Neil and Jane MacKenzie are not your average locals. Hearing their story makes me realise how lucky we are that they chose Mansfield on the Manning as home.
Hi Jane and Neil; you’ve come from two different sides of the world to be right here right now. Tell us about how you met.
Jane: It was actually on a blind date in London! I don’t think either of us thought it was any more than a bit of fun initially, but then … Neil cooked for me, and I thought “he could be a keeper”!
Neil: I know the way to win a woman’s heart!
Jane: We both grew up in country towns, me in Buckinghamshire, England, Neil in Cooma in the Snowy Mountains. I think our values are very similar and, despite coming from opposite sides of the planet, we have a lot of shared interests.
Neil: Food, wine, travel, music …
Jane, you worked in corporate marketing. Who were some of your key clients?
I spent my career marketing for high profile retailers in the UK – the last 10 years for Marks & Spencer in London. It was an exciting company to work for, and we created some amazing campaigns. As Head of Marketing for their food, clothing and homewares divisions, I got to meet some very interesting people – models, actors, chefs, designers – creating product ranges and the TV, press and in-store campaigns to promote those ranges.
Neil the chef. Where did your career take you, and did you work with any notable chefs?
I went to Leith’s School of Cookery in London and took their advanced course. It was great – I learnt so much, made some really good friends and met some great chefs. Memorable amongst them were Rowley Leigh, Prue Leith obviously, and Yotam Ottolenghi. I worked at Kensington Place, Ottolenghi’s in Islington and Fishworks in Marylebone, before starting my own business – Lovefood – catering for the photographic industry across London.
What was it that made you come to Australia and then settle on the Manning?
Neil: We had always agreed that at some time we would move to Australia (return, in my case!) and were both at the stage of wanting to get out of the rat race and to do something for ourselves.
Jane: I had always wanted to run a hospitality business – we stayed in some fantastic boutique resorts throughout Europe and New York, and I really wanted to create something with that sense of style and customer service. When we agreed to move to Australia, we started internet searching for locations around three hours’ drive from Sydney. We found three on the Mid North Coast and booked a trip to explore the region and view these three properties. The first we saw was Mansfield on the Manning, and I have to say, we fell in love at first sight!
Mansfield is not a new property. Tell us some of the history.
Neil: It’s such a beautiful spot; some would say we’ve got the best view in the Manning Valley! The Manse was originally built in the late 1800s, and they owned most of the land along this part of the Manning River.
We bought the property from Christine and Graham Gibbons and Rachel and Noel Piercy and became proud owners of a little piece of heaven in the Manning Valley.
You’ve put a lot of work into the property to make it what it is today. It must be a thrill to share your home with the locals, whether it be for a business meeting or celebration?
Neil: We love it when local people visit, because they often say, “I didn’t even know this place existed”. With the amount of events we’ve hosted over the last year, I hope the number who don’t know of our existence is shrinking!
Jane: It’s a lovely space for entertaining – whether that’s for a business breakfast, a working lunch, afternoon tea or a party on the deck. It’s also stunning for weddings – we’ve hosted a few here in the grounds, and it always looks beautiful.
Apart from local, give us an idea of some of the feedback you receive about our region from notable guests.
Jane: We were lucky enough to have Sheridyn Rhodes from the Sydney Morning Herald Traveller section come to stay with us not long after we’d opened, and she gave us a fantastic review – which really kick started business for us.
Neil: And more recently, Kasey Chambers stayed here when she and her band were performing at Akoostik. She did a great video piece that she put on Instagram and Facebook, and it got over 10,000 likes – thanks Kasey!
All our guests, whether they are from Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Byron Bay or overseas – they all end up saying, “This place is amazing – I had no idea the Manning Valley was so beautiful”.
Jane: We love promoting this area. It’s got so much to offer, for couples, for families – and it’s a great place to stop when travelling up and down the Pacific Highway.
For you, what is the best part about living and being in business in the Manning Valley?
Neil: We are very happy living here. When we arrived, we quickly put ourselves out there and were welcomed into the community immediately. We’ve enjoyed getting involved in initiatives and events like Tidy up Taree and TasteFest.
Similarly, it’s been easy doing business here – there are great producers and suppliers, and it really feels like the area is making the most of its natural abundance. We shop local wherever we can, and that’s getting easier with the Secret Weekly Farmers’ Market bringing together such fantastic producers.
Jane: It feels really easy to “belong” here – socially and in business. We’re members of the Taree Business Chamber, and we are active in promoting tourism in the area. We have quickly made the Manning Valley our home, and we’re passionate about spreading the word and encouraging more people to come and discover the region for themselves.
Thanks Jane and Neil.