Natalie Davis and Nils Bendix turned a historic lo­ca­tion into a won­der­land for their two boys.

THERE’S NOT MUCH TO SEE OF EWING FARM from the road, ex­cept the lit­tle colony of high-pitched rusted roofs peep­ing over a strag­gly hawthorn hedge, but that’s enough to hint of a place steeped in his­tory. Ewing Farm in Tylden, cen­tral Vic­to­ria, was built in 1862 and now more than a cen­tury later, cloaked in an­tiq­uity, it’s a place that cap­tures your imag­i­na­tion. That his­tory is what fi­first at­tracted Natalie Davis and her part­ner Nils Bendix to the place four years ago. At the time the cou­ple lived on the other side of the con­ti­nent in Shoal­wa­ter, south of Perth. But they’d been search­ing along the east coast for an old house in the coun­try where their son Wolf­gang, now six, and since joined by Hugo, three, could ex­plore. A more east­erly lo­ca­tion also suited Nils, who is a con­tract rig­ger, work­ing in the fi­film, tele­vi­sion, oil and gas in­dus­tries all over the coun­try. Mean­while, Natalie — a chalk­board artist and sign-writer who is cur­rently de­sign­ing wine la­bels — knew she’d fifind de­mand for her work in a re­gion with such a rich food in­dus­try. Most of all, they wanted to be sur­rounded by his­tory. “We wanted to be in the hin­ter­land, we needed to be near an air­port for Nils, and we needed age,” says Natalie. “I love all kinds of old things, not just houses.” When Nils fi­first vis­ited Ewing Farm with an agent, the 1.2-hectare prop­erty hadn’t yet been listed for sale. “Nils came here to look, and then he called me to say, ‘I think I’m stand­ing in our house!’” says Natalie. “Wolfie and I flflew over from Perth two days later. We walked around the gar­den and it was so over­grown with peri­win­kle and it had more work to do than we planned, but we loved the rab­bit war­ren of the house, where you for­get what di­rec­tion you’re go­ing in.” The orig­i­nal owner, Thomas Ewing, was a civil en­gi­neer who came up from Mel­bourne to build the road from Tylden on to Dayles­ford. In 1862 he built the fi­first two-roomed build­ing with an ad­join­ing dairy, scullery and tack room un­der skil­lion roofs. He fol­lowed with a sec­ond house in the 1870s, with sep­a­rate school and gov­erness rooms, and fi­fi­nally sent for his fam­ily who were wait­ing in Mel­bourne. The build­ings clus­tered on three sides around a nar­row court­yard. “They found gold at Glen­lyon and Thomas Ewing had a toll house on the road and was al­lowed to charge a toll, re­coup­ing money for his house,” says Natalie. “There’s also a Ned Kelly story that I’ve heard a few times. Ned was be­ing ac­com­mo­dated in one of the fi­five pubs in

Tylden while he was on trial in Kyne­ton, but he’d get into bar fights and ended up sleep­ing un­der a tree. Mr Ewing said Ned could sleep on his floor, so he stayed here when he was too naughty to stay in pubs!” Natalie and Nils moved in three months af­ter they bought the prop­erty in 2013. Both love a cold rugged cli­mate but their first spring in Vic­to­ria’s cen­tral high­lands sur­prised even them. “I’m orig­i­nally from Jersey, in the Chan­nel Is­lands, so I’m used to windy places and like be­ing on the top of hills. But that Novem­ber was the cold­est on record and I thought, ‘What’s win­ter go­ing to be like?’” says Natalie. The pre­vi­ous owner bought the house af­ter it had been aban­doned for years and used it as a week­ender. He had joined all the wings with a con­ser­va­tory roof over the court­yard, and turned the dairy into the kitchen. How­ever, while work had been done on a few rooms, there were still holes in some of the walls. At some stage the hall­way in the 1870s house had been lined with old tea chests. “It was to cover the ter­mite dam­age,” says Natalie. In Hugo’s room she cov­ered the holes in the walls with mask­ing tape and hung pic­tures over them un­til they could re­plas­ter. “The house was un­safe,” says Natalie. The walls were off the end of the gov­erness’s room and school­room and the roof was held up by one acro prop. The ceil­ing had fallen in, and the cou­ple could see a shin­gled roof above it, which they thought would look great ex­posed so they went about restor­ing it. “We put trusses up and lifted the iron off the roof, built a frame­work and in­su­lated un­der­neath,” ex­plains Natalie. “We blew the cob­webs out of the shin­gles and sealed them. Then we put in French doors to the ve­ran­dah and that’s our sum­mer liv­ing room now.” With trades­peo­ple com­ing and go­ing for over a year, they also re­paired col­umns on the ve­ran­dahs, and re­placed the skil­lion on the scullery, now Natalie’s stu­dio, with a new pitched roof. They lifted every smooth-worn flfloor­board in the 1862 wing to res­tump and lay par­ti­cle­board flfloor­ing un­der­neath to stop the wind com­ing through the gaps. “We num­bered every board and put them back ex­actly where they came from.” A friend and col­league of Nils who is a scenic artist ap­plied dis­tressed paint fin­ishes to old doors and tim­ber da­dos. Even­tu­ally the cou­ple de­cided to fin­ish build­ing the gue­stroom with en­suite that the pre­vi­ous owner had started in the 1870s wing — call­ing it the Rose Suite — as well as a new bed­room they named the Mag­no­lia Suite, af­ter the Vivi­enne West­wood wall­pa­per Natalie bought on­line for the sit­ting room. Ini­tially in­tended for fam­ily to stay, these rooms (plus a third called the Japon­ica Room) are now of­fered as ac­com­mo­da­tion on Airbnb. Es­tab­lish­ing a kitchen gar­den was an­other of Natalie’s projects, adding to the al­ready es­tab­lished or­chard and court­yard gar­den planted with crabap­ple va­ri­eties, rose­mary, laven­der and pop­pies. Many of the orig­i­nal plant­ings re­main in the front and side gar­den, in­clud­ing an Ir­ish straw­berry tree and gi­ant box hedges fol­low­ing the old gar­den lines. It’s a won­der­land for Wolf­gang and Hugo, who have swings hang­ing from big old tree limbs, as well as pet sheep — twins Ella Fitzger­ald and Bil­lie Hol­i­day — and chick­ens to play with. Natalie and Nils, too, have found there’s a lot to love about the place that they now call home. “We feel like it’s not re­ally our house be­cause it’s so orig­i­nal — we’re just look­ing af­ter it.” For more in­for­ma­tion about ac­com­mo­da­tion, visit airbnb.com.au/ rooms/4944894 and airbnb.com.au/rooms/5480818. Fol­low Natalie on In­sta­gram @chalkysigns

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