This article was developed for and featured in Ballarat Living, Autumn 2021, produced by Provincial Media.
From one extreme to another, Australian singer/songwriter Jack Jones traded the bustle of New York for the stillness of Natte Yallock… and he loves it.
After a decade in New York City, Jack craved a quieter existence. In search of a space to set up a music studio, and a place to call home, he discovered the old church building in the country town of Natte Yallock, about an hour’s drive north of Ballarat.
“I had a few things in mind when I started looking. I wanted a contrast to my life in New York, and I wanted an old building that was reasonably close to a major airport. So, I got a compass, and circled a two-hour radius around each of Australia’s major airports.”
Jack found the church building for sale online, and despite having never heard of the town, felt it was worth a look.
“A creative space has to feel right, and when I came to visit, it was like the world had conspired to show me just how beautiful the place could be. It was a sunny spring day; the fields were gold with canola; and the wildflowers were in full colour. There was so much open space, which is what I was craving. The place was magical.
“I immediately saw the old building had potential. I was inspired by the location and although it was at the very end of my compass line (right on two hours from Tullamarine), I pretty much just fell in love with it.”
No stranger to renovating, Jack was ready to put some time into the place, but as the seasons turned, he wondered if it was more than he could handle.
“When the first big rain arrived, the roof started leaking. The gutters were full, and I noticed evidence of water damage, which seemed as high as eight inches from the floor in places. Some locals told me it floods out here every 10 years or so - the last one being 2009 - and I started to panic a little.
“Then the weather turned cold, and it was horrible. I was sleeping in a -10 sleeping bag, crawling into it shivering and thinking, ‘what have I done?’.
“But once I committed to it, there was no turning back. I hired a few tradies to fix the leaks and install a wood heater, and that lifted my spirits. A mate had sensed my panic, and together we did a few weekends work to get the place to a liveable standard.”
As Jack worked on improving the church, another challenge was brewing. Within eight weeks of moving in, news of Covid was emerging. Another two months, and the doors to his world closed.
“All the work I had lined up for the year was cancelled. And yeah, I chose this location to get some peace and quiet, but this was a far more extreme version of isolation than I was planning. I was cut off from my family and friends in Melbourne, and I didn’t know anyone locally. Suddenly, the panicked feeling was back.
“Thankfully, some locals introduced themselves, offered to help me out. One even brought me a pumpkin so I could make soup. That type of kindness feeds the soul, and I thought, ‘Maybe I haven’t done the wrong thing. Maybe everything is going to work out.’”
Despite all these major challenges, Jack managed to make 2020 a hugely productive year, achieving his goal of having a quiet, creative space.
“I said yes to a lot of projects I wouldn’t normally do. I knew I needed to write a lot of new material, so I committed to forming one new song idea a week. That helped me keep my mind busy.
“I learned to work around the limitations, such as the lockdown, and the fact I don’t have great internet reception. If something didn’t upload one night, I’d just turn it off and try again the next day.
“Overall, I managed to accomplish a lot, including producing one and a half albums. I played on a mate’s new record and I wrote 30 songs. I also put a collection of 30 other songs together into three volumes. All of that was done from here (Natte Yallock).”
Although the lockdowns gave Jack more isolation than he bargained for, he quickly adapted, discovering many benefits to living in a remote location.
“It’s so great to be able to play a guitar solo at 3am, as loud as I want, or sing a vocal at 1am. If I’m sent a new lyric at midnight, I can get straight to work on it. That’s something you can’t do in a New York apartment. “
While he may have ditched the neighbours, Natte Yallock has presented its own kind of noise.
“I woke up one morning and thought I was in an aviary. I recorded a song and the whole vocal and acoustic guitar track has birds tweeting in it. That’s just how it is out here.”
The international relocation, the building, and the Covid lockdowns, have tested Jack more than he expected, yet it’s been beneficial for the body, mind and soul.
“I’ve enjoyed the process of moving in here and taking on the challenges. It’s actually been a fantastic experience and I’m loving it more and more every day.
“I really needed the peace that this place has provided. I needed the calm, the quiet. When I came here, I got clarity. It’s delivered on its promise.
“The maintenance on the place keeps me physically active and it continues to be an education. Just a couple of weeks ago I got my car bogged in my own front yard. I had to call the neighbour to tow me out. Now I know where not to park, and that I probably need to order some crushed rock for a driveway.”
With restrictions now lifted, Jack is back into his world, playing live venues and collaborating with bands, but his attachment to Natte Yallock is cemented.
“The minute I go away for a gig I cannot wait to get back. I absolutely love it.
“I consider it home now. When I turn off the Western Highway and hit the 80km area, just at the Central Victoria Livestock Exchange, I exhale, and I know I’m nearly home. It’s a good life.”
Do you have a great story you'd like to see in Ballarat Living magazine? Contact me today and we'll work together.