There’s a strong sense of history, an element of grandeur even, when experiencing the sights, sounds and flavours of Hutton Vale Farm.
Gnarly old red gums stand like sentinels in the landscape, having weathered droughts, bushfires and flooding rains over the centuries. Now, in Spring, green pastures and lambs frolic happily and it’s hard to imagine this idyllic countryside has ever endured the harsh, dry conditions which has been its reality for the past few years.
Yet with every change of season, comes renewed hope, new life and creative new endeavours for the Angas family who have tended this land for generations.
Current custodians, Jan and John Angas continue a legacy of such historic significance, it dates back to the colonisation of South Australia and it’s clearly a responsibility they are not only humbled by, but also proud to embrace.
“1843 is when the first Angas came here,” John says of the property which was part of a massive land holding originally purchased by George Fife Angas, after whom the town of Angaston was named.
“George Fife bought the property and his son, John Howard probably developed it. He would have been responsible for a lot of the building that happened here.
“John, my great, great grandfather, was the one who did the hard work. He bought the animals, sourced the vineyard stock….They planted fruit trees, nut trees all sorts of things.”
Modern day John speaks of how George Fife sent his son out from their homeland of England years before the rest of the family relocated, to begin a colony based firmly on Christian faith and free worship.
The Old Union Chapel in Penrice and grand buildings, including Lindsay House and Collingrove Homestead, where John’s father grew up, are all part of the Angas Family legacy whose contributions to the free settlement of South Australia are extensively documented.
For Jan and John, calling Hutton Vale Farm home is about treasuring the past and creating a sustainable future for future generations, whilst making their own contributions to the property John’s father, Colin inherited and farmed with wife, Ann.
“We have a 2,000 acre mixed farm which is, in a way, the last remaining piece of Angas family land which hasn’t really changed hands from European settlement,” says John.
“There’s six houses, most of which were built as workman’s cottages… Dad came back after WWII and moved into a cottage. Because of building restrictions and material shortages after the war, you couldn’t build a new house but you could renovate an old one. So, he extended what is the house Jan and I live in and that I have lived in all my life.”
Mechanisation did away with the need for a lot of hands on labour and eventually those families living on the property left, leaving the cottages to deteriorate.
“Most of my childhood was spent mucking around in these old houses and much of my adulthood has been spent repairing, renovating and doing them all up!” laughs John.
“For the last 35 years, we have put a lot of effort into retaining or retrieving our built heritage. If it has a re-use, it has a purpose and it is worth maintaining.”
The property still has remnant plantings of the orchards, including heritage pear varieties alongside the vineyard, first planted in 1912 and a cluster of stone buildings have undergone John’s restorative touch for use in today’s business ventures that includes a Cellar Door and dining area.
A renovated 1850s grain store has been transformed into a character-filled kitchen where Jan happily cooks for the multitudes. Her roast lamb is legendary and the chutneys and preserves she makes from produce picked from the orchard and lovingly tendered vegetable garden nearby, are a foodies’ delight.
Celebrating 40 years of marriage this year, Jan and John have lived and worked in perfect partnership, ever since they first met in Adelaide during John’s boarding school days at St. Peter’s College.
“Farmers were meant to marry a teacher or a nurse because they will always get employment – that was the adage but I was never that conventional!” laughs John.
“And I would never have been any good at either of those!” is Jan’s quick reply.
With Jan’s creative vision and John’s heart and soul connection to the land, their shared values and teamwork has enabled Hutton Vale Farm to evolve.
“I’m the big picture and he is the detail and construction,” says Jan. “My middle name is disruptive and persistent – John’s is patient and methodical!”
John adds, “I like to be busy, I like doing things. I get a great sense of self-satisfaction even if it’s just fixing the toaster. There’s a mechanical bent in all the Angas family.
“But most blokes need a kick in the backside to get them motivated and Jan’s got the boots!”
The duo’s ultimate goal has always been to look after and respect the property in terms of its past and future activities. They are the first Angas generation to value-add beyond the tradition of growing and selling raw primary produce of wool, grapes, grain and sending lambs off to market.
