The air is crystal clear and the trees are green against a backdrop of lush hills and impossibly blue sky. And around Bell on the Western Downs, the gardens are liberally splashed with colour.

A bunya tree towers above a small-town bungalow; behind it, a hoop pine in somebody’s back yard is taller still. Across the street, living in a constant tug-o-war, a large pair of conjoined bottle trees seems to struggle for independence from one another. Rich burgundy bougainvillea, blood-red poinsettia, white shasta daisies and pink chrysanthemums decorate the landscape.

There is barely a manmade sound as you wander around Bell on the Western Downs on a Saturday. In this small town, birdsong dominates, interspersed with the occasional swish of a car going down the hill, a snatch of conversation from the café, or a sudden spurt of laughter from the pub down the road. Mingled with the freshness of the country morning is a faint waft of cooking smells from the newest addition to this small community – the café, Pips’n’Cherries. The premises at 15 Ensor Street, Bell, has had a few manifestations in recent years, and each of them reflects the creativity that seems to blossom in beautiful countryside. For some years it was a patchwork shop, a gathering place for likeminded souls who came from farms and small towns for miles around to ply their craft and exchange fabrics and techniques and life stories.

Then it became the local art studio, another meeting place but with an emphasis on a different art form. However, the artists have moved to a new home in the brand new Bell Community Centre, a block or two away.

So in the middle of this year, the premises stood empty for a short while before a whole lot of hammering and painting, hedge-clipping and furniture-moving. Then in May, a red and white sign went up on the front facia, and the café Pips’n’Cherries came to life. With it, a long-held dream of proprietors Kate Toomer-Ford, Annette Facer and Karen O’Connor.

Their shared dream, and their café, has many facets, at the centre of which is a deeply-held sense of country hospitality. Simple hospitality, presented with considerable panache in a setting which is liberally decorated with such authentic retro style that each item of furniture and décor has a known story.

Pips’n’Cherries caters to locals and passers-by with beautifully presented homecooked food by Kate, for functions both in-house and in situ. Annette organises the business side and the cafe hosts regular workshops in its expansive ‘back room’ which is Karen’s domain. Workshops include photography, cheesemaking, pastamaking, heirloom sewing, cooking, soapmaking, scrapbooking.

Nothing pleases Kate, Karen and Annette more than when people saunter in with a book and take up residence on the couch for the afternoon while they cradle a cup of hot chocolate and munch on a chocolate-dipped macaroon fresh from the oven. Good food, good conversation, peace and camaraderie go with the territory in a place where less is more … much, much more.

Words by Jane Grieve  |  Images by Janine Waters