Hamper venture inspired by the Otways
Caroline Shelbourne had always seen the general store in Deans Marsh as a treasure trove when it came to buying thoughtful gifts for teachers and loved ones.
But it wasn’t until a casual conversation over festive celebrations with friends in 2019 that her love of locally-made products began to blossom into something more.
“We were discussing the ever-elusive perfect work/life balance and with our second daughter starting school I was contemplating going back to work in Geelong,” Caroline recalls.
“However, there were several challenges to overcome – how to juggle living an hour from Geelong with a husband who has his own business working away from home 50-60 hour weeks. With both daughters at school in Deans Marsh and family interstate, after school and holiday care was going to be difficult.
“We didn’t want to take the girls into Geelong for primary school, as we love the school here in Deans Marsh and the idyllic childhood it offers them, so I was looking for something that would fit in with our life here.”
As the conversation evolved it was Caroline’s husband, Luke, who suggested hampers as a potential business venture.
“I’d always loved wrapping gifts, so I ran with the idea,” she says.
And so, Fern & Gum Otway Artisan Hampers was born.
With a background in marketing and a keen creative eye, Caroline drew on her own strengths to bring her venture to life while celebrating the talents of those around her.
Fern & Gum sells a range of hampers filled with the finest food, wine and wares sourced exclusively from across the Otway region – Apollo Bay to Aireys Inlet, Birregurra to Timboon, Lorne to Colac, and everywhere in between.
Customers can choose from an array of hampers which have delightful names such as “Good Deeds”, “Dinner Done”, “Soothe Me” and “Pasta Pronto”.
Her popular Christmas hampers sold out and demand for hampers was heightened due to the pandemic.
“We’re in the business of gift giving, so there is a lot of happiness, and it is very rewarding,” she says.
“I love getting to send Christmas gifts on behalf of others, and I love reading the special notes people put in with their Otway goodies.
“The pandemic was unexpected, and increased purchases more than anticipated, with dinner hampers being popular during lockdowns.
“The pamper type hampers have been popular too. A hamper is a great gift to show someone you’re thinking of them perhaps when they’ve hit a rough patch, instead of flowers, great for that hard to buy for person, or to celebrate a birthday milestone for someone older in their years.
“But really I’ve not heard of anyone who isn’t grateful for a gift hamper.”
Caroline says one of the most rewarding aspects of Fern & Gum is supporting other businesses in the Otway region, with more popping up all the time.
“I’ve loved getting to know so many producers from such different walks of life, some who have created full-time businesses selling across Australia and exporting overseas, and others who are creating products from their lifestyle farms,” she says.
“The people across the Otways are diverse and inspiring.
“There are so many incredibly talented creatives and people following their dreams, in whatever form that takes.
“I think being in such a bountiful, natural area definitely provides a strong foundation for nurturing creative ventures.”
Caroline’s love of where she lives is also reflected in the nature-inspired look and feel of her branding.
“We’ve reflected that in our packaging, and by making environmentally conscious choices in our business decisions – including our partnership with Southern Otway Landcare Network, planting a tree for every hamper we sell.”
Caroline and Luke made the move 11 years ago to a small farm in Deans Marsh on the hills just outside of town and have never looked back.
“We feel so lucky to live where we do. We have slowly been renovating, so there’s always a project on the go.
“My husband’s work and passion is horses, and he, my two daughters and I all ride together … I’m definitely the one that has to try and keep up.
“We’re close to bush for riding and walking and we’re only 25 minutes to Lorne for the beach.
“It’s pretty idyllic really.”
Caroline says while she has started small with her side hustle to keep it manageable, there are future plans to include more local products and introduce a customised Fern & Gum shopping platform.
“We also want to explore more and share more of our adventures of the Otways, becoming a business that helps people to experience this special part of the world whether in person or via a special delivery of locally made goods in the post,” she says.
“So 2022 has lots of exciting opportunities ahead.”
Discover more at on the Fern & Gum website or Instagram and Facebook @fernandgum. Customised orders are welcome via [email protected].