We passed a lot of familiar landmarks (Exhibition Center, Princess Theatre, Treasury Building) on our way out of Melbourne, then crossed through miles of suburbs, and finally headed up into the mountains–the Dandenongs. Winding upward, through dark forest, we came at last to Sassafras, and not long after, to Judy and Geoff’s handsome, tree-swathed, 10-acre mountainside ranch. The house is built just below road level, but still high enough to have an amazing view of the paddocks, forest, and valley below. Picture windows and a large wooden deck make the splendid scenery always easily available for viewing. The house is surrounded by gardens, made possible by a series of stonewalled terraces and accessible by stone steps and paths. Judy and Geoff have certainly put an astonishing amount of work into this place. Judy explained that native plants are particularly abundant in the garden because they are more likely to attract native wildlife, from possums to parrots.
There are, in fact, a great number of birds here. I’ve already seen kookaburras, butcherbirds, magpies, cockatoos, Eastern rosellas, and others I can’t identify. Judy said I’d definitely see more before I left.
Below the garden, broad paddocks slope down to the gooseberry and chestnut orchards, all bounded by dense stands of mountain ash and tree ferns.
I was shown to the charming guest room, where I dropped my bags. Then, after a brief tour of the rest of the house, we headed back outside–because there is always work to be done on a ranch. I helped Judy carry feed out to their two horses, Hoss and Rahmyl. Hoss is the “old man” of the farm, pretty much in retirement, but Rahmyl is an exuberant 5-year-old dapple-gray gelding. Both were waiting at the fence when we approached.
Next I was introduced to the dogs. Bullett McQueen is a sturdy-looking Australian blue heeler and Scamp is an ancient, blind silky terrier.
Chores done, we headed back into the house. This is a wonderful place, full of books and evidence of the Judy and Geoff’s interest in horses, horticulture, and Australian history. And my hosts are charming, gracious, generous people. We have corresponded since my first trip, but letters and a week on a riding trip with Judy were my only connection with them, and yet they have made me feel incredibly welcome.
Hiking up and down the sloping paddocks builds up the appetite, so I wasn’t disappointed when Judy said it was time to fix dinner. The kitchen is large, open, and well equipped, and Judy is an excellent cook. She prepared a lovely meal of beef shashlik and veggies, with a steamed pudding for dessert. Then we chatted over coffee and port, catching up on the years since we were last together, discussing what we’d do while I’m hear. Finally, it was time to say good night, and I headed off to the very comfortable bed in the delightful guest room. A long day made it a welcome destination.
Evening in the Dandenongs