That's the Spirit: Pip Archer - Mendooran NSW
After more than three decades at Mendooran, Pip Archer has seen the district and its people at their best and their worst and all points in between, and says there’s beauty all around, even in the toughest of times – you just need to know how to see and appreciate it.
Pip: I’ve been here on the farm at Mendooran for 32 years, since I married a local man on the land. I worked at the school for years and been involved with community since first arriving in the district.
I’ve been a country girl all my life and I think that makes a big difference, particularly when it comes to weathering adversity. For instance, I have memories of the droughts I went through as a child and those memories all tend to snowball onto each other. Now that it has rained and we’re seeing all the beautiful green again, it’s wonderful, but you think back to the dry and the dust storms, and you never really forget.
Jen: What is it that you love about living in the bush?
Pip: For me, it’s a connection to nature. It feels authentic. A century ago, our family forebears lived in this very house and went through exactly the same things that we’re going through. They made it and we’ll make it, and we lean on that.
We both look at past generations, and while things are so different, they’re essentially the same: keeping stock and crops alive, raising and educating children, keeping the bills paid, planning for the future…
We’ve had the chance to change direction over the years, but we stay because we love it here; my husband absolutely loves it here, he’s very good at what he does, and I can’t imagine him doing anything else.
Jen: Tell me about the “cheesy” little enterprise you and your friend Deb Kiem started last year.
Pip: Initially we were only going to make cheese for friends and family, but it grew very, very quickly into much more. People just really seemed to love our cheese, but more than that, they also loved the fact that we were doing something so different in Mendooran. This is a little town that’s stayed pretty much the same for a long, long time then suddenly, there’s some locals establishing a distillery, then there’s some others making cheeses, then there’s another young mum producing relishes and jams, then there’s a café opening up… it’s as if one thing changes and that breaks the skin and other people think, “Oh, well if they’re mad enough to start that, then I might as well have a crack too.”
Pip Archer, Mendooran NSW
Jen: I remember you saying that you always loved nice cheeses, and you suddenly thought, “Well, why couldn’t we make artisan cheese right here in Mendooran?”
Pip: Exactly! Just because our town is small, doesn’t mean our ideas have to be. I think being in a tiny little place is actually a benefit because of the community support. The minute we talked about (making cheese) people would stop us and say, “Good on you! Something new for the town! Go for it!” It’s been wonderful how much support we’ve had.
The fact that there’s only two of us helps too, the fact that we’re not wanting to build a great big corporate entity and an enormous facility, we just want to keep it small and intimate, and we want to talk to people about the process and the product.
Pip Archer, Mendooran NSW
Jen: Do you think that reflects a thirst for knowledge about where our food comes from?
Pip: I absolutely do, and I’m proud to be part of that. One of the positive things about the drought is that it’s built a massive bridge between the city and the country. You hear it all the time – people genuinely do want to know where their food comes from, and they’re far more conscious that what they buy has a direct impact on Australian farmers and the economy.
That’s one of the reasons that we wanted to have the name Mendooran in our business name, so that people would know where we were from and that this artisan cheese comes from a little town in western NSW. When we went into the Melbourne Dairy Industry awards – which was a bit cheeky really, because we didn’t really know then what we were doing (laughs!) – and we won a second prize for our feta. It was interesting because we were one of only two that named where we were from (the other was Bega Cheese), but it gave us a real shot in the arm to hear Mendooran’s name being promoted. I think little towns have a lot to offer, but we don’t really spruik that very well, so it was important to us to fly that flag.
We’re a satellite town of Dubbo, but in order to be a satellite town that people actually want to live in, you need to have more going for you than just cheap houses. You need something happening, some sort of vibrancy – and I think we’ve added to that, which I’m proud of.
Jen: Are you proud of the way Mendooran has endured?
Pip: Very much so, and you see that resilience on display on show day, or Australia Day or at of the myriad annual local events. People come out and really participate. Mendooran has a real heart, as do most little towns. People really look out for each other – everyone knows everyone and they’re looking out for you. Everyone is so excited when there’s a new baby, everyone is there to grieve when someone dies, everyone steps up to help when someone is sick or having a hard time. That’s when you see the best of the town.
Jen: You’ve been involved in many things – the school, various sports, the show society, pony club – you and your entire family – why is that?
Pip: It’s a cultural thing, I think. My earliest memory is of my father being president of the local jockey club where I grew up, and my parents-in-law were the same, they were involved in so many different local things.
When I first came here – bearing in mind that I’m not actually the most confident person in the room – but I went to my first pre-school meeting, and came home as President, which then evolved into the P&C which grew into (being on) the local show (committee). I realised that I had skills to offer and that they were needed. It was a great way to meet people – it was a bucket of fun being on all those committees and to be part of community building.
Jen: Tell me again why you love where you live?
Pip: I am surrounded by nature and I love watching the changing seasons, even the droughts – when they break, they nearly break your heart too with the beauty that unfolds so quickly.
I feel truly safe. I don’t bother locking the car in town. Feeling safe and secure is highly underestimated. I know my neighbours’ and the kids’ names in town. I know their dogs.
I know when emergencies hit that there are people I can rely upon. And they can rely on me.
I think agriculture has a very strong future and small country communities are only going to benefit and get stronger because of that firm future. We have the cleverest farmers in the world.
We may retire, but we won’t be leaving the bush.
NALAG's 'That's the Spirit' hardcover book features a selection of excerpts from the stories gathered from Western NSW during 2018-2020.
Mendooran-based cheese makers, Deb Kiem and Pip Archer.