Grace Brennan is sitting at her kitchen table in central northern NSW, about 525 kilometres from Sydney. The pastures outside are glossy and green, the crops are bountiful, and the creek is flowing. “These are beautiful scenes we haven’t seen for a while,” she muses.
It’s the same kitchen table where, in October 2019, Brennan founded Buy From The Bush, an Instagram feed designed to spotlight and support small rural businesses struggling through drought. The initiative was a runaway success, garnering not just a huge social media following (245k followers), but generating $5 million revenue for the featured businesses within four months.*
Brennan’s personal connection to the Australian bush began with a rural romance of sorts. Born and raised in Sydney, she fell for a country boy, Jack, and just like that her destiny shifted from the concrete jungle to crops and cattle. “When you fall in love with a farmer you realise it’s a forever gig,” she says.
Ten years ago the couple moved to Warren to take over Jack’s family farm. Brennan recalls crying for the entire six-hour drive. “The very first morning I woke up in this little cottage in the middle of nowhere, all alone – my husband had gone to work at 5am, as farmers do – and I thought, what on earth am I going to do?”
But in time, the bush seeped into her bones. The days were tough and the droughts severe and stressful, but the community spirit was stronger. It’s why she felt compelled to start Buy From The Bush, and then in May 2019, Stay In The Bush. The sister site showcases charming regional accommodation and aims to achieve long-term support for rural communities.
Peruse Stay In The Bush (a shiny new website was launched in October) and you’ll find the full spectrum of pastoral getaways: a rustic-chic shearing shed in Cowra, NSW; a white weatherboard “shack” in Victoria’s Grampian mountains; and a working sheep station in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges.
Brennan’s hope is to protect these remote gems.
“When you stay an extra night in one of these rural stays, you’re giving back to the communities,” she says. “You’re creating jobs and cash flow. You’re helping drought-proof those communities long term.”
Rural travel also has new-found relevance in 2020. “People now more than ever want to travel with purpose,” explains Brennan. “Australians have literally been in lockdown, so wide open spaces and vast landscapes suddenly have huge appeal.”
Her advice to aspiring rural travellers is to venture off the beaten track. “Consider staying on a farm or in a small community rather than a regional centre – pick a place you’ve never heard of,” she suggests. “And while you’re there, have a yarn with a local. If you’re travelling to regional areas I imagine you’re searching for authenticity. There’s a way to get the best out of rural Australia, and it’s not from a guidebook.
“Chat to a local and ask them where to get the best coffee in town. Though sometimes it’s about realising that there’s no good coffee, but you can sit at the petrol station and have a great conversation and be told about a quiet spot on a creek where you can have a picnic. There needs to be a slight shift in what people seek, because if you stay in Wagga Wagga you’re not going to get what you would in Byron Bay or even Port Macquarie, but you are going to get something really incredible if you’re open to it.”
Beyond the wild landscapes to explore and country bakery goods to devour, Brennan feels rural communities have something more to offer the rest of Australia. “With drought, there’s a complete lack of control. The rain switches off – you can’t control that – yet it has such a huge impact on our household income and mood,” she explains. “It’s really interesting describing drought within the context of COVID-19. People can possibly relate to it now more ever. Rural Australian communities have real insight into how to brave uncertain times.”
Brennan, too, has travel plans of her own. On her list: outback Queensland – “I’ve never been to western Queensland; I want to hit the road and drive up; and in the cooler months, Old Adaminaby in NSW’s Snowy Mountains for skiing, trout fishing and open fires.”
For now though, she’s relishing in being at home with her baby August, her fourth child (“It’s a much easier decision to keep having babies out here,” she says. “It’s a lovely place to bring up a family”.) There’s anticipation for the coming seasons, and looking out over the green terrain, she feels a deep affinity for Australia.
“There’s been a strong message from our Buy From The Bush and Stay In The Bush audience – that we’re facilitating this connection back to an Australian identity that they’ve felt a bit detached from,” she says.
“When you visit these rural communities you’ll see a side of Australia that’s so unique to this place. You don’t get it if you’re travelling through Europe or South America. It’s uniquely Australian, and I think there’s joy in that.”
*Study by AlphaBeta Australia
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
My life in travel
Favourite Aussie holiday memory
“When I was 10 we did a family road trip around the Northern Territory, followed by a jaunt on the Ghan. I’m not sure I fully appreciated it at the time, but when I look back now, it was magical.”
Next local holiday
“Melbourne at any given time, to see friends and family.”
My spirit destination
“I feel most at home in the wind-swept Scottish Highlands and, in the starkest of contrasts, on the ritzy rivieras of Italy and France.”
On my Australian bucket list…
“Western Australia’s Coral Coast – or check out my full bucket list here.”