A GARDEN IN THE OUTBACK
When John and Joss Chandler arrived at Kyneton, the garden was bare except for two trees and a paddock full of burrs and buffel grass. These days, it’s a verdant delight — a tribute to more than three decades of hard work.
Joss Chandler cheerfully confesses that in the 30-plus years she’s been developing the garden at Kyneton Station, she’s shifted the fence so many times she has no idea what area her garden covers. She hazards an acre but a few days later, texts to let us know she has actually measured the park-like expanse that surrounds the homestead on the 43,000-acre (17,400-hectare) cattle station near Barcaldine in central-western Queensland. As it turns out, the garden is now a sizeable 2.5 acres (slightly more than a hectare), no mean feat in an environment where drought, flood and bushfire are ever-present threats, summer temperatures are routinely in the high 30s and low 40s and roos, rabbits and echidnas are constantly looking for opportunity to feast on the green fodder she has planted or dig up the soil she has so assiduously tended.
Joss and her husband, John, have been living at Kyneton since 1980. They met in the early ‘70s when Joss was studying occupational therapy and John economics at the University of Queensland. Joss had grown up on the Gold Coast and John on his family’s property, North Delta, also in the Barcaldine district. They were married in 1976 and moved into the cottage on North Delta.
“I’d visited many times before so I knew what I was letting myself in for,” Joss recalls. “But nothing could disguise the fact that a garden at North Delta was an impossible challenge. The homestead was on an ironstone ridge, which meant gardening involved a mechanical digger and a crowbar and the bore water was so poor deposits of soda stained the ground and killed everything. The only plants that thrived there were athel pines and cottonwoods, though I did have some success growing vegetables in cut-off tanks above the ground.”
While Joss says her favourite part of the garden used to be the big old mango tree, now her “best bits” change with the seasons. “When we first came here, the shade of that mango felt like a godsend,” she says. “But now, my favourite part is usually a new bed or section I am developing or unusual plants given to me by friends. I guess that just means these days I can afford to be choosey.”
This story was originally published in the February 2014 issue of Australian Country. Order the back issue here.
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Words Kirsty McKenzie
Photography Ken Brass