Moving to the Victorian spa town of Daylesford might be a dream for many, but locals Selena and David Smith always wanted to one day move back to South Australia and live in a stone house like their families did when they were growing up.

So when they saw a 122-year-old stone villa on sale in the tiny town of Hatherleigh in SA’s south-east, they jumped at the chance.

“We thought we’d have a look and we actually fell in love with the house,” Selena says.

“It felt quite strange being pathetic but it was us. It was meant to be.

“We offered on the verandah and they accepted and there was no negotiations and all of a sudden we had to resign from our jobs in Victoria and tell everyone, ‘Guess what? We’re moving,’ and sell our house.”

Selena Smith has turned an old barn into an art studio.(ABC South East SA: Eugene Boisvert)

Friends initially questioned the move but could see the benefits once they visited.

“They just stand on top of the hill and say, ‘I can see why you’re here’,” Selena says.

“What we had in Victoria was very pretty — very Hamptons, I want to say — but what we have here, it’s much, much more calm and relaxed.”

The couple moved from Victoria to Hatherleigh, just north of Millicent, in 2022, and became involved in the community through various organisations they now help lead.

Selena is a professional visual artist, focusing on impressionist painting, while David is a former army brigadier.

About 150 people said they lived in Hatherleigh during the last census but, in reality, most of them live on farms in the area, with only a dozen or so homes within the town’s boundaries.

The house is set on 7,000 square metres of land.(Supplied: Professionals Millicent)

Both Selena, 57, and David, 53, grew up in Adelaide but then moved around Australia for about 30 years, following David’s army postings, before settling in Daylesford seven years ago.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, David and Selena faced a rigmarole trying to get across the border to David’s mother before she died in SA during 2020.

They did not want to go through that again, so they decided to look for a place in South Australia — somewhere that was not too hot but also fertile with large trees.

They first looked at places near Adelaide like Strathalbyn and Langhorne Creek but then spotted a 1902 stone villa in Hatherleigh for sale on more than 7,000 square metres with lots of outbuildings.

Art on show

About 18 months later, Selena has turned one half of a barn into an art studio, while the other half is what David hopes will become a successful microbrewery making custom beers for special events like weddings.

Selena’s parents, John and Elisabeth de Koke, moved from Tasmania into what used to be a dairy where a cow called Bessie once lived.

Selena’s parents John and Elisabeth de Koke with David in their renovated kitchen.(ABC South East SA: Eugene Boisvert)

The studio is filled with paints and paintings, and pieces of paper from books like street directories and encyclopedias that Selena is turning into objets d’art for an exhibition with her friend Diana Perkins at the Millicent art gallery next month.

“We are recycling old books and fabrics and wooden spoons and domestic discard into an installation and I’m going to put a big greenhouse inside the gallery and put paper flowers in there that I’ve made out of maps and things, so that’s sort of where I am at the moment,” Selena says.

The exhibition is called Rationally Wasted and will include walk-and-talks and workshops with Selena and Diana.

Street directories have been turned into flowers for the Rationally Wasted exhibition.(Supplied: Selena Smith)

Selena also had three exhibitions last August — at her home, in Penola, and in Adelaide.

The exhibitions in Adelaide and Penola featured paintings from the garden the Smiths’ are rehabilitating in Hatherleigh, as well as from the garden of French painter Claude Monet in Giverny, France.

Locals welcome ideas

Selena is also the secretary of the Millicent Business Community Association, where David is the president.

That association supports another group called Imagine Millicent, which organises murals to be painted around town in an effort to brighten up a place that has traditionally focused on agriculture and forestry.

A mural being painted on a building in Millicent in 2021.(ABC South East SA)

Despite being one of the few towns in the south-east that is not on the radar for tourists, Selena says Millicent has a lot of potential that she and David want to help grow.

“I think Millicent is on this little precipice of really waking up,” she says. 

“The Millicent people are really, really receptive to all sorts of new ideas. They just love it and there’s no sort of barriers to say, ‘Oh no. We couldn’t do that. We’ve never done that before’.

“They go, ‘Let’s do it’.”

Selena is also involved with the bowling club, the local history group and has started a regularly casual meet-up at the Hatherleigh hall called Hatherleigh Have a Chat.

The Wattle Range Art Show Exhibition at the Millicent art gallery with a painting by Selena (right).(ABC South East SA: Eugene Boisvert)

In service to the community

David is on the board of Disaster Relief Australia and Wodonga TAFE and still mentors Australian Defence Force leaders.

He served in Afghanistan, East Timor and the Solomon Islands and, before leaving the army, led the Integrated Soldier Systems Branch of the Land Systems Division.

He was in charge of equipment that members carry, wear or ingest, and was recognised for his service with a Conspicuous Service Cross presented at ceremony at Government House in Adelaide last year.

The Smiths have geese and ducks in their yard.(ABC South East SA: Eugene Boisvert)

David says his father was a Methodist minister so he was brought up with service to the community as a core value.

“If there’s an opportunity to serve the community, you say yes and you do it … so it just sort of comes naturally to want to do it,” he says.

“You’ve got a desire to help other people because it gives you purpose.

“What we’ve found here is if you’re willing to make the effort and lean in and then they’ll give back tenfold and we’ve found the people enormously welcoming.

David said there was a great sense of community.

“People want to keep that community feel going around the place, so we’re very glad we’ve moved here,” he said.

“I do still travel a lot with some of the work I do and coming home here is just a great experience of feeling you’ve come, not to a different world, but it’s a serene, comfortable, community-oriented place that’s a great place to come home to.”

The Smiths’ garden in Hatherleigh.(ABC South East SA: Eugene Boisvert)

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