The joy you give to others is the joy that comes back to you

Written by Leanne Esposito

After thirty years, one local artisan’s passion for pottery and craft continues as an inspiring institution

What do you want for Christmas is the most asked and answered question at this time of year and for 11-year-old Darby Herbert, the youngest of a unique family of gift makers and givers, his answer springs free like the sprigs of an unfurled fir tree dancing in the wind.

“I hope Cassandra gets what she wants,” he said

Such a selfless, yet unsurprising answer fits perfectly within the family dynamic which his mother Karen Herbert has created.

Her brood of four children ranging in age from 21 to 11 consist of Brenton the eldest, two girls Cassandra and Sarah, and with young Darby bringing up the rear, the boys are bookends to this crop of healthy looking long haired artisans and musicians.

They all live, work and play together, along with sheep Milly, Tilly and Boomer. There is a gaggle of
geese, a balding of ducks, a flock of chickens, a herd of aged guinea pigs and a school of goldfish which lazily swim and sun themselves in the garden pond.

It all seems like an introduction to fairy tale yet this home and life is real.

It’s an idyllic setting and as you walk through the arbour wrapped with twisted jasmin and gaze
towards the bullnose roof and rustic wooden planked verandah, all at once you recognise that
you’ve arrived somewhere magical. At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if a sprinkle of fairy dusty fell
from the sky and Tinkerbell appeared to whisk me off to Neverland.

In reality, home is some five kilometres along the Torbanlea Pialba Road from the large traffic
calming roundabout which shoots forth to Hervey Bay. There isn’t anything of note along the way until you catch sight of the local bush icon aptly named the Pink Cow. She is built out of some substantial logs and a 44-gallon drum painted a vivid shade of pink with the appropriate Friesian cow markings.

Her bovine beauty stands in stark contrast to the natural surrounds as she appears to silently shout
at passers-by – Here We Are!

Once you’ve caught sight of her it’s well and truly time to decelerate from the 100 kilometre an hour
speed you’ve been travelling because you’ve arrived at Australiana Cottage Art and Crafts and Herb

The Pink Cow is certainly hard to miss and the reason for her boldness lies in the young Karen’s
psyche which is soon to be revealed.

Now is the time to mention Karen’s husband Ron who minds the shop while I interview the family.

He is a stalwart and has been right there beside her from the beginning when the gallery and farm was just a 10-acre block of scrubland with potential. The young 19-year-old Karen had a dream and in 1989 she purchased the land.

“I knew what I always wanted to do. This is why I bought this block on this road.

“I got a second hand axe, with sticky tape around the split handle.

“I couldn’t even buy women’s work boots, I had to buy men’s horse riding boots.

“It was my Mum and Dad and me. I would go to the markets in the mornings. Ron worked in council
parks and gardens, so we all just used to come out on the weekends.”

And like Kevin Costner’s character in the film Field of Dreams who heard a voice while wandering through a corn field “If you build it, he (they) will come…”, Karen’s dream had been playing out since she was a young girl living in suburban Sydney.

Takura undoubtedly is a far cry from Greystanes where, as a young child she would join her mother,
the late Maureen Darnborough, in the front garden.

This is where Karen’s pottery journey began. The little sprite loved to mash about in the dense clay
soil. Her imagination would play out as she formed figures with her hands and posted them onto the
front fence. Even then she envisaged a shop where passers-by would stop to buy her wares. It may have been all pretend, the games of a small child, but it’s where a beautiful seed was sown.

Despite the inability to entice those vehicles to stop, her passion never waned. Proudly Karen reflects on the past and I now appreciate the significance, and boldness, of the Pink Cow.

“I was just a kid digging in the garden and the cars drove past but didn’t stop. Now they drive miles just to get here,” she said.

Her love of pottery blossomed when her mother’s friend built a kiln and Karen fired her first piece. As
an only child, and despite, or because of the lack of siblings to play with, she possessed a drive and
determination which is remarkable. At 15 she was selling her pottery at various stores located around Sydney, from Berrimah to the Blue Mountains and into The Rocks. At 17 she hosted her own gallery exhibition and even sold her pottery nationally.

Karen is blessed with a beautiful smile and sparkling eyes which match her upbeat personality.

Combined with her effortless authentic charm I can imagine doors springing open as she approached. It’s a whole of life thing as she admits to mixing business with pleasure.

