Interview * Tina + Alex & Odetta * The Diggers Store

We’re back!
And, while we’ve been away, The Countryphiles has had an autumnal makeover. We hope you like it!
Over the coming months, we’ll be adding an events calendar full of delightful collaborative + seasonal Farmhouse Workshops run by some really fab country folks. PLUS we’ll be sharing some of our fellow Countryphiles’ delicious down-to-earth Farmhouse Recipes, starting today with Tina’s recipe for Chocolate Self-Saucing Pudding! Yummo! But first, we’re really thrilled to introduce you to Tina + Alex and their wondrous home that brims with creativity + passion! Oh, and they’ve got lots happening this Mother’s Day weekend – so check their social media for details!
X Danielle

Who / Tina Helm + Alex Bennett & Odetta

What / The Diggers Store Cafè + B&B + Analogue Recording Studio

Where / Campbells Creek

When / Cafè opens 10-5 Fri, Sat & Sun

Instagram / @thediggersstore

Facebook / thediggersstore

Web /

1The Diggers Store - Tina + Alex + Odetta 079 copy367111298.181314For some of us, moving to the country is a big enough step to take, let alone moving from one country to another country’s country! When New Zealand girl Tina met Australian boy Alex they were both living and working in NZ but shared a creative dream to one day open a B&B, a recording studio and a cafè. Unbeknownst to Tina, Alex knew of just the place where all their dreams could come true!

The Diggers Store in Campbells Creek (a gorgeous gold-mining hamlet just outside Castlemaine) was once a gold rush supply store. The amazing 1857 double-story brick building and its collection of rustic provincial outbuildings is Alex’s family home where he grew up and his parents ran an antiques store, a Devonshire tea house and a B&B.

Today, Tina + Alex have converted The Diggers Store into a truly amazing creative space. It houses Alex’s 100% analogue Sound Recordings studio, a wonderful cafè serving great coffee and Tina’s fabulous cakes as well as large spaces for hire for weddings, gatherings, gallery exhibitions + creative pop-ups. Tina does most of the cafè baking and, when time permits, makes her own sourdough bread to add to the B&B’s provisions, which include fresh-laid eggs from their own chooks, hand-made nut butters + local produce! This talented duo has created an idyllic + quintessential slice of country life, which they’re happy to share. At present, The Diggers Store is hosting Georgia’s Castle & Cloak vintage clothing pop-up shop and for Mother’s Day weekend Michelle Brady of gorgeous seed gifts Sow ‘n Sow will run a creative business conversation on Saturday, while on Sunday Juliette of Botanica Organica will hold a Pop-Up Flower Shop workshop.

Tina + Alex and their little daughter Odetta are finding life’s balance in an old building destined to nurture and inspire their passions and creativity. Through their endeavors The Diggers Store offers a new kind of ‘gold’ for modern fossikers seeking the kind of soul food you can only really find in the country.

Check out their social media to book your spot this weekend for Mother’s Day!

Enjoy! {d} x38151718 copy202122232425262728293133.23334353637 The Diggers Store

61 Main Rd Campbells Creek


You met in New Zealand and now live in Campbells Creek near Castlemaine. Tell us a bit about your background/s – what path/s led you to where you are now?

Alex grew up in Castlemaine, on The Diggers Store property. His folks ran an antique store and the B&B back in the 80s and 90s when he was growing up. He didn’t ever imagine he’d be back here though. It just kind of happened that way.

When we were talking and planning our lives when we were back in New Zealand we had a strong urge to start some projects – to work on what we had always really wanted to do.

At the time, Alex was trying to complete his PhD in music composition and I was working in community development and the not-for-profit sector. Alex was recording a lot of music and was thinking of starting his own studio. I’d always wanted to open a café and run a bed and breakfast. We also talked about having a venue where we could hold gigs and parties and things. And then one day, after we’d been thinking and planning all the amazing dreams we were going to fulfill, Alex kind of remembered that The Diggers Store was around and still in his family and that everything we were talking about could be achieved right there. And, when he showed me pictures and described Castlemaine as a town, I was pretty much convinced. And, when I saw it in person, there was no stopping us!

You run The Diggers Store an AMAZING B&B, Café, exhibition and events space, and Sound Recordings a 100% Analogue Sound Recording Studio in a historic red brick hotel in Campbells Creek! Tell us about your fabulous collection of projects! What inspired you to take it on?

