One cou­ple are putting their cen­tral Vic­to­rian cot­tage to the test by host­ing the fam­ily Christ­mas.

AN UN­MIS­TAK­ABLE THREAD of sus­tain­abil­ity runs through most facets of Marnie Haw­son’s life. It in­forms the choices she makes in the home she shares with her hus­band Ryan at Rid­dells Creek, 45 kilo­me­tres north-west of Mel­bourne. It in­flu­ences both her ethics and nat­u­ral aes­thet­ics, the homegrown food she puts on the ta­ble, and it even ex­tends to her work. Marnie is a pho­tog­ra­pher whose beau­ti­ful im­ages are of­ten seen on Coun­try Style pages. As a for­mer en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tist, “I’m hard­wired to tread lightly, and pre­fer to work with those who share an eth­i­cal and sus­tain­able mind­set,” she says. And so, as one might ex­pect, Marnie and Ryan’s in­au­gu­ral Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tions will fol­low sim­i­lar val­ues. “I’d like it to be re­laxed, as I don’t be­lieve in Christ­mas may­hem. It will be very sim­ple with neu­tral dec­o­ra­tions,” she says. Marnie, 39, grew up with her older brother Brett on the fam­ily’s four-hectare prop­erty near the town of Wal­lan, and Christ­mas Day gath­er­ings were gen­er­ally held there or with rel­a­tives at nearby Wood­end. “It was al­ways ex­actly the same: a very tra­di­tional Christ­mas with a hot roast, even on a 40-de­gree day, Christ­mas pud­ding with brandy but­ter, and Mum would al­ways make pashka, a de­li­cious Rus­sian Easter dessert sim­i­lar to a cheese­cake,” Marnie says. “We would go out and forage for a real tree; it would stay up un­til Jan­uary. I just loved the smell. But this year Mum and Dad are down­siz­ing and have just sold the place, so it’s time for some­thing dif­fer­ent — to create a new Christ­mas tra­di­tion.” >

“I’d like it to be re­laxed, as I don’t be­lieve in Christ­mas may­hem. It will be very sim­ple with neu­tral dec­o­ra­tions.”

While Marnie and Ryan, a sales di­rec­tor, will spend Christ­mas Eve with Ryan’s fam­ily, Christ­mas Day is likely to be at a long ta­ble on the back deck of their weath­er­board cot­tage, over­look­ing the large kitchen gar­den. The gar­den was es­tab­lished with the help of Marnie’s cousin, Gee­long­based per­ma­cul­tur­al­ist Ben Shaw. “I like grow­ing our food, not flow­ers, and so the veg­etable gar­den has dou­bled in size since we put it in,” says Marnie. In the back­yard, Marnie and Ryan also have a lit­tle flock of Bel­gian d’uc­cle chick­ens, known for their small and in­fre­quent eggs and be­ing less de­struc­tive in the gar­den than other breeds. The cou­ple and their minia­ture pin­scher Dex­ter moved into the cot­tage early in 2011, soon af­ter their wed­ding. Af­ter a long search for a coun­try prop­erty within easy com­mut­ing dis­tance to Mel­bourne, they found this cot­tage, built around 1890. On the street front, and sep­a­rated from the main house by a gar­den path, is a small build­ing that was once Rid­dells Creek Post Of­fice. This is now Marnie’s of­fice and stu­dio. Ryan and Marnie have re­fur­bished the house to make it more en­ergy-ef­fi­cient, and their fur­nish­ings are mostly vin­tage or re­cy­cled pieces from garage sales, mar­kets and op shops, or new items that have been lo­cally hand­crafted. While they al­ways in­tended to move onto a big­ger, ru­ral land­hold­ing where they could build a sus­tain­able off-the-grid house, seven years on, Marnie and Ryan are still hap­pily set­tled at Rid­dells Creek and have de­cided to freshen up the kitchen in­stead. “We are keep­ing and putting dif­fer­ent >

han­dles on the old cup­boards, and putting in con­crete bench­tops,” Marnie says. “I’ve bought sec­ond-hand brass taps with lots of aged char­ac­ter.” Driv­ing the de­ci­sion to ren­o­vate rather than move was the white AGA stove the cou­ple asked their wed­ding guests to make con­tri­bu­tions to­wards in lieu of a gift registry. “It has taken us a long time to find a white nat­u­ral-gas AGA, but one popped up on Gumtree. We just thought, since we have been here so long, that we should put it in. And that gave us a good rea­son to ren­o­vate.” The AGA’S in­stal­la­tion has been per­fectly timed with Christ­mas. “We will have pavlova for dessert, as it’s more ap­pro­pri­ate for the weather than the hot pud­ding,” Marnie says. “My mother-in-law makes a re­ally good pas­sion­fruit sponge with her mother’s recipe. I re­ally love it, so maybe I should try to make that in the AGA!” For more in­for­ma­tion about Marnie’s pho­tog­ra­phy, visit marniehaw­ and fol­low @marniehaw­son on In­sta­gram.


FROM TOP Marnie with hus­band Ryan and dog Dex­ter; the vase is from Al­bert and Grace, and the ban­gle is from Run­dell & Run­dell. FAC­ING PAGE Be­neath an orig­i­nal clothes hanger is a MCM House sofa, cof­fee ta­ble and cush­ions from Tren­tham Gen­eral, and an Ar­madillo & Co rug. The lamp by Von Trott was an en­gage­ment gift from Marnie’s par­ents. For stock­ist de­tails, see page 138.

CLOCK­WISE, FROM TOP LEFT Pur­ple sprout­ing broc­coli in the gar­den; the chicken flock con­sists of Wilma (white), Peb­bles (brown) and Betty (black); the chook run is a con­verted cubby house; The ex­ten­sive vegie gar­den: “The big ta­ble un­der the tree has been ‘on loan’ from the pre­vi­ous own­ers for al­most eight years,” says Marnie.

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