Grandeur and glamour diversifies a dairy farm

Grandeur and glamour diversifies a dairy farm

Dairy
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One East Gippsland dairy farm is diversifying on a rather grand scale.

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One East Gippsland dairy farm is diversifying on a rather grand scale.

Trevor Platt's sprawling property near Sale milks 2500 cows across two farms that is irrigated by channels, bore water, the Thomson River and drainage reuse dams.

And, when he bought the adjoining property to act as a support block for the dairy platform in 2015, it came with a bonus: the heritage-listed Fulham Park Homestead.

Built in 1856, the beautiful red-brick homestead was sound but but still needed major upgrades so he asked Grainne McFlynn to tend the grounds.

"There was nobody living in the house at the time so Trevor asked me to keep the gardens, cut the grass and do the weeding and be the groundsperson, I suppose, and give him a hand with the cows as required," Ms McFlynn said.

"That was fine but, as the months went on, I just said to him, 'Look, what am I doing this for? There's nobody living here and there's nobody coming onto the property to appreciate it'.

"My time was worth more than for it to just look pretty from the road."

It likely came as no surprise to Mr Platt.

Ms McFlynn had quickly become a trusted part of the team, after arriving at the farm three years earlier as an Irish backpacker with no experience on the land, apart from a short stint picking fruit.

Initially employed for three months to feed calves and milk, she ended up staying for 18 months - living for some time with the family - before returning briefly to Ireland.

Calf rearing is a big job at the Platt farm, with 450 to 500 calves all fed by hand twice a day.

"Obviously I'd made an impression work-wise that I was capable and willing to to get the work done," Ms McFlynn said.

"And I relished looking after the calves, I just loved it.

"I think it was that responsibility and it's hard to see all the wee calves in the paddock and not want to just make them grow.

"Then once you master one job, you just move onto the next so then it was driving tractors and filling up almond hulls and bringing calves in from the paddock.

"The jobs just sort of add up and I was fairly involved.

"With each new task I was given, I just loved it and Trevor's been a massive influence in terms of teaching and learning."

Dairy life had to take a back seat to family matters with the arrival of a son, Aodhan, now aged four, and then Fiadh, two.

Ms McFlynn's husband, Paul, was also in Australia, but in Melbourne working in the construction industry.

And that's when the idea to make the empty homestead into a venue began to take shape.

Ms McFlynn had customer service experience as well as having studied design.

Mr Platt's daughters, Darielle and Gabby, had complementary skills - human resources management and venue management respectively.

"It began with notes scribbled on a piece of paper at the kitchen table," she said.

"From there, we did a feasibility study to see if it was something we could manage.

"It began so simply and has just kept on evolving from there."

The plan began with functions in Fulham Park Homestead's lovely garden but the need for shelter prompted the purchase of a marquee.

An upgrade from portable toilets was the trigger for bathroom renovations.

Catering requests led to kitchen registration, the dining room was renovated in time to host a murder mystery evening, and the upstairs bedrooms have been finished so brides can dress and watch their wedding guests arrive.

Boutique accommodation may be in the pipeline for Fulham Park Homestead, which has held several events over the last year.

Already, 22 weddings are booked.

"We did a Mother's Day high tea and we were completely floored by the response," Ms McFlynn said.

"People offered double the ticket price when we sold out, wanting just to come on to the grounds because it had always been a private residence and the doors had never been open to the public.

"It's always been the house on the hill that makes you wonder what's behind the door."

It's made for a varied working life.

"Darielle and myself are catering, doing social media and everything that goes along with the business side of Fulham Park Homestead," Ms McFlynn said.

"It's gumboots in one hand and a makeup brush in the other; you have to look presentable if someone's coming for a show around but then again, you need to be practical for the cattle yard."

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