“John has always had the philosophy to try and leave the land better than when he started and that can mean quite a few things,” Jan says.
“My attitude, on top of that, has been we need to leave it so the next generation is interested in it.”
And that’s exactly what has transpired, with two of their three children, Caitlin, Stuart and Suzi , now involved in the business and contributing to the next chapter in Hutton Vale Farm’s story.
Caitlin, her husband, Shaun Trinne and their three children live in a house on the farm.
Jan and John’s son, Stuart is a project manager in Adelaide and works at the property part time. He is also a commercial pilot and was behind the air strip being built after the 2014 Eden Valley fires for the CFS water bombers to land. It also caters for visitors to land on the farm, part of Hutton Vale Farm’s tourism experiences now offered by the family.
“That’s an example of the next generation having their say,” says Jan.
“Cait and Stuart are very much in the process of stepping up as John and I step back,” Jan says.
“Stepping back for us is doing the jobs that we really love doing… neither of us want to do nothing!”
Today, Hutton Vale Farm offers much sought after experiences for tourists, with one of the oldest stone ruins being transformed into a luxury B&B and the addition of the “Hutch Hilton” which is described as a “fun, upmarket camping” style farm stay.
It’s the latest in a line of value-adds since Jan’s first venture showed what was possible.
“Our first value-add would have been chutney – the Farm Follies,” John explains.
“It was at the time when the wool industry crashed in the late eighties. I think we all had a bit of a reality check and the trees in this orchard are biennial bearers, one year you get a massive crop, the next year nothing…This crop of pears just started to drop on the ground and we couldn’t waste that so we all went out there and picked up cases and cases of them and Jan pickled, preserved and chutney-ed them.”
“We’ve put it into the Hutton Vale Farm Brand now, it’s no longer a folly,” Jan laughs.
“The chutney business showed us the value in having a product from the farm that could be traceable.”
A selection of estate wines under the Hutton Vale Farm label and Marnie Wark Gilder designer woollen throws using wool sourced exclusively from Barossa producers add to the Angas family initiatives.
But, it’s their premium lamb production with its strictly monitored processes and traceability that is well known locally.
From humble beginnings selling from a stall at the Barossa Farmer’s Market, such is its popularity that today, the lamb is only distributed to restaurants with chefs buying it as fast as it is produced.
“The first week we went to the Barossa Farmer’s Market, we both looked at each other and thought, what on earth are we doing this for? We’re mad!” says Jan.
“We thought we would have to bring all of this lamb back home but we sold out really quickly and more importantly, people rang us to say it was the best lamb they have had since they used to visit their grandparent’s property for Sunday lunch.”
Aside from their farm work, both have an intrinsic sense of community responsibility. John is an elected member of The Barossa Council and Jan works tirelessly through various groups to ensure the values of the Barossa region continue especially with food heritage and built form.
They admit to being passionate and vocal about the sustainable development of the Barossa and are mindful of how poorly thought through decisions can adversely impact the future.
Family, friendships, resilience and good old fashioned fun are central to life for the Angas family, with its ups and downs, tears and laughter all part of a lifestyle they cherish.
It’s what Jan describes as the “Barossa spirit”, something she treasures.
“There are a lot of highs and lows in farming and I think you have to be absolutely dedicated to take the ‘kick in the guts at times’….when you get wiped out by mother nature and you have to pick yourself up, keep going and believing in yourself.
“For generational family farms it has the added weight….focusing on the job of the day and how that contributes to what you are doing into the future.
“You are reflecting on how you’re tracking against previous generations and you are also trying to adapt to the thinking of the next generation so you are absorbing a lot of changes…. when everything lines up it is absolute gold!”
For John, his undeniable talent to fix things also flows into the wider community by providing leadership, offering a listening ear and finding solutions to problems, whether it’s in the Council chamber or out on the family farm.
He has a couple of well worn phrases which he says keeps the family grounded.
“Don’t have what you like, like what you have,” says John. “And dead fish go with the flow. Just because everyone else is going this way, doesn’t mean you can’t take a slightly different direction – don’t be afraid to be different.”