Turning off the Hume Highway, Jo and I found ourselves following cryptic instructions of how to find Tony’s driveway. Turn at the second railway crossing sign etc. It was about 8pm at night, pitch black with barely a street light in sight. We located what we hoped was the driveway and proceeded to drive Jo’s Peugeot 307 down a narrow dirt road, ambling through eucalyptus trees, which at night, lit up by headlights made everything seem like a good horror film opening scene. The trip couldn’t have been further from a horror film.

Tony waved us in and invited us in for a cup of tea.

Image: Nikki To

We’d met him only a few months before through his friend John Crawford, and after a very lively discussion about the future of food and farming in a cafe at Sydney Uni, Tony invited us to his farm. Nevermind that we were two enthusiastic uni graduates with a handful of community events about farming under our sleeve. And here we were.

The next morning Tony drove us around his property. We stopped to see his weirs, inspecting how they rehydrated the land to become something of a sponge that holds water and is drought tolerant. He explained that he had structured the farm and Mulloon Institute to exist far beyond his lifetime because that is how long the work would take. We agreed that the future was female and he was adamant that being a majority female organisation (as YFM is) was setting us up for success. He showed us his already 100 year old barns and sheds that he was rebuilding so they could withstand another couple of centuries use.

In short, he didn’t muck around with ideas. He had them and he put them into play. He took stewardship very seriously, and had a capacity for thinking and planning in century long time-scales – something I have rarely experienced in another person. Lucky for YFM, this was something we had the pleasure of lapping up while Tony was our friend, mentor and as an advisor of the board of the Youth Food Movement.

Helena enjoying some chicken time at Mulloon Creek Natural Farms. Image: Nikki To

But listing these things makes me realise how at the end of one’s life, looking back over achievements, what I want is to convey and remember is Tony’s essence – the thing that fuelled the achievements. His philosophy about life; the way he held a conversation; what he fed his guests (which you’ll find below) and why he valued a youthful mindset.

Jo: What Tony made me feel when I was in his presence

While we were growing the Youth Food Movement, we were constantly learning and being challenged; whether it was wrapping our head around the complexity of the food system and its challenges or working out how we run and grow a business. Tony had a deep knowledge of both of these things and he was generous in the way that he shared this with us.

What struck me most about Tony was his humility, generosity and presence. Whether it was driving around his farm, as Alex has described, sitting at the end of a boardroom table, listening and generous sharing his wisdom, or how he would welcome the sound of my voice whenever I would pick up the phone and call him when I had a tricky challenge or wanted his advice. Tony alway was there for us and even more importantly, he believed in us and he backed us. Tony was champion of people and a champion of what IS possible. His pioneering work at the Mulloon Institute was testament to this. He held a vision for how Australian landscapes CAN be regenerated and rehydrated and galvanised teams of brave and open minded individuals to bring this vision to life.

People often ask me what I remember about a person, and rarely can I recall specific events and experiences. What I do remember is how I felt in the presence of that person. Whether I was with Tony in person or on the phone, I alway felt seen, heard, valued and respected. He achieved many things in his life, though I think his regard for and belief in all of us is another of the wonderful legacies that Tony leaves this world.

Tony Coote at our strategic planning day in 2014 held at Mulloon Creek. Image credit: Zo Zhou

Alex: We grew up on the same street, decades apart

It was my second visit to Tony’s farm, the middle of winter and it was bloody freezing. A bunch of the YFM team had camped in his barn – yes we made a small tent city inside for warmth purposes – for our roughly annual strategic planning. Finding a space that could fit about 20 gung ho minds, with a make shift kitchen, and access to agriculture was always a challenge for us city kids, but as soon as we asked, Tony said “come on down, I can show everyone the chickens”.

As we were packing up the barn, the last of the volunteer filled cars drove away, Jo Tony and I stood chatting about what led us to this point and our love of nature. This of course, always starts with childhood. Tony said that he grew up on a farm in Castle Hill and was always out in the paddocks. Delighted I shared that I also grew up in Castle Hill, across the road from a chicken farm, which was now a series of McMansions. To which he asked what street I was talking about and we both realised that we grew up on the same street. After some silence, it didn’t take long before I was whipped up in a hug that could only convey the serendipity and deep reverence Tony felt for the coincidence.

Tony showed me how to value time and connection, and that moment had both in swathes. The memory of it will forever make me smile and shake my head at the beauty of it all.

Tony, may your wonderful soul rest in peace. You got at the core of what it means to be human and your legacy, your philosophy and your work has no choice but to live on through us.

In your honour, we are eating the meal that we first shared with you: Porridge with rhubarb and cream (yes, cream!)

Tony’s famous porridge with cream. Image: Zo Zhou

Ingredients:

Oats, preferably rolled in real time for the meal
Rhubarb
Raw sugar
Good cream, preferably jersey, whatever you can find that has the highest fat content and has been least processed
Water
Milk

Method:

1. Chop rhubarb into 2cm chunks and sprinkle with some sugar. Sit for 20 minutes then add to a saucepan with the lid on, slowly stew over low heat. At first it won’t look like much is happening and then somehow the stalks just give way and become goo. It’s a happy moment.
2. Roll your oats or open your packet. Pour enough in for the number of people you’re feeding. Add milk or water or a combination, whatever floats your boat. Then over medium heat stir the oats keeping a watch that they don’t dry out. Keep adding milk/water to keep it gooey.
3. Dollop oats into the bowl, top with rhubarb and lather in the best cream you can find. Seriously, spare no expense on the cream. It makes the dish.

Written by Alexandra Iljadica.x

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