One slightly daunting thing about moving to the country for me, even though it was something I had always wanted to do, was the idea of isolation. But we certainly don’t feel isolated here. There is so much going on and we’re surrounded by lovely people all the time. I think that sense of community is what really keeps us going. We love being with people, we love hosting, we love cooking, and we love music – we’ve kind of turned our home and our work into all of those things.

This property had everything we needed to inspire us and to get us motivated toward extending into each facet of the businesses we run.

When we first moved in to the house, it felt a little strange. The space was so huge and overwhelming. And we found ourselves mostly only living in a couple of rooms, while the rest of the space was kind of going to waste. So, step-by-step, we have tried to fill the space with activity. It doesn’t feel so overwhelmingly huge anymore. It feels just right. (Although we still have a couple of spare rooms for guests!)

One half of the house is open to public activities – the café and the events and exhibition space, the other half is our private space. Then there is the B&B and the recording studio at the back of the property.

The B&B was already developed by Alex’s parents. We just needed to clean it up and make it work for this era. Finding things to decorate the B&B was the fun part! We still shop for bits and pieces, it’s never finished. We love vintage and antiques shopping, so when we are out and see something we think might work for the B&B or the café or the studio we snaffle it up!

The studio sits in a stone shed that Alex’s dad Graeme built in the 1980s. It used to house all of Graeme’s old cars. It makes the perfect live room for the studio because of the unevenness of the rocks and its high gabled ceiling. The only addition it needed was a control room – Alex and Graeme built that on to the shed last year.

We opened the café about 6 weeks ago, so that’s the newest addition to our projects. We have an awesome late 1950s coffee machine and we make great coffee and I make cakes and other treats. I’ve always been a baker. I’m a mad sweet tooth and it is so satisfying to create delicious things and share them with people. We’ve started the café as just a simple wee coffee bar for now but we intend to grow this part of the business when we can (when Odetta is a wee bit older).

We also started holding exhibitions and events on the property this year. That’s been fabulous! We’ve met some amazing people. We’ve particularly enjoyed opening our space up as a gallery. Having beautiful art works hanging in the Big Room (the huge open space upstairs from the cafe) is lovely. It’s such an awesome space for that. And we’re also looking forward to holding a few functions soon – we have our first wedding coming up early 2016!

The delightful buildings and outbuildings have a fabulous history. Tell us a bit about it?

The big house and shop were established by a man named Mr William Wood in 1857. He was granted the land and funds by the local authorities at the time to set up a mining supplies store. There was certainly a demand for mining supplies at the time – gold had been discovered in the area in 1851, and by this time there were somewhere between 3000 and 6000 miners living along Campbells Creek in a shanty town.
(The B&B, a separate dwelling on the property, once housed William Wood’s horses and hay – but was converted into a B&B in the 1980s by Alex’s folks.)
In the 1860s when the need for a specialised mining supplies store died down, William Wood, established the space as The Vine Hotel.
Since then the space has been various things – a Catholic church, an older persons care home, a furniture store, a book shop, an antiques store, a gallery…

Graeme (my father in law and current owner of the property) and Lyn Bennett bought the property in the 1980s and ran it as an antiques store and ran the B&B. He and Lyn brought up their three children here – Victoria, Alexander, and Sebastian. When they left in the late 90s to live in Darwin they rented the property out and it has been leased by various people, until October 2013 when Alex and I took over the lease.

It feels pretty special and old world to live in the very same house that Alex grew up in. And it feels pretty extraordinary to bring up our daughter here, surrounded by all of this history. We feel very blessed.

Your gorgeous B&B accommodation is in an old stables. The space is filled with up-cycled + vintage pieces. Tell us about your aesthetic?

When my father in law converted the stable into a dwelling he ensured that he kept the integrity of the building in tact. He wanted to make sure it still looked like an 1850s stable, while also making sure it was comfortable and had the essential mod-cons. Alex and I completely respect this and also feel this is really important. Too often people come in to a space and clear it out and modernise it. We want to ensure that we keep as much of the original look and feel and the original fittings as possible.

But because it is old and because it is stable-like, the B&B could look very old and run down or unclean. So we wanted to make sure there was as much light and colour in there as possible. It needs to be clean and fresh and comfortable! Think white cotton sheets, fluffy white towels, comfy lush mattresses, and goose down pillows and doonas.

The rest of the aesthetic is a bit of a miss-mash of eras from 1850s Australian antiques and mining paraphernalia, to mid-century lamps and carpets and prints – just lovely pieces that we have found on our many vintage shopping missions over the years!

Tina, you bake all sorts of truly delish goodies to serve with coffee + tea at your café. Can you share a fav recipe?

