Three Minute Squiz With… Annabelle Hickson

Although Annabelle Hickson has been a Squiz subscriber for some time, we only recently became aware of her when her fab podcast with Gillian Bell, Dispatch to a Friend, was selected by Apple (alongside The Squiz Today podcast, ahem) as one of the best of 2018. Annabelle has a regular column in Country Style magazine, and she’s also a photographer/flower lover/pecan farmer. That’s quite a skill set… Please welcome Annabelle as she takes on our first Three Minute Squiz of 2019.
(Photo credit: Luisa Brimble)

How and where do you Squiz?
In bed, with coffee, on my phone.

A little bit about you. Where did you grow up and how did you come to be a writer who lives on a pecan farm in northern NSW?
I grew up in Sydney and actually worked as a journalist at The Australian where I did my cadetship. I adored that job wholeheartedly, even the door knocks and the other dreadful things you have to do as a low rung general reporter. After a couple of years in Holt Street, I spent a year at The Australian’s Brisbane bureau and was well and truly fired up about a long career in journalism. But then I fell in love with a farmer. The men in the Brissy office called him Biggles because he flew a small plane. He picked me up at Archerfield airport for our first date. I remember turning to one of the older reporters for advice, just before the date, saying “I think I really like this guy but I am not sure how he feels about me.” The reporter looked at me and said “he’s picking you up in a goddamn plane. He is keen”. Within about six months I had moved out west.

Cue non-farm-girl question, how do you grow pecans?
I have great sympathy for people who ask non-farm-girl questions because I ask them every day. Pecans are nut trees native to the US which grow very happily in the deep alluvial soils (ie river flats) that we have in the Dumaresq Valley where we live in north-west NSW, an hour west of Tenterfield. You’d be mad to grow them without either good, reliable rainfall or permanent water. They take about seven years to start producing so you also have to be patient.

Your podcast Dispatch to a Friend was selected by Apple as one of the best Aussie podcasts of the year. For those who haven’t listened, tell us what it is about?
Dispatch to a Friend is a podcast based on the letters I write to my friend, cake-maker Gillian Bell, and the letters she writes to me. We both love food, cooking, gardening… the ordinary pleasures of daily life. Gillian lives in Brisbane and jets about the world making the most unbelievable wedding cakes, while I am out on the farm with small children cutting roadside weeds. We’re in quite different stages but have so much in common. I hope, more than anything, that for our listeners this podcast is about the joy of female friendship because that’s what it is all about for me.

The way you and Gillian write to each other exposes a very special friendship. How did you become friends?
We met on Instagram, which I’ve found to be a very effective platonic Tinder. Through the Instagram connection, she signed up to a four-day photography workshop I held out on my neighbour’s farm. We became firm friends, writing to each other regularly and seeing each other in person too.

Speaking of Instagram, your page is beautiful in its showcasing of your love of flowers and floral arrangements. Any flower arranging tips?
Always keep a pair of secateurs in the glove box. The most marvellous things grow on the side of the road and nothing will look better plonked in a vase at home than bendy, naturally grown stems. It is very hard to make hothouse roses look good. When you are arranging, also keep in mind 1/3 vase 2/3 flowers. And if your flowers aren’t tall enough for this kind of proportion, choose a smaller vase. And ball up some chicken wire and stuff it in your vase, that way you can thread the stems through and your flowers will be able to stay more or less up rather than slumping over. I’ve got a whole book on this coming out in March with Hardie Grant. It’s called A Tree in the House and you can pre-order here*.

If you could invite any four people – living or dead – to dinner, who would they be?
Caitlin Moran, Nina Stibbe, Karl Ove Knausgaard and Judd Apatow.

What’s on the menu?
Gillian will cook so that she can come too, and preferably she will make her roasted fig and goats cheese on nasturtium leaf canapes, then a slow cooked lamb shoulder, beans and crunchy potatoes and a crème brulee for dessert. With lots of wine. And it has to be outside so Caitlin and Karl can fag on.

Your favourite book and writer?*
Karl Ove Knausgaard, his six My Struggle books.

What would you say is the most overrated virtue?

What skill or talent do you not have but wish you did?
To be able to sing and play the piano at the same time.

What is the best and worst thing about living in regional Australia?
The worst thing about living in rural Australia is the terrible internet and isolation, and the best thing is the terrible internet and isolation. And actually the more time I spend out here the less terrible I think either of those things are. There are no Jones’ to keep up with here, I have never had to limit my children’s screen time because the sketchy reception and minuscule data allowance does that for me and I would rather garden than go to the theatre anyway. Actually, now that I think about it, the best thing about living out here is being many hundreds of kilometres away from those hideous shopping malls. I feel so sad when I see children play in those pathetic fenced off play areas in the wide neon-lit corridors of those godforsaken places when their country compadres are fanging about on peewee 50 motorbikes, miles away from any adult supervision.

What would you say is the most overlooked news story we should know about?
It’s a little alarming how often I am asked by well-meaning city people “but what do you actually do out there?”. Australia for a long while rode on the sheep’s back. You either were a farmer or you knew one. It’s certainly isn’t that way now. There was an article in the Sydney Morning Herald the other day talking about how in the first decade of the 20th century, 40% of the population lived in capital cities. Now two-thirds do. Grattan Institute chief executive John Daley was quoted saying; “Twenty years ago The Man from Snowy River was a cultural icon. Today it is MasterChef,” he said.

Even though Australia is becoming more and more urbanised, I would love to see more stories in the news about life in the country. We are not all toothless and complaining about the weather. When I look around I see sophisticated, capable and often very funny men and women running modern businesses. I see capable kids who run around free and can entertain themselves. I see communities that care about the individuals who live in them. It really is wonderful out here.

*Buy any book using the links provided and The Squiz may get a little commission. 

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