Shearing season is in full swing at Savannah Farm. Flocks of sheep line the farm track en route to their annual snip, bleating as they hustle through the yards. “A bit of kicking and pulling can be typical behaviour of the sheep,” explains head shearer Brian Lally, whose 30 years of shearing experience has helped his patience and restraint with many a cheeky sheep.
Over in the farmhouse, the mood is somewhat more composed but just as high spirited: the Lally family are preparing to celebrate the 100th year of their Hill River property, two hours north of Adelaide, with a special lunch, and the aroma of lamb gently roasting over hot coals fills the house.
Farming is in the blood of Brian’s younger brother, Phil. His great-grandfather, Vincent Lally senior, purchased the first section of Savannah Farm in 1912, and the family’s farming roots extend back even further in time. Vincent Lally senior raised the large Lally brood here at Savannah, then set them all up on farms of their own, and eventually his youngest son, Vincent Lally junior, took over the original property.
Nowadays Phil and his wife, Michele, run the 650-hectare farm, drawing on a philosophy of managing their animals in a way that is stress-free for the sheep and respectful to the environment. “We use old shepherding traditions as well as innovative science and nutrition to produce our stock,” Michele says of their merino–white Suffolk crossbred flock. “The lambs are happy and are naturally raised, free to roam in expansive paddocks, which makes for a better end product.”
The shearers’ normal working day is built around a rigorous schedule. By 7am they’re already oiling their clippers and fixing their harnesses, all set for the first sheep in the pen. A brief ‘smoko’ breaks up the morning, a light lunch is served at midday, and an afternoon smoko sees the team through to sunset. “Smokos are an important break for the shearers, to rest their backs and refuel their over-extended bodies,” says Brian.
Michele sends freshly baked goodies, such as orange cake and warm zucchini slice, from the farmhouse to the hungry crew. “The food needs to be sustaining but not too heavy for the shearers. They’re bent over while working with the animals, and they need to feel comfortable with their heads lower than their stomachs,” she explains.
Today, however, the last sheep are clipped before midday. The celebration lunch is pending, and Michele and a team of family and friends, including local chef Dan Moss, are putting finishing touches on the meal of local produce, splashing citrus salads with extra-virgin olive oil and scattering basil over dishes.
Underneath a blossoming plum tree planted by Phil’s grandmother in the early 1900s, a long table is set, dressed with vintage crockery and pink roses just-picked from the garden. Wine is passed around – Clare Valley riesling, of course, and the shiraz Phil makes from a small block of vines planted in front of the farmhouse. Michele’s homemade lime cordial is a hit, too, packed with cooling mint and wedges of lime fresh from the trees, the perfect thirst-quencher on a warm day.
Vegetables, herbs and fruit from Michele’s own garden – fennel, parsley, citrus – feature throughout the meal, but the star attraction at any Lally shindig is the lamb, naturally. Today it’s a roasted shoulder and a saddle stuffed with a mix that includes homegrown caperberries and preserved lemons. “Cinnamon quills and bay leaves are added to the lemons for greater aromatics and intensity of flavour, then left to settle for several weeks,” explains Michele. “The lemons really lift the flavour of the lamb.”
Her food philosophy is simple: “Cooking with respect for the animal and produce being used allows for honest and pure flavours,” she says. “And seasonality – we eat with the seasons here.”
As the warm rays of late-afternoon sun filter through the plum tree, the family swaps stories, tales old and new. Michele’s tangy lemon tart is passed around, along with the family’s favourite trifle, made by Phil’s mother, Colleen. Topped with spoonfuls of whipped cream, the generous servings quickly disappear. For a moment the shearers seem to block out thoughts of tomorrow’s demanding schedule, and stillness settles upon the farm. Right now it’s all about the food, the celebration and coming together as a family.
Photography John Laurie
As seen in Feast magazine, November 2013, Issue 26. For more recipes and articles, pick up a copy of this month's Feast magazine or check out our great subscriptions offers here.