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I wish I'd bought a box

I wish I'd bought a box
Photograph by Kirsten Cunningham.
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Neil Varcoe was a tech executive in Sydney until he bought an old hotel in Carcoar, NSW, population 271. Here’s the second instalment of his monthly column for Galah.


It was 10am, and I’d lost track of how many times I’d been hit in the crotch. Small children have a GPS for it. They can connect with the groin with almost impossible accuracy. They don’t tell you this in parenting books. I wish I’d bought a box instead of that Hangover-style baby carrier. I would have used it more.

I moved in days after we settled on the historic guesthouse in Carcoar. I only get hit in the testicles on weekends now. My family stayed in Sydney so my wife could continue to work, and my kids could hone their ninja skills at daycare a few times a week. This place feels cavernous without their laughter. It’s the hardest part, not seeing them every day.


If I could be a character from Ted Lasso, I’d be Roy Kent. Radical honesty is a rare quality. In series two, episode three, Roy is surprised by Rebecca Walton. Rebecca owns AFC Richmond — a fictional English football club. She is his boss. They bump into each other at a doll shop. Roy’s niece is with him, fortunately, and Rebecca is reconnecting with her goddaughter, Nora.

Rebecca remarks on the connection between Roy and his niece, Phoebe. (This is not a Ted Lasso recap, please bear with me.) Roy turns to Rebecca and grunts a phrase that I think about often: “Look, most adults think kids need to be constantly entertained. It’s bullshit … Truth is they just wanna feel like they’re part of our lives. Little idiots.”

When I think about the times I most treasured with my father, we were not at the circus or some elaborate birthday party with a petting zoo and a cake that looked like a diorama and cost more than a house. We were in the garden or cutting firewood. For the rest of the week, he was down a hole for 12 hours a day. He was a coal miner. I’m certain he missed every school play, which was my goal, too. I adored him. It was quality time, not quantity time.


I was distant before I moved away. I lived in the front room of our house, tethered to a laptop on a conga line of video calls. Molly, three, and Tom, one, would continually hammer at the door or burst in like Cosmo Kramer. I’d joke about it and bring them into the call or make a moment with them if I was alone, but it was difficult. I worked at Twitter, and the place was on fire. Even before Elon, I was holding a hose. One day after work, I went to the lounge room. Molly tapped away on Edwina’s laptop. I tried to ask her what she was doing, and she cut me off: “I’m working,” she said sternly. 

I always find it hard: missing ballet practice, Tom’s new words, and the weird and wonderful stories that spew from Molly’s mouth when she stalls at bedtime. I miss her asking me to hold her hand as she falls asleep. I miss Tom’s cheeky smile and his spontaneous hugs. I miss my wife, Edwina, too, hearing everything about her day — just being part of their lives. It reassures me that they have my attention on the weekends — even if that occasionally means I cop it in the Jatz Crackers. And in the time in-between, I take any opportunity to be part of their lives. I drop everything when they call. It’s quality time, not quantity time.

Newsletter partner: Regional Australia Bank

Regional Australia Bank lives and breathes the regional Australia spirit, playing an active and influential role in its communities, and empowering the people and businesses of regional Australia to achieve great things. 

Neil's project update

RAG status reporting is used in project management to give quick updates via a traffic light system. “Red” means trouble,  “amber” signals that there are bumps in the road, but still on track, and “green” means that everything is going to plan.

I expect that you’ll see little, if any, green in my project updates. 

Please find my April report below, then cascade to your teams and circle back with any questions. 

RAG Status: Amber

The Project is Delayed

  • We’re a little behind, but the extra time was already there. We just hadn’t found it yet. Blayney Council asked a pertinent question about poo, and our answer was a stinker. In the rush to submit the Development Application, we had not looked closely enough at the septic report — which was wildly inadequate. Missing a critical detail gave us pause. We engaged outside experts to review the proposal. They found 15 other items we should fix. These were not major issues — and we would have discovered them during the process. Finding them now, when they are on paper, is the best-case scenario. As I said, the time was already there.
  • The DA has been “put on exhibition," akin to being placed in the stocks. The stocks differ from the pillory and the pranger by their restraint of the feet, and “on exhibition” means that you aren’t going anywhere until the community has its say. The process lasted two weeks and concluded on Friday. Our proposal received one or two submissions, which were sensible requests with easy fixes.  It’s a good feeling to know that the community wants us to succeed and that we’ve created a plan that is thoughtful and considerate. The hotel has to be big and bold enough to pull a crowd but not too busy that it risks altering the quiet charm of “the town that time forgot.” It appears that we’ve struck the right balance.
  • Now that the plan is before the council, the focus is sharply on paint. Edwina and Felicity "Flea" Slattery from Studio Esteta are working on colours. The exterior will reference the existing roof with Manor Red from Dulux. It's in keeping with heritage guidelines and is cost-efficient; we don't need to paint or replace the roof. The red, closer to burgundy, will be complemented by sandstone and cream colours. Inside, an eclectic scheme— with dark and light tones playing out across the walls. Brisbane artist Kate Pittas will also create an Australian mural for the reception room. It will be inspired by the drawing and dining rooms of the Victorian era and will be unique to Saltash Farm.

I'll be back in your inbox next month, in the meantime, find me @neilwrites and @saltash__farm

Over and out.