more onerous task of feeding some 80-odd people on Corynnia’s spacious veranda.
They did so with great aplomb, and it was hard to imagine that it was really their first time.
As well, Julie runs Corynnia as a very good B&B, though she knows full well that this business will always be a very secondary income source compared to the farming side.
It’s tempting to think that she almost regards the B&B as a hobby, although you can’t really regard looking after a maximum 22 guests, housed in a variety of accommodation, ranging from the luxurious homestead suite to the rather more lodge style of Maxie’s Retreat, as anything less than a serious, full-time occupation.
The homestead and its gardens really do constitute an oasis in the middle of a harsh landscape indeed. They’ve been magnificently done and are apparently a far cry from when Bruce and Julie moved in nearly 40 years ago.
And Julie’s flair as a designer certainly reflects her years as a fashion consultant — in the homestead, the garden and the tourist accommodation.
There’s a tennis court and swimming pool, as well as lovely sculptures hidden amongst the lush greenery.
The real genius behind Corynnia was Julie’s father John Jones, who purchased the property from British Tobacco in 1972.
He figured that almost anything would grow there … that all you had to do was add water.
So, in the late 1970s he set out establishing Corynnia’s extensive irrigation system, which still serves it well today and is based on the largesse of the mighty Murrumbidgee.
My visit coincides with one of Bruce’s busiest times of the year — shearing time, a week-or-so when most of the property’s 8000 merinos are relieved of their fleece well before the really cold weather sets in.
Some 28 workers — male and female, many from New Zealand — have settled in for a week-or-so of labour, including about eight shearers, and its full bore in the shearing shed after they’ve lost more than half a day during to the previous afternoon’s drizzle, which delivered just a paltry couple of mls to the parched paddocks.
And Ant is still loving it, even after long day, which includes spraying the freshly shorn sheep with … and labelling heavy, cumbersome bales. But he is looking forward to quenching a well earned thirst at the end of it.
Take a closer look at Corynnia station HERE