MELBOURNE property developer Mark Evans is the unlikely owner of the historic Perricoota Station at Moama, writes SARAH HUDSON
Would you like some high tea with silver service?" a joking Mark Evans says by way of welcome across an antique dining table in his stately mansion.
At 37, Mark is the unlikely new owner of the 150-year-old, 121ha Perricoota Station, in Moama, NSW, one of Australia's finest and most historic farms.
Far from being lord of the manor, the Melbourne property developer says because he's spent two years reviving the mansion and station to its former glory, he's more accustomed to grease, mud and calluses.
"This is the cleanest I've dressed in weeks," says Mark, who, given his background - and his youth - is keen to emphasise his average-bloke status.
"My resume could read roofer, plumber, landscaper, farmer, builder, painter," he says. "I've done all the work on the place myself, working with tradies."
While Mark may be an unlikely owner, he is not an unassuming one.
In his near four decades, he has notched up considerable life experience - even wisdom - which makes him a force to be reckoned with.
He has had armed robbers pointing guns to his head, been in serious debt but with a healthy rebound, started a trend for Toblerone cheesecake via his catering company, developed and sold some of the city's best properties, been engaged and separated, lived in 38 different houses through his life, and so much "more I haven't told you".
Yet he sees Perricoota as his biggest feat yet - this is despite going into considerable debt to create his dream of turning the property into a restaurant, accommodation and function centre, with a Murray Grey and saltbush lamb farm on the side.
"This will be my biggest achievement if I pull it off," says Mark, who is running the property with his partner, Emma, and her daughter Rhyse, 12.
"I have put my heart and soul into this ... I'm hoping it's a case of if I build it, they will come."
Even though much of his life has been lived in cities, Mark says his heart and soul are in the country.
Until he was five, he lived in Hay, NSW, where his parents owned motels.
"I remember having a kangaroo called Skippy and chasing it around Hay," he says.
"But we were there when my brother died and it basically destroyed the family."
His parents separated and he returned to Melbourne, where he moved around with their businesses - pubs and hotels.
Mark's connection with the land remained through a family friend's Hay property, where he would stay as a teen during holidays, jackarooing, fencing, crutching and mustering.
"My nickname when I was a teenager was Alby (Mangels). I loved getting away in the 4WD and building things with my hands."
Even so, after he left school he opted for real estate, talking his way into his first job - a gift-of-the-gab trait that has stayed with him.
What followed was a rollercoaster of jobs and experiences: a gourmet cake company; a catering business (where he became the hostage of desperate gunmen seeking cash); at the age of 25 he was in $40,000 debt, talked his way into a job with Mirvac property developers and started a successful career in selling and building new developments - in Melbourne, Brisbane and Kuala Lumpur -and his own company working out of Craigieburn and Caroline Springs.
He belies the cliched "belligerent and egotistical" property developer, instead saying "if you get ahead of yourself, life will take you down a peg or two".
Mark was engaged to be married two years ago when he saw a "for sale" ad on the internet for Perricoota Station.
"This was my dream.
"Even as a kid I'd drive past properties with my mum and talk about the real estate potential," says Mark. "Everyone said I shouldn't do it.
"They said it was too big a job, too massive.
"But I knew if I was going to do it, now was the time. I don't want to be working my backside off in my 40s.
"My partner didn't want to move up here and I did, so we broke up."
Mark says he has no overriding philosophy on life, other than to treat people "with respect and integrity" and "get off my backside and work".
"To me, working on this property is pleasure, I don't find the farm hard work. I love to create - whether it's cakes, buildings or farms.
"I love that Perricoota is an old canvas that I've been able to rejuvenate."
- Perricoota Station, Perricoota State Forest Rd, Moama, NSW, perricootastation.com.au