There is one recipe that comes to mind that I always turn to when I need a sugar hit in a hurry – my Nana’s recipe for chocolate self-saucing pudding. It’s so simple to make and I can usually always find all the ingredients in the cupboard for it even when there’s next to nothing in there. I used to bake it as a kid and I know the recipe off by heart because I’ve made it that many times. It used to be in a hand-written cookbook with a red cover. And the page for the chocolate pudding recipe was covered in splotches of cocoa and grease. That’s the sign of a tried and true recipe I reckon!

Chocolate self-saucing pudding

1 C flour
1tsp baking powder
1 pinch of salt
2 heaped Tbsp cocoa (a good Dutch pressed cocoa makes all the difference)
½ C sugar
2 Tbsp butter
½ C milk
1 tsp vanilla essence

Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius.
Sift the dry ingredients. Melt the butter. Add the melted butter, milk, and vanilla. Mix well. Place in a medium sized casserole dish.

To make the sauce: 2 tbsp cocoa, ½ C sugar, 1 C boiling water. Mix until dissolved. Pour over pudding batter.
Bake for about 45 mins. A skewer will come out clean when inserted in the middle. It will go a little crispy on the outside and the sauce will be bubbling underneath. Serve warm with cream.
Its great cold the next day too!

Alex, you are a sound engineer with a focus on 100% analogue recording. What inspires you? Can people hire your services/recording studio?

ALEX: Yes – people can hire my services and the studio. I work alongside musicians to get the sound they want to achieve using vintage and custom-made analogue equipment. No computers. Basically, I try to represent the music as it sounds at that point in time and place so that the listener can experience something akin to what we are experiencing in the live room.

I’d say the two things that inspire me most are sound and live performance. There’s nothing more magic than a group of musicians playing together in a room and hearing the sounds of each instrument clash and mingle in the air. My goal as an engineer is to capture the energy of that performance as accurately, and as musically, as possible. I do this by ensuring recording sessions remain as live as possible (everyone playing together, without headphones and minimal overdubs and post-production effects) and by only using analogue recording technology (reel-to-reel tape recorders). While these days it is possible to make a sufficient sounding digital recording, I believe there’s something more natural, organic, and even mysterious about the way magnetic tape sounds. Getting back to inspiration – electro-mechanical technology inspires me much more than digital technology. There’s something about the physicality of operating a reel-to-reel tape machine that I can relate to.

What does a typical day in the life of Tina + Alex the ‘The Diggers Store Owners’ look like; from when you wake to when you go to sleep?

We tend to start work straight away as soon as we wake up (often around 6:30 am which is when Odetta usually stirs) – whether that means getting some admin done, getting some baking done, gardening, working in the studio, looking after Odetta, or working in the cafe. And we work all day everyday from the minute we rise until we go to bed at night. It’s exhausting! But we love it.

Life around here is kind of a big juggling act at the moment. And Odetta is often along for the ride. But the great thing is she gets to spend a lot of time with both parents because we are both working from home.

We do look forward to the point where we can have a bit more time for leisure, but for now we just get on with it as we build up our businesses and raise our daughter. And it is amazing how much you relish in and enjoy your leisure time when you don’t get a lot of it. 🙂

We do make a point of keeping our Mondays sacred. They are our one true day that is strictly for family and fun. This means eating out at local cafes, shopping in vintage stores or op shops in Castlemaine or Daylesford, going for walks, and visiting people we love.

You have opened your space for weddings + other celebrations. Tell us about your plans for this ADDED venture.

We have so much space – indoors and outdoors and the buildings are so lovely that it just seemed right to share the space for people’s special events! Not to mention we had enquiries from people who found our website and wanted to know if they could get married here.
We are still working on tidying up bits of the property for this aspect of it, but we have just booked our first couple of weddings for next year and we are taking bookings from April 2016. (This allows us time to do a bit more with the property – we want it to be as perfect as it can be!)

You also have pop-up shops and workshops. Tell us a little about the current collaborations.

We have the huge shop space downstairs and there is another room the same size upstairs – we call this room The Big Room – it is a huge empty space with white walls and amazing natural light! (It used to be Alex’s play room when he was growing up.) Until recently, the room wasn’t being used for anything and it just felt like such a shame. So we have opened it up for things like exhibitions and workshops and pop-up shops and events.

We recently had an exhibition with a local artist called Hannah Vellacott. Her works are absolutely beautiful and unsurprisingly she sold every single one of her ten pictures!

