16 August 2023

Producing the best nature has to offer, from Dalton farm to Gunning shop

| Sally Hopman
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Woman on a farm

Farmer, forager and foodie Min Byrnes on the family farm, at Dalton, near Gunning. Photo: Em Callaghan.

If there’s a scent that smells like coming home, it’s the fragrance that strikes you when you open the door and walk into Min Byrnes’ shop, Will and Russ, in the main street of Gunning.

The most natural of smells, it’s a combination of the bush, the seasons, of life well lived – pretty much what you imagine Mother Nature smells like on her best days.

Min, who runs Lilstan, a sheep property, with her husband Terry at nearby Dalton, in the NSW Southern Tablelands, opened Will and Russ about three years ago.

For her, it was all about bringing the best of the farm and the surrounding bush into people’s homes: be it as a wreath of flowers, branches or leaves, fragrances made from bush smells, items made from the most natural of fibres, or whatever she was inspired by that season.

A self-described forager, Min is passionate about living the best life, being surrounded by nature and inspiring others to use nature in their homes – from eating the best local natural produce to creating decorations from what she forages from the farm.

Originally from Scone in the Hunter Valley, the couple moved to Dalton for “a change”.

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“We wanted a smaller property to manage,” Min said. “We knew Gunning was good sheep country.

“When we first saw the property Lilstan, it had a beautiful stature about it of time gone by yet it was structurally sound. What caught my eye first off was that it had a special look about it, it felt like coming home.”

An early childhood teacher for about 30 years, Min, too, was looking to do something different with her life.

“So I thought, what am I passionate about … it was nature and natural things so I thought, what can I do that I love and perhaps motivate or inspire other people to be passionate about?”

An avid gardener, Min said one of her passions had been to create beauty out of what she found in her environment. In the early days, when there was little money to spare, she would use sticks or branches or whatever she could find to make decorative pieces such as arbours for the garden.

“I didn’t have money to buy garden furniture or displays so I would make sculptures out of wire or sticks or netting, whatever I could find.

Autumn decorations at shop

When it’s autumn inside and out at Min Byrnes’ Gunning store, Will and Russ. Photo: Min Byrnes.

“Sometimes all you need to do is bring a beautiful branch into a room and you can change the whole look, the whole feeling of the room.

“It’s really good for the soul and makes me feel good.”

Along with working on the property and opening the Gunning shop three days a week, Min also finds time to organise foraging and fodder events during the different seasons on the farm, including long lunches under the canopy of trees. At the latter, she treats visitors to produce fresh from her farm.

“What we like to do is use eggs from our girls [chooks] to make up some big frittatas using things like spinach or tomatoes straight from the garden, or we roast up some of the beetroot. We try to use as much of our produce as possible when we have people to the long lunches.”

Min hopes her farm visitors experience what she and her family do from time at Lilstan.

It’s all about connecting, she says.

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“Our farm has a beautiful feel about it and we just want to give people the opportunity to come out here and connect, to get the feeling that it is wonderful to be with nature and be creative.

“The family before us planted this amazing Manchurian pear grove. That has been my inspiration for a lot of things here. The light is so beautiful coming through those trees. In autumn, it’s all pinks and browns so I thought, why not do the long lunches here under the trees?

“It’s funny but as I get older it is important for me to keep things as simple as possible. That’s why I love nature so much. I don’t need flashy things around me.”

The long lunches and forage and fodder events are held seasonally on the farm. More information is available on Will and Russ’s Instagram page.

And if you were wondering why the shop is named Will and Russ, it’s after the family’s poodle, Will, who disappeared.

“He was like my third child,” Min said. “I called him Russy. We never found him. But it was a name I was passionate about, so that’s why we gave the shop that name.”

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