The move from inner-city Melbourne to a former dairy farm in north-eastern Victoria has not only given Bec Macdougall and her family a “beautiful lifestyle” but has seen them “blend farm, family and business” through the creation of their boutique farm stay, online shop featuring artisanal wares, and ethical coffee businesses.
But the move to the country wasn’t on the cards for Bec, a self-confessed city girl, who was living a “very fast paced city corporate life” when her husband, Angus first broached the idea of a farm.
“Angus and I lived in Prahran, inner-city Melbourne and had just finished renovating our house there and really loved the process and Angus said to me how about we do another project,” Bec explains.
Thinking he meant a “beach house or that sort of project”, Bec says he responded with “no, I am thinking a farm”.
Bec says that while she wasn’t “adverse to the idea by any stretch of the imagination”, it was Angus’ connection to the land, growing up in Cobram, that initially sparked the idea.
Starting their search in Gippsland and then Kyneton in the Macedon Ranges, with the initial thought that they would buy a “weekender”, they found the property – which they now call Dunmore Farm – in Molyullah near Benalla at the foothills of Victoria’s High Country.
Central to King Valley, Milawa, Beechworth, and Mansfield, Bec and Angus saw the “potential for the farm stay quite quickly” with the 60-hectare property boasting an 1860s cottage “milled from red gum on the property”.
Photo by Nick Skinner
Spending most of 2018 restoring the cottage, while commuting back and forth from Melbourne, The Cottage at Dunmore was born, with the first guests ringing in the 2019 New Year.
With its “beautiful characteristics” and “old world charm”, Bec says they wanted to create a space to “celebrate all of the oldness but layer it with modern luxuries and comforts”.
“So, we kept the bedrooms the original size, put in a new kitchen, a new bathroom with the original bath and vanity, new floors and painted it in and out,” she says.
Sourcing the furnishings from “antique stores, vintage places, eBay and marketplace”, Bec says the “aesthetic was inspired by our travels and living abroad”.
Drawing guests from Melbourne and further afield, Bec says a lot of their guests are looking to “immerse themselves in idyllic farm life, the location and explore the region”.
Photo by Lean Timms
“People are looking for that genuine, authentic experience,” she says.
“Most guests that we speak to, or kindly leave us reviews, a lot of the common thread is it is amazingly relaxing in a beautiful idyllic environment, and they love the details in the cottage and how we have created and designed the space.
“It is also being able to get out and about and explore a region but come back for a wine in front of the fire and read one of the many books from the library and just have a bit of downtime.”
Despite bookings being impacted by the bushfires in surrounding regions in their second summer of operation and multiple COVID lockdowns, Bec says their farm stay business has “kept on growing”.
And while this has seen them navigate “many hurdles”, Bec says COVID has also had a silver lining.
“I think what COVID has done is given the regions a bit of a shining light,” she says. “People realise there is so much travel to do and to explore locally.”
While Bec and Angus’ love for travel was much of the impetus for launching their farm stay business, Bec says they have also been able to fulfill their other love, coffee, with the couple now running two coffee businesses.
“We recognised if we wanted to grow the business, we really needed our own brand of coffee and introduce beans and ground coffee,” Bec says. “And in doing so, we also wanted to align our own values and the Dunmore values with what we were doing and complement the two.”
Ethically sourced and sustainably packaged with compostable capsules, Bec says Emme Mac Black has a strong regional distribution channel to boutique accommodation providers, speciality food stores, grocers, and restaurants.
Photo by Lean Timms
“Anyone that loves really delicious, smooth, full-bodied coffee is who is really our customer,” Bec says.
With Bec and Angus now running a “multi-faceted” business, Bec says she has always “wanted to build my own brand”, and on reflection, she now sees they have been “rolling out their dreams without even realising”.
“I am really passionate about being able to build what we are doing, collaborate and partner with like-minded people, and celebrate what there is in regional Australia but also bring the city to regions,” she says.
With other business ideas in the pipeline, with the couple starting events at Dunmore Farm last year, Bec says they wear “multiple hats which is a really nice way to build business and enjoy life”.
Doing all this in amongst raising their young family, with their daughter Emme turning three in May, Bec says Emme is not only their “huge source of inspiration” but was the “light bulb moment” behind Emme Mac Black, “as she would always be in the kitchen helping us make our morning coffee”.
“Having a little family and a little person in our life keeps us busy and inspired as well,” she says. “She’s a huge source of inspiration and we learn a lot from her.”
Bec says country-life is also agreeing with Emme who is thriving on the farm.
“Just to see Emme love the outdoors, be surrounded by animals, she has no fears, and she has a great time growing up with country life,” she says.
Pondering on where they will be in ten-year’s time, Bec says she sees their family continue to “blend travel and all of those components”.
“We definitely have our hands full, no doubt about that,” Bec says. “But that’s also by choice.
“We are fortunate we have been able to do it and have family life. I truly am so grateful that every day, farm, family, and business life is available to us.
“I certainly didn’t think many years ago living in a very fast paced city corporate life in London that I would be on the farm doing what I’m doing.
“But lo and behold here we are. And it’s really great.”