We’re having a flower pop-up shop for Mother’s Day up there. Botanica Organica, a local florist and forager is making posies for mums and holding some workshops up there.

Our next planned exhibition is at the end of May and early June with another local artist, Jason Rogers. And in October Yodhi Bergman will be showing some of her paintings up there.

From June until December it will be leased as a floral studio for another local florist.

Downstairs in the shop space we share the space with a friend, Georgia, who sells vintage clothing and a few locally produced wares. Her store is called Castle and Cloak. She has been there since December 2014. And since March, we put the coffee shop inside the shop space so now it truly is a collaboration. It’s lovely sitting and sipping on coffee while gazing at beautiful vintage dresses – although also very dangerous! I’m her best customer!

There are so many possibilities for the space and it’s so much fun exploring different collaborations and different uses for the space. Working with so many different people and on so many different projects really keeps life more vibrant and fun!

Do you consider yourselves to be ‘Countryphiles’? Do you love country life? Why?

Yes, we love the country! We love the landscape. We love that we’ve escaped the hustle and bustle of the city: No traffic, no billboards and advertising, no McDonalds or KFC. We love this community. We love the support that this community has offered us and we enjoying supporting other local people and local businesses. We love all the local produce. And we love that we are raising our wee daughter in this gorgeous and supportive village.

What are the ups and downs of running a B&B, Café, Sound Recording Studio in a small country town?

The down-side is: We are so busy and there isn’t enough time to enjoy our wee country town and all the things it has to offer. But we know that in a few years we’ll get a bit more time to relax and enjoy the country side.

The up-side is that we have met so many wonderful people through the work we are doing here. This community is so warm and supportive and we are so blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of it.

If not having a fabulous coffee at your own café, do you have a favourite ‘out and about’ café?

There are a few great cafes in Castlemaine. We like ‘The Gov‘ for its wonderful views of the town. Nigel who works out of the window at The Good Table makes the best coffee in town (equal only to The Diggers Store Cafe of course!). And we love the staff at Cafe Republic.

Where was the last great meal you enjoyed/shared in the country?

The Good Table – always the best in Castlemaine. So consistently great and reasonably priced. We particularly enjoy weekday evenings for the austerity measures menu – $30 for a 3 course meal!

It’s the weekend and I’m staying at your B&B. How could I best spend my days?

Local markets – Wesley Hill market, Castlemaine Farmers market, Maldon market.
Wineries, mineral hot springs and spa treatments in neighbouring Hepburn Springs, walking through the mining tracks – enjoying the gorgeous native bush and wildlife, and just wandering around and taking photos of all the beautiful buildings in the area and taking in some of the history.

Would you ENCOURAGE others to live a country life? Why/why not?

Yes – we love the supportive village life, particularly if you are bringing up children. But we don’t want everyone to move here because then it wouldn’t be the country anymore!

What ADVICE would you give those dreaming of setting up a small business in a small town?

It is so great working for yourself and towards your own goals and vision. It can be really rewarding. It can also be really hard work and it can be isolating. Surrounding yourself with wonderful and like-minded people with similar goals and vision is really helpful – whether they are people in the same town or people you follow on social media, it’s just nice to know that other people have done or are doing similar things and they are succeeding and you can too!
Also, it can take a long time to really set yourself up and be part of a community. I don’t think you can rush that part. We still feel as though we have only just scratched the surface. But that’s exciting – it means we still have a lot of the journey to go.

What can we expect NEXT from you/The Diggers Store in the future?

Our intention is to continue to build on our work – there is always room for improvement – and to evolve as we and the community around us evolves.

What would be your DREAM project?

We’re doing it! We’re kind of doing all the things that we have dreamed about for years and it feels pretty great. We just want to keep working with awesome people and doing awesome things like what we’re doing now – we can’t ask for anything more!

Can you list for us 5 specific things you turn to/do when you need of a ‘dose’ of city life?

Whenever we go to the city we eat some great food! One thing we miss about the city is all the diverse foods we used to have access to. We also go shopping in the different supermarkets, especially the Asian and European grocers – there are so many things we can’t get in the country!

We don’t have five things – sorry! There are too many things that we love about our country town!

Just Acorn

5 thoughts on “Interview * Tina + Alex & Odetta * The Diggers Store

  1. Cool story! I’m moving abroad in a couple of months and I’m also afraid of being isolated once I move abroad but I keep telling myself that everything will be fine and do my best to stay in a positive mood! Thanks for sharing their experience and story here!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s