Living on a pecan farm in rural NSW Annabelle Hickson enjoys the slower, simple pleasures of family life while along the way becoming an accidental florist, podcaster and author.
Almost a decade ago, Hickson left her high-flying city job, moved to the country for love and in doing so discovered a different side to her personality.
She cherishes her rural home in the Dumaresq Valley, 80 kilometres from the nearest town of Tenterfield on the NSW-Queensland border. Married to farmer Ed, with three children, Daisy, 11, Tom, 9, and Harriet, 7, the transition from city slicker to country creative hasn’t always been easy.
Hickson, who has more than 70,000 followers on Instagram, has just started her latest venture, a beautiful seasonal magazine that tells the stories of the interesting, modern, creative people in rural areas that she meets every day and now calls friends.
When she moved to the pecan farm three years ago, she thought it would be good for her young family and for her husband, but was concerned about herself.
“I was worried my career would be impossible but, surprisingly, being a bit isolated really ignited my creativity,” she says.
In the country, you can’t outsource, nip out to a restaurant, call an instant plumber, you have to become self-reliant.
“Living away from lots of people has been such an unexpected gift.”
Foraging flowers from the side of the road, she created stunning arrangements from foliage, blooms and produce. She studied courses by American florist Sarah Winward, photographed her creations and ended up writing A Tree in the House published by Hardie Grant.
“Being courageous is the fundamental base to a lot of creativity – not being scared to give something a go.”
Family life is pretty similar to the city, she believes, except the children take a long bus ride to school.
“They’re real country kids, they can ride motorbikes, they’re much more practical than I was, they have a wild streak and will head out into fields without adult supervision.”
But they have learnt the price of freedom – if they leave a gate open to the chicken house the chickens will be eaten by a fox.
With no cafes around the corner, Hickson has discovered the joys of cooking and baking. She cooks a lot, not following recipes slavishly but working with the ingredients she has in her cupboards. Sponge cakes – with lots of cream and berries – have become a family favourite.
It might seem like a difficult year to launch a magazine with so many titles shutting down but Hickson believes the mood is right for Galah, which will be published three times a year.
“I wanted to create a way of showcasing regional Australia in this capable modern light,” she says.
Galah has 144 pages of uplifting stories, beautiful photos and, most importantly, no ads.
Working through her Instagram, she has sold almost 7000 copies in two weeks, an amazing achievement.
She wants to create a bridge between the city and the country, to break the stereotypes of simple farmers and backward country folk and instead highlight the smart creative people who live outside our big cities.
“We are not all hillbillies with missing teeth,” she says.
Since the pandemic, there is more of a focus on escaping the cities and relocating to smaller towns and rural areas.
“We’re certainly questioning where we live and how we work, and the crazy city real estate prices are making people look beyond the capital cities,” she says.
With decentralisation, regional centres blossoming culturally and many now able to work remotely, this is an exciting time for regional Australia.
It’s taken almost 10 years for Hickson to find her career path – all the while juggling her role as mother and wife.
She admits she doesn’t “do it all” and often has to choose between work, family, health and friends. Choosing what not to do is often the secret, she says.
She’s happiest at home, caring for her young family and following her creative and entrepreneurial projects.
“We’ve just had lots of lovely rain and everything’s looking so glorious – these tiny trees we planted are now proper trees,” she says. “This life has been the making of me.”