John Cole, his wife Lyn and his sister Margaret have made their mark on the village of Gulgong, restoring historic properties and opening a stylish gallery.

Story By Ian Glover

About the only thing John Cole hasn’t turned his hand to is candlestick-making. The former realtor, retail salesman, storeman, fitter-turner-machinist, sales rep, welder and tree lopper is now a sheep farmer in central-western New South Wales. In May 1990, John acquired “Summervale”, 1215 hectares on the Gulgong-Uarbry road. “I looked at lots of properties from Dalby [Qld] as far south as this one, and decided Summervale had the most potential because it was the most run-down … the house was a rubbish tip, there wasn’t a stock-proof fence on the place, the dam walls were all breached and there wasn’t a lockable building of any sort,” he says.
Until he was aged 11 John lived on a farm near Emmaville in the New England district, so it was a return to his roots. He’d also done a ‘rural refresher course’ by working purely in return for his keep on a Santa stud in Manilla (north of Tamworth). “I knew the rudiments of sheep farming, but the finer details weren’t there,” John says. “I spent a lot of time reading and talking to people, but never did anything on one person’s say-so,” he says. “I continually asked myself the question, ‘Does it make sense?’ and that’s why I do things differently to a lot of other people. For example, drenching is a very expensive business, but under-drenching is counter-productive. I’d rather go over than under – with modern drenches, even a double dose isn’t going to hurt the animal, unlike the old days, when they were arsenic-based. That’s why in faecal egg counts, my sheep are in the top two percent; in the end, it costs less.”
John’s fences are different too – no strainer posts, just five-centimetre gal pipe with cross-braces wired back onto the post – and Summervale’s working dogs don’t live in old 44s cut in half, but ‘doggy dormitories’, off the ground, fully protected from the elements, with water in continual supply via individual cisterns.
Staying on Summervale for Christmas in 2000, John’s sister Margaret (a lawyer who has practised all over the world for 20 years) was overwhelmed by the peace and serenity of the area. “I asked John to look around for me for a few acres,” she says. “He rang after a few months to tell me that he and our mother had found something they thought would suit me exactly.

This story excerpt is from Issue #67

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2009