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With spring here and summer on the wind, check out these fun local ideas to get out, explore and enjoy

MAJOR FOCUS Ashley Mackevicius is a gifted photographer and a former Kodak Australian Photographer of the Year from the Southern Highlands, whose camera has taken him around the world. Ashley’s photography, which invites ‘meditation – not discourse’ has a solitary, introspective beauty, which plays out in his latest exhibition, In a Minor Key. A collection of works, both recent and past, taken at night, at dusk and under a full moon, Ashley’s show reflects the musical constructs of the minor key. “Often thought of as sad and dark, melodies in a minor key are not that simplistic,’’ says Ashley. “They are not emotionally stifled or solely black and white. The minor key portrays an incredible array of tonal emotions that are atmospheric, contemplative, melancholy and meditative. As such, I aim to depict the depths of a scene, what it can teach and what we can learn from viewing its more complex, emotional spectrums.” Ashley’s 1973 portrait of a winsome faced Nick Cave, who was a Caulfield Grammar school friend, is part of the National Portrait Gallery Collection. In a Minor Key, The Southern Highlands Artist Collective (The SHAC) 74-76 Hoddle Street, Robertson until October 19.

SPRING SHOW The Secret Garden is exactly that; a hidden Highlands treasure nestled down a country lane in the stunning countryside of Wildes Meadow. The home and lovechild of horticulturist Kathy Finigan, founder of My Productive Backyard, which aims to inspire home gardeners to learn to grow organic vegies, provides a magic way to spend a few hours  outdoors. Amble your way around two hectares of formal and relaxed garden rooms, including the fountain garden, memorial garden, a birch walk and a cottage garden. The Secret Garden also features large expanses of lush, green lawn, a cherry blossom walk, banks of rhododendrons and azaleas, a gazebo overlooking an ornamental lake, a 20-metre long wisteria walk, a natural woodland, several quaint bridges spanning a number of small creeks and one of the best displays of Alpine phlax (flowering purple and white perennials, for non-green thumbs) in the Highlands. There is also an extensive kitchen garden, a cutting garden and an orchard. Also, happy news that Retford Park, the National Trust treasure bequeathed by James Fairfax to the nation, reopened. Retford Park manager Ann Frederick said: “The garden at Retford Park is a delight to wander through at any time of the year, but is particularly beautiful in Spring. “There is fresh new growth on the deciduous trees and the peonies, rhododendrons, arum lilies, dogwood, clematis, tulips and flowering cherries are all competing for attention. With almost 100 acres of grounds, there is lots of room to spread out and enjoy a picnic on the lawns or under one of the lovely big trees.” Bookings are essential at The Secret Garden, Saturday October 3 and Sunday October 4 10am to 4pm. Entry $10pp. 51 Blencowes Lane, Wildes Meadow

OUTSIDE BUSYNESS FOR LITTLIES The Outdoor Education Group is putting on another week of their popular school holiday day camps at the great Camp Wombaroo in High Range, a 15-minute drive from Mittagong. Activities include archery, canoeing, orienteering, making jewellery, bushwalking, a giant swing, mountain biking, zip lining, team challenges and abseiling. Also, learn how to build a fire, a shelter and a raft. It’s a great chance for kids to challenge themselves outdoors and to make new friends. For ages eight to 14, or seven if accompanied by a sibling over eight. Cost includes morning and afternoon tea and hot lunch. Day camps run from September 28 to October 2 and October 5 to October 9. $50 per child per day or $40 per day if booking three or more days. Book at

CAN’T DANCE? The original ‘You know I can’t dance’ Highlands resident and singing superstar Leo Sayer is pulling on his disco shoes and giving his famous staccato voice a workout for one special weekend this spring at The Loch, Berrima. Leo will perform two shows in the lovely outdoor surrounds in these events, which also include a welcome drink and a three-course picnic meal by The Loch’s chef, Brigid Kennedy. Now a Berrima resident, Leo fell in love with Australia in 1974 during his first tour here from England. He recently recorded a new album in his home recording studio and will perform some new tracks as well as many of his all-time greats, such as You Make Me Feel like Dancing. Sure to be a fabulous celebration of life and Leo. Saturday, October 10 at 6.30pm and Sunday, October 11 at 12.30pm. Book at  

GIDDY UP BEER O’CLOCK Been dreaming of international travel recently, maybe wishing you could fly off to Munich for a session of beer halling? No problem. Burrawang Village Hotel is holding its annual Oktoberfest with steins of beer served from the new outdoor bar in the beer garden, a menu with a distinctly Germanic flavour (we’re thinking bratwurst and sauerkraut, schnitzel, apple strudel and pretzels) with live toe-tapping and lederhosen-slapping music. There will be prizes for the best-dressed fraulein and Fritz. Prost! Meanwhile, at the Southern Highlands Brewing Taphouse in Moss Vale, fresh from a gold medal win for its porter at the London Beer Competition, owners Ben and Cam are geeing up for their annual Melbourne Cup Lunch. The COVID-compliant, ticket-only event will include a three-course sit-down lunch with champagne. There will be onsite betting facilities, a big screen, a sweepstake and a Fashion in the Field competition with prizes for the best dressed woman, man and couple. Burrawang Village Hotel, Saturday October 17, Hoddle Street, Burrawang. To book a table, email Southern Highlands Brewing Taphouse, Tuesday November 5, 490-494 Argyle Street, Moss Vale

