Tree changing couple swap life in Europe for 'best place' in rural Australia

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Mandy Veron was ready to go home to Scotland after two years in Australia with her young family.

It was 2011, and they had been renting in Swan Hill (beautiful, but too hot) when her husband, Argentinian Silverio “Silver” Veron, asked her to give South Australia a try.

“I had one day to buy a house and find a school,” Ms Veron said.

She ended up inspecting a 2.5 hectares farmer’s block in Hatherleigh in the state’s south-east — but when Ms Veron got there, she thought it could have been Scotland.

A stone house surrounded by lavender and trees in the afternoon sun.A stone house surrounded by lavender and trees in the afternoon sun.
Ms Veron says she felt at home as soon as they saw their Hatherleigh property.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

Not to mention the highland cattle down the road and the fact that locals used to call the area Argyll, the same county in Scotland Ms Veron is from.

“And then when we moved in, it rained non-stop for three weeks,” Ms Veron said.

She was home.

In the decade since, the Verons have wholeheartedly adopted farm life, opened a business in a small town and discovered miniature pigs are not always as they seem.

It is a life they would have never expected, but would never change.

Four chickens run across a patch of lawn next to an old farm fence in the afternoon sun.Four chickens run across a patch of lawn next to an old farm fence in the afternoon sun.
Ms Veron says she loves the slow pace of living on the farm.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

Living on a farm for the first time

“I mean, she never thought she would have a lamb [as a pet],” Mr Veron said.

Maybe three dogs, but not a lamb, five goats, three alpacas, chickens, and a miniature pig (their middle child Zach’s idea).

“We got her because they told us it would be a miniature pig,” Mr Veron said.

Veron's pig TrufflesVeron's pig Truffles
The Verons’ “miniature pig”, Truffles, has grown to be a little larger than they first imagined.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

“We’ve had to learn everything, from fixing electric fences [with] just the kids and I, to catching goats that are escaping.

A man and woman sit on chairs on an outdoor porch with a small black god and wandering lamb.A man and woman sit on chairs on an outdoor porch with a small black god and wandering lamb.
The Verons’ have many pet animals on the farm, including three dogs, a lamb and five goats.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

“It’s been great for the kids, and we’ve all had to work as a team.”

Ms Veron loves what farm life has given her family. A freedom that she missed growing up in the city in Scotland.

“The whole pace of South Australia is just the best,” Ms Veron said.

A teenage boys in school uniform sits on a couch comfortably in a dimly-lit living room. A teenage boys in school uniform sits on a couch comfortably in a dimly-lit living room.
Zach Veron chills out in the family farmhouse at Hatherleigh,South Australia.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

“Even in Scotland, you wouldn’t let your children go out of your sight.”

But life is still busy.

Thirteen-year-old Josh, their youngest, goes to school 61 kilometres away in Penola. Zach, 15, is 40 minutes in the opposite direction.

Their eldest Elisha, 18, is homeschooled — something Ms Veron says she could have never seriously considered back in Scotland.

A man in a black patterned shirt stands next to a tall teenage boy, a boy, teenage girl and woman in front of an old brick wall.A man in a black patterned shirt stands next to a tall teenage boy, a boy, teenage girl and woman in front of an old brick wall.
The Verons’ say moving to regional Australia has taught them to work together as a team.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

Away from the “peer pressure”, they started homeschooling their daughter in Australia.

And between the three, there is hardly a dull moment.

“I don’t actually get to spend a huge amount of time at home, just running from pillar to post, I feel like I’m always going in this triangle,” Ms Veron said.

Land of opportunities

One of Ms Veron’s big commitments is helping to run the café her husband opened three years ago.

At the time Mr Veron was still working in a small, but very successful French restaurant in Footscray, driving to-and-from Melbourne on a regular basis.

“It came down to either we moved towards Melbourne or open [something] in Penola and stay here,” Ms Veron said.

A man in a patterned black shirt stands in a doorway smiling at someone off to the side.A man in a patterned black shirt stands in a doorway smiling at someone off to the side.
After working in kitchens around the world, Mr Veron is happy to run his own place in the main street of Penola.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

Having always worked in hospitality, Mr Veron was confident of opening his own place in Penola, a township 40-minutes’ drive away from their farmhouse.

A man clears a table in a small, brightly lit and vibrantly decorated cafe space.A man clears a table in a small, brightly lit and vibrantly decorated cafe space.
Mr Veron says everyone loves Cafe Lito.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

The eatery’s name, Cafe Lito, and the interiors are his family’s doing, while the choice of South American and Latin American music is his own.

And now that Elisha has finished school, Ms Veron is considering her own dream venture — a clothing line.

“Somebody’s contacted me with fabrics, and [I’ve found] a seamstress, ” she said.

Mr Veron said it all happened very quickly.

“Three weeks ago, she never thought she would open a shop, and she’s opening a shop next week,” Mr Veron said.

A bright red oven in a white kitchen with lemons and assorted jars and bowls above it.A bright red oven in a white kitchen with lemons and assorted jars and bowls above it.
Ms Veron says living in South Australia feels like going back in time.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

Moving your family overseas

Moving your whole life is not a new concept to the Verons.

The two met in the Canary Islands where Mr Veron moved from Argentina to be closer to family in his 20s. Ms Veron had travelled there in 1999 for a holiday and had no intention — or inkling of finding love.

“I’d just finished my Master’s [in Theology], and I was exhausted,” Ms Veron said.

It was not until later trips to Lanzarote to help with the local church that the Argentinian came on her radar.

A man in a patterned black shirt and jeans sits on a red motorcycle on a farm property in the afternoon sun.A man in a patterned black shirt and jeans sits on a red motorcycle on a farm property in the afternoon sun.
When Mr Veron does not have to take his kids into school, he is riding this to work.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

Things progressed and they married in Scotland in 2002.

They lived there until 2009 when they followed Ms Veron’s family to Australia.

An old photo frame with a picture of a woman in a wedding dress smiling next to a  man in a kilt and suit jacket with bowtie.An old photo frame with a picture of a woman in a wedding dress smiling next to a  man in a kilt and suit jacket with bowtie.
Mandy and Silverio Veron, who have been in Australia since 2009, married in Scotland in 2002.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

“I didn’t know that when we came, we would be staying,” she said.

A boy in school uniform carries a cafe sign reading 'coffee and cake' inside a shop.A boy in school uniform carries a cafe sign reading 'coffee and cake' inside a shop.
Josh Veron, who goes to school a few hundred metres from the cafe, helps his dad out after school.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

Her advice is to not sit on opportunities for too long.

“I have friends still in Scotland who … wanted to come to Australia before I did, and they’re still in Scotland,” Ms Veron said.

Now she and her husband can confidently say they are “home”.

The words 'back in five' are written in white texta on a glass door with an 'Open' sign hanging above it.The words 'back in five' are written in white texta on a glass door with an 'Open' sign hanging above it.
For Mr Veron, running his own business means being able to pop out for church or soccer on a weekend.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)