Strathbogie Shire Council

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Strathbogie podcast rockstar: Sim Ayres

Imagine having warm, freshly baked sourdough bread from a wood-fired oven delivered to your mailbox – in the Strathbogie Ranges.

Every Friday Sim Ayres and his wife Kate start about 4.30am to bake between 130 and 140 loaves in their boutique bakery in Strathbogie.

Sim, who mills his own flour, bakes three different types of the slow rise bread every week, and when fresh out of the oven, starts his delivery round at 2.30pm.

First stop is Strathbogie Local in Euroa: Sim delivers about 50 loaves of Milkwood Sourdough, ordered through the volunteer-run online click-and-collect system; a community enterprise founded during COVID-19 to help local producers affected by market closures.

“Sometimes when I’m driving down the hill to Euroa my glasses steam up in the car because the bread is so hot,” Sim said.

“People who order bread through Strathbogie Local can get a warm loaf if they pick it up at three o’clock.”

Meanwhile, Sim circles back to Strathbogie via Violet Town to deliver about 40 loaves to mailboxes “on this side of the plateau” while Kate delivers a similar quantity “to the other side of the plateau”.

Deep sense of place and community

English-born Sim and Kate, who grew up at Baddaginnie in the foothills of the Strathbogie Ranges, met in India. They lived in Northern NSW before moving to Strathbogie 22 years ago when expecting their first child.

“I’d never been to Strathbogie before; in Baddaginnie I’d always look up to the blue hills and think let’s go there,” Sim said.

“The first time we drove up [to Strathbogie in 1999], it was love at first sight. I was smitten, and luckily Kate was as well.”

The couple quickly embedded in the community with their children Finn, now aged 22, and Molly, 19, attending Strathbogie Primary School.

It was not long before Sim realised the reality of Australia’s bushfire season and got the call to be part of the local fire brigade. Now, with 20 years’ firefighting experience, the call to community remains equally strong.

“You want to do your bit; you do it [firefighting] because when fire does come, you all fight the dragon together,” Sim said.

“You can’t leave it to someone else, you all have got to step forward and do what you can.”

‘Called in’ by local country

Sim loves nature. He is a member of the Save Strathbogie Forest Group and has a keen interest in mapping places “off the beaten track” in the local forests.

“There is a certain sense in a place like this. There is this old Scottish word ‘hefted’, and it’s used mainly in referring to sheep. A hefted sheep is a sheep that has been born through several generations on a piece of land, and in a way, through its mother’s milk the lamb will take on a kind of living map of the country.

“When you take that sheep out of that country, it’s lost its balance …[because on its country] it knows when the first green shoot comes through where to shelter from those northern blizzards, and all those things it knows.”

Sim believes people experience a “reverse hefting” as their connection grows with their local environment.

“If you are prepared to enter your five square miles around you in a deep way, then the country calls you in, as if it wants you as part of itself. Then you’ll want to look after it, you’ll want to plant trees, you just want to lean in and say, ‘Yeah, I’m here I’m part of you, let’s do it together’ – this kind of reverse hefting seems to happen.”

Author of art exhibition

This year an art exhibition was held in Violet Town, featuring drawings by 20 artists who were sent passages of Sim’s unpublished book A Song to Come Ashore With.

COVID restrictions saw the exhibition closed after 10 days, but Violet Town’s arts community will fund another gallery exhibition as soon as things open again.

Sim said his book is mostly set on a whaling boat in the Northern Seas in the 1800s; and is rapt with the support for a second exhibition.

“As someone who writes, it’s really gratifying to get these beautiful images. The book hasn’t been published, but I’ve had an exhibition: these people have said, ‘Look, what you wrote, this is my take on it.’ It’s fantastic.”

‘Local maverick’ with many hats

While Sim is known locally as many things – a baker, miller, firefighter, artist, map maker, writer, conservationist, farmer (depending on each person’s definition of farmer) – he jokes, “I guess I’m a maverick; that’s what I’d call myself!

But is he a local? Well, that depends on who you ask.

“One of the old blokes was telling me the other day, you’ve got to live here 20 years to be a local and I said, ‘I’ve been here 22 years,’ and he said, ‘Oh, we’ve just changed that to 30 years.’

“I guess to anyone who has just arrived I look like a bit of a local; I reckon I’m a local in that I’m coming to know the different parts of the seasons fairly well.

“I look forward to the wattle flowering in spring, and the arrival of the white-faced herons to nest in the trees on the road, and the sound of plovers in the paddock during the summer, so in that respect – the language of place – I feel more and more like a local.”

Sim Ayres is among the “local rockstars” in the Rock Your Senses in Strathbogie Shire podcasts series who give insight into what makes their town rock as a tourist destination.

Visit www.strathbogiestory.com or download the Storytowns app to hear from our Shire’s podcast rockstars.

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