I found today’s visit at the New Gokula Hare Krishna Farm a refreshing encounter with organised religion. The Krishna devotees who live at the farm are an extremely welcoming group of people — offering their services and blessings without proselytising or extracting donations.
The 500-acre property is located about 60 km west of Newcastle in a beautiful part of the Hunter Valley.
Ever since our family stayed on a conventional dairy farm in New Zealand, I have found it morally challenging to purchase dairy products unless they’re organic. With Brioni living as a strict vegan for the sake of the animals that she cares for so deeply — something that she picked up from my own vegan phase, I brought us to this cow-friendly dairy farm to show her that it’s possible to produce and source cruelty-free dairy products.
65 cows and bulls are kept on the property. They're personally cared for by the Hare Krishna devotees and are relatively tame.
We quietly stalk each beast until one lets us get close enough to feel its nose.
We enjoy the rare opportunity to be so close to lovely cattle. Their tongues are raspy — like cats' — but variable in colour, according to their hide. Dark cattle have blue-black tongues, brown cattle have pale pink ones!
This is one of the few dairy farms in the world that doesn't cull its herd. We also appreciate seeing calves staying in the same paddock with their mothers! The principles of the Hare Krishnas mean that the cattle are tended for the duration of their natural lives. New Gokula claim that their dairy produce is completely cruely-free (as well as being organic).
The dairy cows are hand-milked each morning, and so they approach us happily when we come up to the fence to talk with them.
Before we visited the farm, I called to see if it was okay to just turn up. I was invited to bring the girls to the milking of the cows in the morning (from about 9) or attend any of the services or the feast that is offered daily — but Sunday’s program runs later than other days because of the discourse. We arrived about noon, which was in time for some of the kirtans, the discourse and the feast.
The main temple building was made from rammed-earth bricks 24 years ago.
Most of the building is rendered and painted, but the original mud bricks are visible at the very back of the building, in the dividers around the amenities.
We enjoy looking around the grounds while I wait for the discourse to begin.
An om symbol hangs from an archway of vines that leads to the temple.
A collection of little cow statues sits opposite the temple's door.
In one corner of the front lawn, we find the relics of an ancient playground. The girls are immediately drawn to the old-fashioned see-saw, although they first have to work out how to mount the board at the same time!
After the discourse, Johannes demonstrates his technique for spinning alpaca wool. His father was a woodcarver and taught Johannes his woodworking skills which Johannes employed in constructing his own small spinning machine.
One wall in the hall is covered with photos of all the cows (including their names) and requests for their sponsorships. It costs $1000 to sponsor a cow for a year.
After the final set of kirtans, the girls join us in the hall for the Sunday feast. We're the only Anglo family visiting here today — many devotees drive up from Sydney for the Sunday program — but the girls don't notice or comment on the heritage of the people around them.
I appreciated the friendliness of the devotees. The girls were spoken to respectfully. One devotee had homeschooled his children on the community for several years, and so he encouraged me with the path I’m taking.
The community who live on the farm demonstrated friendliness without the evangelical tones common to Christian organisations. We were invited to stay on the farm for the night (or two) as amenities are available for campers. I was told that the community was looking to expand their facilities so they could facilitate more farmstays, and although we drove away this afternoon, we’re welcome back anytime.
I know that any families who are travelling through the area are welcome to stop in — whether they just want to greet some friendly cows, park up for the night or learn more about Krishna consciousness. The New Gokula Hare Krishna Farm is warm and welcoming, and a beautiful respite from the city for those who want to get away!