Happiness Fairy with a touch of cordon Bleu class
By Ieva Tomsons
VERSATILE Julimar resident Lesley-Jane Campbell (left) is a bit of a chameleon who calls herself an “old hippie”, sweeping aside her sophisticated European background.
Decades before ‘glamping’ (comfortable camping), bush tucker and musical events in the great outdoors became fashionable, L-J (as she likes to be called) was introducing guests to the concepts at the Mid-West sheep station she owned with her husband David.
To get a handle on this mercurial woman we need to step back to her idyllic English childhood in Worcester where, as the youngest of three children, she roamed the lakes and woods near the family’s historic home.READ MORE
She started learning French in primary school and excelled in art, skiing, hockey and tennis.
“I was mad about sport, an all-rounder but not that clever (academically).”
To round off her final year in high school L-J attended a Swiss boarding school in Gstaad and pursued her passion for skiing.
L-J had the opportunity to try out for the British skiing team but enrolled instead in an art school in Lausanne where she also learnt cordon bleu cooking.
After three and a half years in Switzerland L-J returned to England completed a secretarial course and started working as receptionist for Jesuit priests in London after a six-month stint in a Welsh commune.
It was the swinging ’60s and L-J threw herself into the counter-culture, attending a performance of the rock musical Hair with the Jesuits who enjoyed the show which featured on-stage nudity and profanity.
“The priests called me ‘the little heathen from Brum’ (Birmingham),” laughs L-J who called herself The Happiness Fairy.
Birmingham was where the arts scene was so L-J headed back north to work as a freelance artist.
During her mid to late 20s she mixed easily with both the ‘smart set’ and hippies and had already become a vegetarian, a diet to which she adheres this day.
Just before her 30th birthday L-J chased the sun to Australia and landed a job in a Sydney call centre.
“I hated telling lies and got the sack,” so she headed to SA where she met future husband David.
Employed as a camp cook on a station midway between Adelaide and Broken Hill, the freezing outback nights were a surprise for L-J who got about in a sarong.
“David suggested ‘we pool our resources’ – I had never heard it put that way before,” laughs L-J who was introduced to the swag which she still loves to camp out in.
From the very beginning the red dirt, roos and bush got under her skin.
“You have to love the isolation and the bush and you don’t just stay there because that’s where your man is.”
Soon after she met David, they returned to England to get married and returned briefly to Adelaide before heading to Alice Springs for a couple of years.
In 1982 they moved west to Sandstone where they managed a million-acre (404,700ha) sheep station for two years.
A couple of Aboriginal families lived on Dundargo Station and L-J started to learn how to use bush tucker in cooking and became passionate about the bush.
She was embraced by the small Sandstone community and soon became a big part of it teaching art one day a week at the local school and on weekends working with the kids, including school of the air students, to produce plays for Christmas and Easter.
L-J also signed on as secretary for the town’s golf and gymkhana clubs and hosted parties which were all-inclusive.
The Campbell’s bought their own much smaller sheep station, Wongarno 55km south of Mt Magnet in 1988 and L-J joined many of Mt Magnet’s local associations and clubs.
The parties L-J and David hosted were legendary for the mix of people from all walks of life and unique first-class catering.
A year after they bought Wongarno, the price of wool crashed and the Campbells needed an alternative income stream so they opened the homestead and shearers’ quarters as a home-stay with camping facilities.
Word quickly spread about L-J’s cooking, and bookings for weddings and celebrations started rolling in.
In 1996 L-J was appointed to the board of the Mid-West Development Commission and a year later she spearheaded a team to compete in Tasting Australia’s first Regional Culinary Competition in Adelaide.
Their four-course meal which they had to prepare for a panel of international judges in four hours featured an emu and kangaroo appetiser, crayfish, salt bush beef and mutton, wattleseed and sandalwood damper, witchetty grubs and bunja nuts teamed with Mid-West wines.
After the event which was won by Margret River, L-J reported that “we all felt very nervous walking into the kitchens among the wonderful-looking chefs with their aprons rolled to the correct roll and their terrific hats perched just so. I did wonder … what I was doing there?”.
Promoting the Mid-West’s attractions came naturally to L-J who also served as secretary to the Outback Mid-West Tourist Advisory Group which helped promote a safe outback experience by contributing to the first tourist map of the region.
From 2001 to 2008 the Campbells played host to numerous multi-media events staged in and around picturesque locations on their property.
There was Violins in the Outback, Drums in the Outback and Sounds of the Outback which drew international performers and audiences of around 500 for which L-J did a lot of the catering.
In 2007 David was diagnosed with an aggressive form of melanoma and the couple sold Wongarno to go travelling before settling in Toodyay in 2009 just before the devastating bushfire which destroyed 37 houses.
L-J nursed David until he died at home in 2012, and for the past five years she has been a Year 12 boys’ house mother at Guildford Grammar school.
She may describe herself as an “old hippie” but she’s got a lot of guts and more than a touch of class.