From the squeaky-clean beaches of Esper­ance in Western Aus­tralia, Vicki and Al­lan Wight have made a semi-re­tire­ment tree change to the strik­ing rolling hills and val­leys of Samaria to en­ter the world of es­sen­tial oil pro­duc­tion.

North East Living Magazine - - Contents - words & pho­tos Jodie Flem­ing

Vicki and Al­lan Wight have made a semi- re­tire­ment tree change to the val­leys of Samaria to en­ter the world of es­sen­tial oil pro­duc­tion.

AS you drive up to Samaria Farm you are im­me­di­ately drawn to the pic­turesque views that sur­round the 22 acres of rose bushes, or­chards, olive grove, stock yards, veg­etable gar­dens and the menagerie of farm an­i­mals that blend into the invit­ing landscape.

Own­ers Vicki and Al­lan Wight have spent the past six years mak­ing a de­ci­sion (and plenty of im­prove­ments) as to which part of their un­in­ten­tional busi­ness they’ll fo­cus on and they have plenty to choose from, matched by their nat­u­ral tenac­ity.

The Wights spent a good chunk of their lives liv­ing in Esper­ance in Western Aus­tralia where they even­tu­ally stopped and put down roots after two years tour­ing around Aus­tralia in a car­a­van with their three young chil­dren.

They spent a decade de­vel­op­ing their “lit­tle tea rooms” on the beach from 25 seats into 250 seats, but de­cided it was time to re­turn to their home state of Vic­to­ria to be near Al­lan’s age­ing par­ents, and near Vicki’s fam­ily who mostly re­side in North East Vic­to­ria.

Samaria Farm, near Swanpool, was on the mar­ket for many years be­fore the Wights dis­cov­ered it and de­cided it would be an in­ter­est­ing and ex­cit­ing project to take on in semi-re­tire­ment.

“The lo­cal real es­tate agent told the own­ers at the time to bull­doze all the roses be­cause then peo­ple would buy it as it was just too much work with the thou­sands of roses that sur­round the prop­erty,” ex­plained Vicki. “The own­ers be­fore us planted roses us­ing per­ma­cul­ture prin­ci­ples. “They grafted all the roses and they re­searched ev­ery­thing and they were mak­ing creams to sell at lo­cal mar­kets. “We didn’t ac­tu­ally buy this place to run it as a busi­ness. “I was work­ing in town and I thought I would work a cou­ple of days a week and pot­ter around here and the fam­ily could come and stay. “I hadn’t even pruned a rose bush be­fore I got here.” An en­gi­neer by trade, Al­lan knew the area well as his first job was work­ing as a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer on the Nil­lah­cootie Dam so he was keen to pur­chase a prop­erty in the re­gion. “It just felt lovely when I first saw it,” he said. “It was very over­grown as it hadn’t been pruned for a cou­ple of years and the own­ers were spend­ing their time at mar­kets sell­ing the rose­wa­ter they dis­tilled them­selves from the roses. “When we bought the place they ac­tu­ally showed us how to do it.” The cou­ple thought they would keep dis­till­ing the roses while spend­ing the first two years clear­ing the prop­erty, weed­ing, paint­ing the house, putting in floors and gen­er­ally tidy­ing up the acreage where they dis­cov­ered over­grown pens and more rose gar­dens.

The orig­i­nal struc­ture of the home­stead that was built in the 1880s has been kept in­clud­ing the old gen­er­a­tor shed and sin­gle man’s quar­ters which are still in use to­day, but are now used for other pur­poses such as stor­ing feed.

“The first cou­ple of years we had no in­ten­tions of do­ing it as a busi­ness and we did the dis­till­ing our­selves just to try it,” Vicki said.

“Then peo­ple started ask­ing if they could come and have a look.

“The lo­cal gar­den club then came and I thought they could just go for a walk but when they got here they were like, ‘Well come on Vicki, give us a tour’.

“So then we de­cided we would start do­ing the mar­kets to sell the rose­wa­ter and rose oil.