“I would just go into a shop and say, would you sell these for me? Then they would buy them and sell

“I was selling to places in Sydney, the Gold Coast, Victoria, and across to Darwin. I was even selling to Sea World.

“It meant I got free admission into the facility.”

Pablo Picasso said that the meaning of life is to find your gift and the purpose of life is to give it away.

While Karen the entrepreneur hasn’t exactly been giving away her wares, she certainly found her own
gift at a very young age, knew exactly what she wanted to do, and has never wavered in her love of
gift making.

Once the gallery was built Karen stopped going to local markets to sell and put all of her efforts into
creating the Gallery and Herb Farm.

Over the years the family grew and Karen adapted with the changing times. Even while she built up
the gallery business Karen continued to attend local markets which have since grown, in demand, and as a response to a need for quality goods. Karen tells me that in the beginning retail outlets sold artisan pieces but with overseas imports they were muscled out by mass production.

“Craftspeople got pushed out into the markets. Most things stopped when the mass produced market arrived.

“Friends of mine who were production potters would make 100 mugs in the morning to warm up for the day but they can’t anymore.

“They couldn’t compete with the 50 cent imported mug from China, so unfortunately a lot of local
artisans stopped creating.

“Luckily, people are now really appreciating locally handmade once again.”

Karen is proud to have always sold locally made, unique and quality items. The family makes about
80% of the gifts sold in store and the other 20% are made by local artisans, some of whom have been supplying the gallery with items for the past thirty years. Karen said they sell an amazing range of 100% locally made gifts.

“We also have local honey from third generation apiarists and they do it the way it was done years
ago. It is just spun out of the comb and into the jar, all natural and raw.

“We sell for a local hat maker who is now 90 years old. You can see the years of skill that has gone into the making.

“We sell pineapples from across the grower road who is a third generation farmer. He is so passionate about the pineapples and they are always sweet and juicy, “Some of our friends do amazing wood turning. We sell vases and lamps made from 100-year-old fence posts,” she said.

Karen has homeschooled each of her children and believes that learning life from other people, rather than being regimented in the classroom, has allowed her children to develop in their own creative pursuits.

Brenton and Cassandra have since graduated high school and are both renowned artisans in their own right. Brenton can be found most days at the pottery wheel. Currently he exports his creations worldwide and Cassandra’s silversmith creations are sublime.

Karen is grateful for the contacts she has made over the years. Friends of Karen, whom she met when she was a teenager, are passing on their knowledge to her children.

“Brenton has had the great opportunity to learn from friends that are retired master potters.

Cassandra’s passion is textile arts, silversmithing and jewellery making. Sarah loves to draw and grow herbs and Darby just loves to have a go at making everything,” she said.

Karen’s skills are as remarkable as they are diverse. She is self-taught without the benefit of a fine arts school.

“There was no internet and I didn’t buy pottery books because they were too expensive and ‘arty’. I make functional pottery. You can sit there and look at that shape and make it,” she said.

A child of British citizens who emigrated before her birth, Karen speaks with an Australian accent as
authentic as Paul Hogan. She maintains a staunch belief that she was born in the right country.
“If I was born in another country I would have been born in the wrong country,” she said.

And perhaps it’s the reason why her life’s purpose was to build a business called Australiana Cottage
Art and Crafts and Herb Farm. This certainty is deeply embedded in her art as I note that the Australian dunny features in most of her creations. I suggest it is perhaps her artist’s signature.
“I’ve made pottery dunnies now for 35 years and when I paint my old hand and cross-cut saws I’ve
always got a dunny out the back,” she said.

And like a typical Australian larrikin she has the perfect throwaway line which has me in stiches.
“Someone once asked me why I did it, and although it might be a bit vulgar, I said it was because I’m a shithouse artist,” she said.

Karen tells me that her father Jack loves to tease her about her outback toilet art.

“When I first started making and selling them he said ‘they won’t keep selling this way forever’ and I love saying – I just sold another dunny Dad.”

Jack was there at the beginning of her craft journey and is still a constant support working every day
except Saturday – his one day off. A dab hand at any tool job he’s made all the gallery woodwork fixtures.

If there is a call for a custom made job, then it’s Jack, to the rescue.

This visit to the gallery and farm has been a revelation. I now understand what Henry Thoreau
meant when he said that what you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.

For Karen to have spun a life around creating gifts which awe, inspire and delight is to have found her peace on earth. Lucky for us she invites us all to join her.