It was November of 1979 and Mike Shepherd was hitchhiking across California.
Wool sales had plummeted and the 40-year-old sheep farmer from Mummel did not what his next step would be. Creeping financial instability drove the budding entrepreneur to the bright lights of the United States.
He was a man on a mission and pledged to return home with an idea.
One day, as part of his travels a particular architectural structure caught his eye. After conversations with an American man a deal was quickly struck – Mr Shepherd would volunteer his time and built yurts for free over the next month.
“I asked so many questions straight away and the fellow said, ‘sorry, I can’t talk to you unless you help’. That was the turning point in my life. He said if you help me for the next month for no money I will give you my secrets to take back to Australia,” he recalled.
“I thought is was an unbelievable opportunity, I grabbed it with two hands.”
The month ended and Mr Shepherd was awarded his gift.
“It was a very exciting time for many people but my excitement was larger than everybody because of the life changing opportunity I was given,” he said.
His shearing shed was the ‘original factory’. Soon he was the first person to operate a yurt factory in Australia.
He built yurts for schools, national parks and home owners across Australia from Goulburn, with Canberra and North Shore Sydney becoming hot spots for his creations.
It was the round beautiful shape, cathedral roof, speed and simplicity which drew him into the business.
He recalls many funny experiences over his 38-year career, one highlight was his travels to Alice Springs where a yurt was built by a group of Aboriginal people which became their ‘parliament house’.
Another was his appearance on Ray Martin’s Midday in 1992 where he built a miniature yurt in six minutes.
As the years rolled on Mr Shepherd realised he was more of a social person than a builder. Now, he runs a Yurt Farm, home to 25 multi-coloured yurts and has sold his business.
A constellation of granny flats, mud bricks and straw bale yurts sit within a galaxy of children’s activities which span from grinding wheat for pancakes, leather works and a wash tub.
Hundreds of adults, children groups and families now use the site for exploration and education.
His first and favourite yurt, red and made with plywood, sits along the dam as the oldest on the farm.
“I’ve always wanted to include children in activities so they could grow confidence and find a future life for themselves as I did. My aim is to teach life skills to children today who have no idea of practical application,” he said.
“When I came across the yurts in California it was bright in my mind’s eye, it told me it was possible. It was the yurt that gave me the tremendous opportunity to do this and follow through with my dreams.”
The Yurtfarm is located on 1688 Range Road, for more information head here.