Sue Evans’ job is telling her husband where to go. She does it quietly but very forcefully, and he always does as he is told. When it comes to the animals, however, Liz Swanton discovers it can be an entirely different story.
Together Sue and Simon Evans form the dynamic racing duo whose accolades include consecutive Australian Rally Championships – the Formula One of gravel racing in Australia.
The pair race an extremely powerful, specially built Corolla for the Toyota Racing Developments (TRD) rally team. Simon is the ‘steering wheel attendant’; Sue is the co-driver, or navigator, who dictates coded instructions to her husband as they compete, warning him of the road conditions ahead and the speed at which they can be traversed.
It is the trust and talent of the driver/co-driver combination that wins rallies and championships, and Sue and Simon are at the top of their game. When they are not – literally – racing all over the countryside, however, there is a very different side to this cool, quick pair, who run a busy concreting business and a home chock-full of various animals.
‘You know how they say animals are like their owners,’ says Sue. ‘Well, we have a house full of nutty people and I think we’ve probably got paddocks full of nutty animals!’
The Evans’ household includes two dogs, Buffy and Daisy; the new pony, Shadow; a rabbit, Tiffany; two guinea pigs, Squeaker and Elvis; and five chooks – oh, and teenage children, Jackson and Eden.
‘Only one of the chooks has a name now. That’s Simon’s chicken – Foghorn Leghorn. It struts around a bit like Simon would if he was living in a chicken coop,’ says Sue, laughing.
‘But Simon wouldn’t lay eggs and it [Foghorn Leghorn] doesn’t lay eggs either – useless!’ says Sue. ‘But the other four are ISA Browns and they’re good layers. Jackson always refers to them as the “Angry Mob”.’
The menagerie has actually reduced in number in recent times. There used to be another dog, but last year she decided to move next door with the neighbour who lets her sleep on the couch – the Evans didn’t allow this. There was also a Blue-tongue Lizard that relocated to Sue’s sister’s house, and an Angus bull, who has also, err … relocated. .
‘Eight Ball was his name – he was black,’ says Sue. ‘Simon named him. We had him until he ran through all the fences and tore up the backyard one day. It was actually a very stressful time in our lives … and I remember thinking “I wonder if we have caused this, maybe this is our fault”. It was like watching him and understanding how he might be feeling. I thought “I really understand where you are coming from, buddy”, but he had to go. So I rang Simon’s dad, who breeds Angus [bulls], and told him to come and get it. I believe Eight Ball has turned up at a few local barbecues – but not at my house!’
Sue laughs gingerly at this, admitting she cannot confess to daughter Eden this was Eight Ball’s fate. ‘She’s not a very big meat eater and refers to all meats as the type of animal they are, so it’s “are we having cow tonight mum”, or “are we eating pig”. The association of meat coming from an animal is hard enough for her; the meat coming from an animal she knows – no, we just don’t go there.’
The biggest battle in the Evans’ household involves Daisy, a Jack Russell, and her attitude towards the guinea pigs, the rabbit and the chickens. ‘Daisy struggles to understand that while we might encourage her to chase wild rabbits in the paddocks, we do not want her chasing the pet rabbit or trying to eat through the cage.’
And there was a more alarming incident which proved a very valuable lesson – in running a ‘farm’ not all animals are congenial.
‘Daisy did kill two of the chickens, which was my fault because I was determined they should be free range and just wandering around the property,’ says Sue. ‘And it happened when Simon had broken his leg in a rally crash and was wandering around on crutches. So I’m saying “let the chickens and the dogs get used to each other” because I wanted everyone to get along and be great together and Simon’s saying “this is a bad idea” – and unfortunately Simon was right.’
Sue says it was a definite learning curve in animal management. ‘I guess you can put it down to the fact that we’re not farm people. We live on five acres and we’re trying to be farm people. We’re learning.’
The big issue is saying no to the children when they want another animal. Technically, they have the space, but the logistics – when rally season is on and Simon and Sue are away for a week for each event – make it a nightmare.
‘We have a friend who looks after Eden when we are away and so they come together after school and do it all [care for the animals], but our friend’s moving away so that’s something I’m going to have to get my head around for next season. Someone to look after Eden and the animals – another little stress for mum to worry about!’
When everyone is home, animal feeding is a shared chore – including dishing out a generous supply of seed for the wild birds that live around their home at Nar Nar Goon, on Melbourne’s south-eastern outskirts.
‘Jackson does the dogs and the chooks,’ says Sue. ‘Eden can’t do the chooks because the chook food gives her a rash, and she hates chook poo. So she does the horse, the guinea pigs and the rabbit. So the kids definitely feed all the animals – I think it’s important they have a job.’
Sue admits her closest companion – aside from Simon and the children – is ‘her’ dog, Buffy.
‘She’s supposed to be a Shar Pei/Golden Retriever because the breeders lived in the same street and the dogs got out together one night, but she’s actually a Shar Pei crossed with a Rhodesian Ridgeback.’
Sue found Buffy at the local produce store, in ‘this cage full of gorgeous squished-up puppies.’ As Buffy grew, it became evident that Golden Retriever was not part of her genetic make-up.
‘Simon insists I love ugly things; I think that’s insulting to him but he keeps saying it! She looks sort of vicious with a scrunched-up head, but I think she’s beautiful.’
Buffy sometimes accompanies Sue on her training runs, but there is a problem with this – she runs faster than Sue.
‘That’s good on the days I’m feeling really energetic,’ says Sue, ‘but on the days when I’m not, it’s a pain. She also comes on my climbs when I’m hiking, but she’s always way ahead and then I have to find her.’
While the menagerie actually causes Sue some stress, she admits Buffy gives her a great deal of pleasure.
‘She’s a hugger. She doesn’t come up and lick you. When you bend down to her, she puts her head on your shoulder. I just love it. When all is crazy around me, I just sit on the deck and she sits next to me, and she doesn’t answer me back like the rest of them do.
‘She’s my sounding board. She doesn’t look at me like I’m an idiot. Simon tells me she has no idea what I am saying, but I know she gets me.’
Photo: Toyoto Australia