Chesleigh Homestead is a 3,000-acre property tucked away outside Sofala, a small, historic gold-mining village about 40 minutes out of Bathurst in Central NSW, Australia. It offers a genuine, rustic country experience with all the comforts of home and a choice of accommodation options catering for family holidays, romantic getaways, corporate team building events, group celebrations, summer riding camps and weddings. Nestled between rolling hills and trickling creeks, it’s the only venue in Sofala where you will be taught to pan for gold and then have miles of creeks to perfect your skill.
Set up some 40 years ago by Mike and Jan Cody, it has now been helmed by their daughter Sasha and her husband Brian Wafer, along with their three little boys Billy, Bobby and Banjo. The family all still work with Mike and Jan on the ever-popular horse riding trails and delicious, hearty, home-cooked meals and after-dinner campfire performances. It’s a unique experience and incredible for city slickers of all ages.
As ever though in the harsh climate of Australia times can be tough. Like much of NSW, Chesleigh had just come through a horrific drought and then COVID struck with the subsequent lockdown. The family had fought to save and feed their numerous animals through the drought and were hopeful of what 2020 could bring with rain and then fully-booked school holidays in April. The animals are an important part of the Chesleigh offering and earn their feed bill during these busy times. The enforced lockdown and ensuing cancellations were catastrophic.
Sasha and Brian researched all the government support packages and hoped that there would be something that recognised farm-based tourism with ongoing overheads (outside of payroll) that don’t stop just because they are not open for business. Like many farming businesses, it is entirely family run so there are no employees so initiatives like Jobkeeper didn’t apply for them.
As Sasha says, “We needed to think outside the box. With all our ‘employees’ being animals who were also ineligible for Jobkeeper we started to think… So many people stuck working from home, day in day out. Trying to stay motivated in front of their computers, needing to be more creative than ever and under such stressful and monotonous conditions.”
So the couple started advertising their animals to appear in corporate Zoom rooms. The idea being that they drop in and make an impact — help break the monotony of working from home, offer a laugh, some comic relief, something to talk about instead of COVID, doom and gloom.
“People were absolutely wrapped and certainly very entertained. And also interested in how COVID was affecting other industries such as us, outside of the corporate sphere.”
Chesleigh animals have starred in over 40 Zoom meetings: horses, alpacas, a duck, a rooster, a turkey, the sheepdog, ponies and most famously, their Geep (a rare sheep/ goat cross, resulting from the drought when farmers opened their gates to give their animals a chance at life foraging for themselves when they could no longer feed them. Some strange amalgamated herds formed).
The animals have appeared in Zoom rooms of the major banks, ABC TV comedy executive committees, hospital team meetings, international script edits for blockbuster movies, creative brainstorming with the Bondi hipsters and many more.
“It’s hilarious! It’s ridiculous! And it really helped give us something to focus on during that scary period,” laughs Sasha “Hilariously, I am still taking bookings for this too! Folk can get in contact via our website contact us link or email me directly.”
In an even better news postscript, Channel 10’s The Living Room visited Chesleigh last week and transformed their Halfway House hideaway, a broken-down cottage, preserving its historic value as a perfect escape for busy Sasha and Brian or for future guests.