"We had a great upbringing — happy guys living on a farm. There wasn’t the angst to write aggressive, heavy metal. So, we started writing about this place and the things we know."

2023 Tom Wolfe - Profile

In the 1890s, Tom Wolfe’s great-grandfather, George, made the trip out to Tasmania’s West Coast and took one of the most dangerous mining jobs there was: explosives.

His parents had emigrated from Germany and worked on farms in Bothwell, but he wanted a farm of his own. Working as a “powder monkey” helped him save up the 60 pounds he needed to buy a block of land outside Hobart. He built a one-room shack, and Wolfe’s Berry Farm was born.

When he wasn’t working, George played the fiddle.

Five generations have grown blackcurrants, raspberries, redcurrants, Kentish cherries, and gooseberries. Tom and Nick Wolfe picked berries like their father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. As much as they loved the farm, they all dreamed of making music full-time.

“My granddad, Ernie, had the Wolfe Family Orchestra,” says Tom. “They’d do New Norfolk, Huonville, playing all the dances.” Dad was a bit the same. He played in a rock band and tried to have a crack early in his career. But granddad got sick, and there was the farm.”

When Tom finished school, he began a carpentry apprenticeship. Nick studied music at the University of Tasmania and worked as a postie. They played pub gigs. But neither of them felt fulfilled. They told Malcolm they wanted to quit their studies and write and record their own music. After missing out on the opportunity himself he replied, simply and happily, “I think that part of your life’s over now. Just go for the music.”

2023 Tom Wolfe - Inset 1

2023 Tom Wolfe - Inset 3

In those days, Tasmania didn’t have a big country music scene. Tom and Nick played rock, pop, and metal. But they had grown up during country’s 1990s heyday, when John Williamson was one of the biggest names in Australian music. Their mum, Lee, loved country music and live shows: Tom’s first-ever concert was John Farnham.

Songwriting returned them to their roots. “We had a great upbringing — happy guys living on a farm. There wasn’t the angst to write aggressive, heavy metal. So, we started writing about this place and the things we know.” In 2005, they saw Keith Urban play in Hobart. “We hadn’t been to a country gig in a while. And then, here’s this guy playing so technically well, just singing catchy country songs. It was a game-changer. That’s when we said, ‘Bye, metal. It’s been fun!’”

They were the “odd ones out” when they played original music nights at Hobart pubs, so they created their own scene. “We thought, let’s build our own audience in different parts of the state. We’d ring up little country pubs and ask them to cover meals and rooms, pay a bit for the show. The Great Lake Hotel in Miena was a great one for us. The first time, it was like 50 people. We did half originals, half covers, a few favourites so people could party. Then it was 100, then 200, then utes lined up on the road and bonfires in the car park. All of a sudden, they’re travelling across the whole state to see us. It was really, really fun.”

And then: Australia’s Got Talent. “Because we were in Tassie, especially 15 years ago, people would say, ‘You guys sound great, but why would we pay extra to fly you up from Tassie?’ We thought about moving to Sydney but look where we live. Our manager suggested Australia’s Got Talent, and we were almost against it. We’d seen reality TV be negative for people’s lives.” But she convinced the band to give it a crack, and they did what hardly anyone ever did: they played their own songs.

For the Wolfe Brothers, authenticity and integrity were far more important than winning. “We were just a bunch of mates who loved playing music and wanted to do it as our job. That’s what they ran with, which was great, because it was real, and I think real Australians liked that. Our pop was dying at the time, but we didn’t want to focus on that because everyone has that stuff in their life.”

2023 Tom Wolfe - Inset 2

They came in second. From there came new management, a record deal, and over 10 years touring with country legend Lee Kernaghan. They made the pilgrimage to Nashville, touring the American Midwest and playing everything from big country events to county fairs. They loved the American music scene: the generosity and celebration of each other’s successes. “It’s such a creative and inspiring place,” Tom recalls. “It’s a different level of enthusiasm.”

But Tom believes the Wolfe Brothers are at their best when they focus on who they are and where they're from. The idea for Golden Guitar Song of the Year “Ain’t Seen It Yet” surfaced at a Nashville song-writing session. Tom remembers sitting in the car, watching a deep, red Nashville sunset. “We were saying, ‘How beautiful is this? Love it here.’ Then I said, ‘Not as good as home, though.’ And one of us was like, ‘If there’s anything better, I ain’t seen it yet.’ And Nick was like, “Oh shoot, let’s write that!’” They co-wrote with a friend from Kansas, trading stories about what it was like where they grew up. Tom laughs, “I was really worried about the Cascade Blue line. It’s this very local, southern Tasmanian reference. But it’s the best thing we ever did. We’d be in Townsville and there’d be people passing up Cascade lager. You can’t even get it in Launceston! Turned out they were literally getting it shipped up.”

The Wolfe Brothers had a 35-show Canadian tour, a US record deal, and four months of Australian festivals in the pipeline when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Their plans evaporated, and Tom and his wife, Ally, found themselves back home in Tasmania. “Funny thing happens when you’re home for long periods of time. Ally got pregnant!” So, they moved back to where it all began: the Wolfe family farmhouse.

Tom and Ally’s home is overflowing with warmth, an expression of the deep bond and mutual respect they share. They’ve been through a lot together. In 2016, when Tom’s dad, Malcolm, was unwell, they brought their wedding forward so he could be there. Their wedding was on Friday; Malcolm passed away on Wednesday. Then, in 2022, Lee was at home looking after Evie while Tom and Ally went to hospital for the birth of their second daughter, Tilly. They texted photos of the happy news and received excited replies. But when they checked in the next morning, there was no response. Lee had passed away overnight. “It’s been hard,” Tom says. “But I think we’ve done really well. I’ve had counselling to try and process all of it. It’s the best thing anyone can do, and I’ve done that a lot over my life. I think more men should. It’s like, ‘You’re dead way too long. You’ve got to find peace and happiness before you go.’ Everything in life is about attitude. What you put out there is what you get back. It’s an ongoing process.”

2023 Tom Wolfe - Inset 3

2023 Tom Wolfe - Inset 4

Our parents worked hard to leave me and Nick something, and that’s what I want to do. My hope is it’s going to show our kids if you work hard at something you love, you can achieve it.

Tom pours his heart into raising his children. “It makes you understand life,” he reflects. “It’s not about you anymore. Our parents worked hard to leave me and Nick something, and that’s what I want to do. My hope is it’s going to show our kids if you work hard at something you love, you can achieve it.” He and Nick wrote the song “Here’s to the Ones” about the strength and determination of women, in dedication to their mum and their wives — the partnerships that make their family lives and music careers possible.

“I feel like we’re only just now getting good at it, and it’s our sixth album,” Tom says. “It’s come from life experience, meeting people, losing your parents, becoming a dad. I’ve got more to say. Now our hometown shows are huge, and our hard-core fans will come from other states to watch us play here. For us, it’s very special.”

Wolfe’s Berry Farm still sells at the farm gate and at markets. Generation by generation, the one room shack has become a sprawling farmstead that has now been home to 12 children. Evie and Tilly are growing up steeped in the same musical tradition that has been handed down through generations. “I think every generation wants to emulate good parts and make other things better,” Tom says. “When Dad was a kid, he used to be right here every morning, milking the cow by hand. We’re still here, but we’ve come a long way.”

We worked with southern Tasmanian photographers Fred + Hannah for this Tasmanian story.