Ten years ago I was selling televisions in Queensland and doing everything I could to avoid the responsibilities of my still new adulthood (in some ways, little has changed). Elsewhere in the world, however a man and his wife had a dream – possibly beer-soaked – that they could spend their lives engaging in a passion. Like many dreams, it waited in the dark soil of life as the man and his wife toiled through each year, following the daily grind of the trials and tribulations of life as we tend to live it. All the while the seed of their dream waited, watered by those brilliant moments of freedom where we see the possibilities of the future open up before us.
Before long the seed developed into a vine as the wife and her husband began to see that this was a dream that might grow into a reality. More and more, they tended to the sapling as they nurtured their desire to escape to the passion that had formerly kept them working from day to day. Last weekend the vine that held this dream burst into flower and this is the story of what happened next.
Karridale is about three hours of solid driving south of Perth which for us is a perfectly reasonable trip for a Friday afternoon. Linh and I departed at about 5pm – later that we’d hoped, as usual – and settled in to a trip that we know pretty well. There’s something relaxing about taking a well-worn path out of the city and this week we knew there was the celebration of a path less travelled just over the horizon.
Karridale is a small community near Augusta in the South West corner of Western Australia. The region is well known for its surf (complete with sharks and rugged coastline), forest, and for the vineyards that dot the countryside. Another, sometimes less widely recognised element of the South West is a solid craft beer culture. It’s possible to spend almost as much time sampling hoppy brews and wheaty ales as you might spend sipping on a glass of red or finding a white that meets the approval of your palate.
Our journey south this weekend was one filled with purpose. Our friends Trey and Olivia (they’d be the two titular dreamers) were hosting a Hop Harvest Party to celebrate the inaugural harvest of their locally grown produce. I was lucky enough to fall into a hole during the construction of the hop yard, so we were excited to see the results of the year’s labour (not to mention the realisation of our friends’ dreams). We arrived just before 9pm and were greeted by our hosts at the tobacco shed they’ve converted into a home and headquarters.
Every time we have time to make it down to Karridale Cottages and Hop Farm we are reminded of the beauty of this part of the world. The waxing moon illuminated the rolling hills behind the cabin and our accommodation – an orange Kombi Cottage (that may one day transport hops to local brewers) – which nestled in beside the tobacco shed. We took a few photos and then joined Trey, Olivia and a few other harvest recruits for a few beers and a game of table tennis. By the time we retired for the evening, the stress of the week had melted away and the relaxed vibe made me feel like dropping everything and never going home.
The next morning, we woke to Fuggles’ (Trey and Olivia’s chocolate Labrador) morning berating of the neighbouring cattle and found that Trey and Olivia had just returned from dropping one of their cottage guests to the next leg of the Cape to Cape Track – one of the many attractions of the region – one of the services available to guests. We enjoyed a fantastic breakfast overlooking the property and it wasn’t until about 9am that we started seriously considering the harvest. If this was how harvests usually operated I would – today – still be harvesting sugar cane or working on a Queensland orchard. Hop farming, it rapidly became apparent was to be less taxing (at least this time) than any of us had expected.
We spent a few hours removing the hop vines from their lines in the hop yard before taking them to the harvest shed to snip the aromatic hop cones from the vines. The left over vine will form mulch for next year’s crop and the cones – well they’ll make some of Western Australia’s awesome craft beer just a little bit more awesome. Throughout the day we harvested three different varieties of hop; Perle, Goldings, and Hallertau Hersbrucker, some of which will be dried and sold to craft brewers, others that were already reserved by some local brewers (the local Pemberton hop which performed brilliantly this season had already been snapped up by local brewers, The Beer Farm, and will be cooling locals’ palates very shortly). By 2pm, the day’s harvest was complete and we moved on (after a pleasant lunch under the shade of the eucalypts near the tobacco shed) to preparing the hops for drying. By 3, we were done and it was time for a swim in the nearby Blackwood River.
The Blackwood – a hub for boating, fishing, swimming and paddling – is less that 10km from the gates of Karridale Cottages and Hop Farm. In the other direction it’s about the same to Hamlin Bay and the Cape to Cape track. The location is a personal favourite of mine particularly because of the attractions that surround Karridale, from nearby Pemberton and the mighty Karri forests to the meeting of the Indian and Southern Oceans at Cape Leeuwin, Augusta. Even the trendy surf hub of Margaret River is only a 25-minute drive away. Karridale Cottages and Hop Farm is one of a small collection of dog friendly spots in the area (Hamlin Bay Wines, a 35-minute walk away, is another) and the three dogs in attendance for this harvest party certainly seemed to love the experience.
It may have been billed as a weekend of farm work, but it felt like anything but the drudgery from which we escaped. The only drawback to the whole weekend was that it had to end.
10 days ago I was harvesting hops in South Western Australia and doing everything I could to avoid the ever-present spectre of the responsibilities of adulthood when the seed of a dream took hold in the soil of my mind…