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Home Stories: Brian Schmidt

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This week on Home Stories it’s a rather auspicious occasion as Ashley and Cass visit Nobel Laureate, astrophysicist and Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University, Brian Schmidt at his home (and winery!) in Sutton.

I’ve never met a Nobel Laureate, have you? If you have then you’re clearly rubbing shoulders in the right social circles considering there are just under 900 in the world.

We were really looking forward to seeing where Brian Schmidt—distinguished professor, astrophysicist and Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University—calls home.

It turns out that home for Brian and his wife Jenny is a farm and working vineyard in Sutton that seems and feels rural, yet is only 10 minutes from Queanbeyan and 25 minutes from the city.

The rural setting was a perfect location for the couple considering that Brian spent his early years on farms in Alaska, which meant that these country landscapes are ‘in his blood’.

Plus, Sutton was the perfect fit when Brian and Jenny were both post-doctorates in the late 1990s and offered the opportunity to set up a boutique winery.

Their home was built in the 70s, which I’m sure you can tell from the abundance of wooden cladding—part of the bush-integrated design that’s quite common across Canberra ‘bush’ suburbs like Aranda.

Brian and Jenny moved to Sutton with their family in 1999 and have been there ever since, setting up orchids, gardens, introducing farm animals and, of course, building Maipenrai Vineyard & Winery.

The couple’s farm shows the juxtaposition between the harsh elements of the NSW bushland (especially on a scorching summer day, like the one we visited on) and the property’s lush nature of cool dams, visiting wildlife and rows of trees and vines abundant with fruit like nashi pears, apricots and cherries.

We actually spent most of the visit walking around the farm, which is rather telling of how important the land is to Brian—far more than just a place to build a house.

It also points to the fact that the farm takes plenty of time and effort to keep going—but as Brian explained, the time working the farm is also a brilliant time for deeply focused thought. When it comes to relaxing, “mucking around with food in the kitchen” is what helps the couple wind down.

Now if you thought that Vice-Chancellors get a residence on campus for the duration of their term, then you are correct. In fact, Brian is the first VC of ANU since the mid-1940s to not live on campus—but for a very humane reason. Namely, his animals.

Brian has chooks and horses and even though you could imagine some chickens roaming the corridors of ANU during official engagements, horses really would have been too much…even for as distinctive a VC as Brian is.

Speaking of distinctive, I asked Brian what the most challenging part of living on a farm was. His answer was that when his kids were growing up, they didn’t have friends to play with on the street. However, that was a small price to pay for all the adventures and rewards they got for growing up in such a different environment.

Of course, just because their houses are not physically close it doesn’t mean Brian and Jenny were strangers to their neighbours. Brian has had some interesting personalities close by, with arts advocate Betty Churcher AO once living across the hill, as well as the former head of the AFP as a neighbour.

However, the neighbour most worthy of mention is the one who actually saved the couple’s home a few years back. A fire engulfed their garage on a dry and windy day and without hesitation, the neighbour quickly rushed to act when they saw black smoke rising in the distance. All this while Brian and Jenny were out on holidays.

Now those neighbours can proudly say that they saved a Nobel Laureate’s house—which sounds much better than saying you’ve just met one.















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Photography: Cass Atkinson

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