“I did all the ac­cred­i­ta­tion for or­ganic farm­ing and did all the cour­ses so we went to Al­bury Farm­ers Mar­ket and Mans­field, but then it was tak­ing us away from the prop­erty too much and you don’t re­ally make money from the mar­kets sell­ing es­sen­tial oils.”

Lo­cal in­ter­est in the roses them­selves and the dis­till­ing grew, along­side other pro­duce Vicki started to make, sourced from the prop­erty.

Rose oil and rose wa­ter is now sold at a lit­tle store at the front of the home­stead along­side lemon myr­tle oil, bit­ter or­ange oil, grape­fruit oil, olive oil, jams, cor­dials, hand­made gifts and other lo­cally sourced pro­duce.

Samaria Farm is the only pro­ducer of pure rose oil in Aus­tralia, with other oil you see out in the mar­ket place im­ported from coun­tries such as Bul­garia, Iran and India.

The suc­cess and in­ter­est in the rose oil and other es­sen­tial oils has helped the Wights de­cide that their main fo­cus now lies in the pro­duc­tion of es­sen­tial oils and hy­drosols. “Now we have de­cided that this will be our main fo­cus,” Vicki said. “Grow­ing roses is like wine grapes in that where you grow it will de­pend on its dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties.

“We have had all ours tested just re­cently at the South­ern Cross Univer­sity in Lis­more and it is of a re­ally high qual­ity.

“We have only just now started to think, ‘Ok we need to mar­ket it prop­erly and pack­age it re­ally well’, as it’s cur­rently only in plas­tic bot­tles.

“It re­ally was only six months ago we thought, what are we? Let’s sin­gle it down which is when we be­came an es­sen­tial oil and hy­drosol farm.”

The mak­ing of the oil and wa­ter takes place in Novem­ber when about 20kg of rose­buds are picked early in the morn­ing be­fore it gets warm and dis­tilled for about three to four hours in a stain­less steel dis­til that has been re-en­gi­neered by Al­lan to work at op­ti­mum ef­fi­ciency.

In a sea­son, only 70ml of rose oil is pro­duced or only 3ml in one batch. When the cou­ple aren’t at­tend­ing to the roses or the 400 olive trees or the cit­rus or­chard, they run a work­ing farm that is home to many chooks, a flock of har­lequin sheep, ducks and tur­keys all of which have been lov­ingly named.

Hav­ing re­cently ex­tended the home­stead’s bal­cony into a café, Vicki spends her week­ends cook­ing all day break­fasts, light lunches, morn­ing and af­ter­noon teas for vis­i­tors to the farm whether they have come for a farm tour or stayed in their B&B style, self-con­tained cabin or the de­light­ful old car­a­van that has been decked in and sits tran­quilly among one of the rose gar­dens.

“The café is just a nice thing to have for peo­ple to come and learn about us,” Vicki said.

“They can come and wan­der through the farm and then sit down in the café and have some home­made lemon but­ter cake, home­made scones, jam and cream and Turk­ish de­light made with pure rose wa­ter of course.

“Ev­ery­thing is sea­sonal, home­made and sourced lo­cally if we haven’t pro­duced it here.”

One thing the cou­ple are sure of is they do not want the busi­ness to get any big­ger as Vicki said “it de­feats the pur­pose of this life­style we have cho­sen”.

“We re­ally are en­joy­ing it and we en­joy hav­ing the time to talk to peo­ple when they come. “Mak­ing it too big takes away from the feel of the place.” Samaria Farm re­ally is a place that is a spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence for the en­tire soul, body and mind.

“Grow­ing roses is like wine grapes in that where you grow it will de­pend on its dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties.” -Vicki­wight

NEW AD­VEN­TURE / Vicki and Al­lan Wight have spent the past six years prun­ing and weed­ing their ex­ten­sive acreage of rose gar­dens along­side learn­ing to dis­til rose petals.

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