From a city of millions to a southern Tasmanian town of just a few hundred; Dan's tree-change has inspired creativtity and a new perspective.
From inner west Sydney to the quiet shores of Franklin – ‘Dan and Dan’ are building a home and a Tasmanian life.
Dan Gray-Barnett’s life is full of surprises, much like Albert, the main character in his award-winning book, Grandma Z. Albert anticipated another very ordinary birthday until his grandmother arrived and took him on a whirlwind adventure. Similarly, Dan’s world has gone from aspiring doctor to internationally-acclaimed illustrator, and bustling Sydney to life in Franklin with his husband, short-haired pointers and 30 chickens.
Dan’s story is a page turner. Wanting to be a doctor from high school, he was halfway through his Medical Science degree at the University of Sydney when he “swapped his microscope for pencils, realising illustration had a much lower patient mortality rate.”
Then, ‘Big Dan’ and ‘Little Dan’ hit national TV screens as the first same-sex couple in Australia to register their intent to marry. Like make-believe, a distant family friend living in Franklin spotted them on TV and promptly found them a place to live, fast-forwarding their Tasmanian plans.
“We’d been hooked on Gourmet Farmer episodes, so we spent most of a two-week holiday to Tassie in the Huon Valley and ended up buying 30 acres in Franklin straight after,” explains Dan. “We’d been living in inner west Sydney and I’d always thought I’d live in Sydney or Melbourne. Now I can’t imagine living in either. We’ve got a great veggie garden happening, lots of eggs and when our house is built, we hope to be largely self-sufficient.”
The couple moved in early 2018 for life in the Tasmanian countryside, trading a population of millions to one numbering in the hundreds. Franklin is about a 40-minute drive south of Hobart, overlooking the calm Huon River waters.
“Our friends thought we were mad, moving to such a small place,” laughs Dan, “but I feel we’re more social here than we were in Sydney. It took a little getting used to the Tasmanian way. People would wave hello that we didn’t even know! Now, every other day someone is dropping in for a cup of tea. That just doesn’t happen in Sydney. People schedule that in! We’ve met great new friends in the gay community and been surprised at the amount of young people moving to Franklin in recent times.”
‘Big Dan’ is a healthcare practice manager for an orthopaedic surgeon in Sydney. This requires a fly in-fly out regime, while ‘Little Dan’ works from home as a professional author and illustrator. His book Grandma Z won the Children’s Book Council of Australia award for Best New Illustrator and was also featured in the Society of Illustrators’ Original Art and annual shows. When he’s not tending to joyful, expressive illustrations across children’s books, Dan is in demand with global clients across advertising, editorial and publishing.
“As long as I have my laptop and internet, I can work from anywhere,” says Dan. “I think I’ve been busier since coming here than ever before. It’s great to be able to work in such a peaceful and calm space. It was hard to clear my mind or feel inspired by stepping outside in Sydney. Here, there’s rolling green hills, mountains and cows next door.”
Very much part of their local community, on the fourth Sunday of every month, they head off to The Market at Franklin in the Palais Theatre for their Pearly Gates Co. jam and other favourites. Ashcraig Farm in Nicholls Rivulet is another popular stop for authentic Thai as well as Huonville’s Jins Kitchen for these good food seekers.
The couple have also given a Franklin Airbnb a stylish makeover, including kitchen refit and fresh paint. They now manage McEwan’s Green, doubling as an excellent place for their visiting friends to stay. Meanwhile, they are busily forging ahead with their own house plans for a single-story pavilion overlooking the Huon River with views out to the Hartz Mountains National Park.
Are there any more surprises in ‘Big Dan’ and ‘Little Dan’s’ story? We’ll have to see. With a Tasmanian surrogate secured, they’re hoping for the patter of little feet in Franklin to complete their Tasmanian tale.
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Find out more about Dan Gray-Barnett.
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