Tree changers set up star anise farm in Comboyne, hoping to find a market for popular Asian spice

When Tim and Georgia Connell traveled through Vietnam a few years ago, they were in awe of the vast star anise farms and enjoyed tasting the spice in much of Asian cuisine.

Inspiration struck them when they realized that their property, located on a hinterland plateau on the north coast of New South Wales, offered similar soil and climate conditions.

They decided to take a leap of faith and start a small star anise farm – the only one they know of in Australia – on the Comboyne estate, west of Port Macquarie.

The farm is located on the Comboyne plateau, in the hinterland of Port Macquarie.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

“The harvests overseas were just amazing; the area we went to in northeast Vietnam had about 70,000 hectares of star anise under cultivation, so it’s a big industry.

“We were really impressed that so many conditions were the same [as Comboyne], height, altitude, amount of precipitation, very similar volcanic soil.

“Trial and error”: Star spices a new crop for Australia

Star anise is a spice made from the dried fruit of an evergreen tree.

It is popular in many international cuisines and has a flavor often equated with licorice.

Mr Connell said he liked the idea of ​​helping, even on a small scale, to produce more food in Australia.

“I have spent most of my career running a manufacturing company and we have exported all over the world and have always been very committed to the idea of ​​’made in Australia’,” said Mr. Connell.

“Australia produces a lot of food, but we export it a lot and then re-import it as added value, and right now all star anise is imported into Australia.

A man and a woman sit on a seat, with their big brown dog, overlooking the mountains.
Tim Connell says moving to Comboyne was a great lifestyle decision.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

So far, the harvest of just over 100 plants, established about 18 months ago, is doing well, although it will take some time before they bear fruit.

“Comboyne is a plateau and it’s surrounded by very steep mountains, and we are at the edge of the escarpment,” Mr. Connell said.

“So this little orchard that we have here boils down to a ravine, I have about five terraces, with about 25 trees in each terrace.”

Mr Connell said he has yet to find another star anise grower in Australia, so it was a trial and error process.

“So it’s a lot of trial and error and seeing what works… what we’ve done so far seems to be working.

“It is between three and five years that the plants start to be really productive.”

Mr Connell said he is a hobby farmer and would like to get in touch with anyone else trying to grow star anise in Australia.

A handful of star anise
A Chinese farmer shows off a handful of star anise.(AFP)

“We’re not planning on making this a full-time occupation; we would like someone else to take an interest and start planting star anise in Australia.”

“Best move we have ever done”

A man and a woman are sitting on a bench in their garden, with their dog, surrounded by red flowers.
Tim and Georgia Connell are tree changers in Sydney and have embraced life in Comboyne.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

The Connells are tree changers originally from Sydney and embraced life in Comboyne, also involved in a community group, Creative Comboyne and open garden events.

Mr Connell said he loved gardening and the star anise farm was another nice business.

“We’re great Sydney tree changers, the best shot we’ve ever done.

“I certainly encourage a lot of other people to consider this type of lifestyle option as we are still quite close to Sydney, but we live in one of the most beautiful places in Australia.”

Breathtaking view of the mountain ranges, with grass in the foreground.
The star anise farm on the Combone plateau offers panoramic views of the mountains.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

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