PLATFORM PIX It’s mind-blowing but every day, one billion users post 95 million photos and videos on Instagram. If you don’t know your exposure from your aperture, how then to ensure your shots gain traction? Enterprising locals and Insta experts, photographer Abbie Melle, stylist Georgia Ashdown of Chelsea Gardens Events and Camilla Creswick, accommodation provider at Bunya House, Bowral are here to help. Their Styling & Photography for Instagram Workshop at the lovely Bunya House, Bowral includes talks from Abbie and Georgia on how to style, take and edit those killer Insta pix with a focus on interior, homewares and food styling. The day will also include opportunities to use props to set up shots and get first-hand feedback and advice. When the snap chat is over, enjoy a champagne three-course lunch by Alex Watts, chef at Berrima’s Surveyor General and partner of Georgia. Perfect Instagram fodder. Thursday November 5 and Friday November 6 9.30am for 10am to 4pm, Bunya House, 57 Shepherd Street, Bowral. To book @abbie_melle @chelsea_gardens  @bunya_house_bowral

CUPPA LIFE  In our book, there’s not much comes close to a good cup of tea. Whether you go for the green, chai or herbal blends, prefer the exotic Darjeelings or Lapsang Souchongs or simply like builders brew (milk with two sugars please), a good cup of tea is one of life’s great comforts. Highlands purveyor of  fine foods, Mrs Oldbucks Pantry, recently expanded its tea range to include more than 180 varieties of the leafy delicacy to take your tastebuds on a trip from West Bengal to South Africa and China in one sitting. In 1819, tea was included in the rations of the convicts who helped build this Colonial sandstone village. Enjoy viewing their handiwork as you schedule a well-earned break with owner Carol Brown in Mrs Oldbucks new tearoom. 4/15-17 Old Hume Highway, Berrima

ON YER BIKE When it comes to cycling, there must be something in the Highlands water. Tour de France star Caleb Ewan is a Highlander boy through and through and Brad McGee, one of our all-time greatest cyclists, lives and loves here. If you are a road cycling fiend, read about Brad’s favourite routes on page 24 or get out on your own bike to find your own ways. With teens, Wingello State Forest and Bundanoon’s Morton National Park are favourites and for littlies, especially those on training wheels and learning to ride, the Bong Bong Track, which runs along the Wingecarribee River between Moss Vale and Burradoo, is a special piece of paradise. Need bike help or suggested routes to try? National Parks NSW has many great local suggestions online, as does Destination Southern Highlands, and you can’t go past some on-the-ground help from cycling shops, Cycliste in Moss Vale or The Fixed Wheel in Bowral. Happy riding! Cycliste, 508 Argyle Street, Moss Vale. The Fixed Wheel, 3/44-48 Bowral St, Bowral

WRITING IN SPRING Exciting news for the luxurious Avoca retreat Springfield Farm, which is partnering with The Stella Prize to offer its latest week-long writer in residence retreat. Hosted by esteemed writer Stephanie Bishop, wordsmiths will bunker down for a week of creativity and writing, which will explore belonging and place in narrative fiction and memoir. Sure to be a bestseller, this workshop is for writers, and aspiring writers who have been tapping away on a work, which can be a novel, memoir, short story or personal essay collection and have 5000 words or more written. Beautiful accommodation and homegrown meals are provided.  Swimming, bushwalking and relaxing are also on offer.  Stephanie is author of the acclaimed, The Other Side of the World, winner of the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. The workshop runs from November 8 to 15. For bookings and more information,

HOW MANY MORE SLEEPS? Who’s counting … but Christmas is not far away now and Dirty Janes Bowral and Canberra are hosting themed Summer Twilight Christmas Evenings in December to get that wish list sorted out. Nights include  champagne on arrival, free gift wrapping, lucky door prizes, and a goodie bag for every shopper. “We promise you an intimate night of Dirty Janes style,” says owner Jane Crowley. Numbers strictly limited. Friday, December 4, 11 and 18 at Dirty Janes Canberra and Saturday, December 5 and 12. Tickets at

FEATHERED FRIENDS Did you know there are more than 260 species of birds in the Southern Highlands and spring is a great time to spot them nesting, breeding and parenting. But where to find them? Drop into the Southern Highlands Visitor Centre in Mittagong and pick up A Guide to Birdwatching in the Southern Highlands by Birdlife Southern Highlands. This little gem of a brochure has a map with the top 10 best places to catch some of our more common feathered friends (Superb Lyrebird, Eastern Yellow Robin and Red-Browed Finch) and our threatened species (think the Ground Parrot, Powerful Owl and the fascinating Varied Sittella). If you want to go in search with fellow fanciers, Birdlife Southern Highlands holds two field trips a month and all are welcome or get involved with BirdLife Australia’s annual Birds in Backyards annual conservation and research program from October 19-25 which encourages us to count and report on the birds visiting our backyards. For more info and


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