Annabelle Hickson: A Day in the Country
ANNABELLE HICKSON DISCOVERS A GOOD OLD-FASHIONED FUN PARK.
EVERY MORNING BERYL STEWART puts out freshly washed tablecloths on the picnic tables at Green Valley Farm, an adventure park she and her family built on their sheep farm south of Inverell in northern NSW. Have you ever heard of an adventure park with fresh tablecloths? On a sheep farm? Or one where they encourage you to bring your own food rather than queue up like corralled cattle to buy awful hamburgers? I hadn’t. But that’s because I hadn’t been to Green Valley Farm before. I never knew the adventure park concept could be so civilised. My husband — in all seriousness — describes it as one of the wonders of the modern world. A piece of the bush full of homemade rollercoasters and metal slides, cows with five legs (for real), putt putt golf, monkeys, rabbits, gardens, giant bouncing pillows and the Bee Gees crackling over the speakers. You are shaded by tall gum trees and surrounded by paddocks. And after you enter the gates no one really tries to extract any money from you. A modern anomaly. Kids split away from their parents in packs, while the adults mill around the barbecues and picnic tables. It feels like you’re living in one of your parents’ old photographs; when there was trust enough in the world for kids to be unsupervised and free. Our day at Green Valley Farm contrasted sharply with our experience at Lego Land in the USA. We were over there for my sister’s wedding and thought we’d take the children to Lego Land because we’d heard it was amazing. It was not. A carpark the size of our entire farm — a hot bitumen affair for miles — set the heart-sinking tone. We then shelled out almost $1000 to get through the gates only to find queues an hour long, dreaded minimum height markers that stopped my rather short children in their tracks, and rides that, with the exception of the rollercoaster, where less thrilling than what the kids get up to on an average day on their bikes at home. And where was the lego? My son thought the whole joint would be made from real Lego bricks. It was not (although I am not going to hold that against the place). I felt like I’d been had. Just another schmuck with a buck filling up the piggybank of a large adventure park money-making machine. Flash forward to Green Valley Farm, which is not owned by a publicly listed company. The car park is in a paddock with gum trees. The day we visited there were about forty vehicles parked less than a minute’s walk from the entrance. To get into the park you go through a small building that houses a museum dedicated to freaky taxidermy animals, crystals and ancient telephones. At the end of the room, you will run into a teenager who sells you the tickets: $15 a person or $8 for concessions. If you don’t have cash, no worries. She writes down the amount you owe on a bit of paper, tears it off and asks you to fix it up at the kiosk inside. The trust! I can hear my husband mutter without irony “#betterthanlegoland” to no one in particular. He really said the word ‘hashtag’. This is a place whose raison d’etre is not about creating profit. Instead its KPIS are about community, joy and fun. For years they charged nothing at all. Then, because of insurance premiums they introduced a $2 entrance fee, and now it is up to $15. I’ve never experienced such value for money. Beryl and her husband Pat, along with their children and grandchildren, have created something that is fundamentally good and wholesome and that is not something you see every day. Just like the five-legged cow. For more information, visit greenvalleyfarm.com.au. Annabelle Hickson lives on a pecan farm in the Dumaresq Valley, NSW. Follow @annabellehickson on Instagram.