A Place for all Creatures Great and Small: The Sun Valley Family Providing a Safe Haven for Rescued Animals

sidarous family sun valley

Manuel Marques Sidarous (11) and Matthew Sidarous (9) with two of the many rescued animals they help care for on their rural property in Sun Valley. (Photo: Frances Sidarous)

Story by Gabiann Marin

With the lack of available options for many unwanted pets and farmyard animals in the area, there is a need to think about how we as a community can help reduce the numbers of animals being dumped or left uncared for in the Blue Mountains. Sun Valley residents, the Sidarous family, opened their home and hearts to many creatures great and small, who might otherwise have struggled to find appropriate and loving care.

Editor’s Note: Blue Mountains City Council has recently reached an agreement with the RSPCA over the future of the animal shelter in Katoomba. RSPCA NSW is transferring ownership of the shelter and land to Council which means best practice animal welfare services can continue across the City after four successful decades.

Key Points:

  • Many animals need to be rehomed but there is a lack of refuge and shelter options in the Blue Mountains. 
  • Effective rehoming and rescuing of pets and farm animals can help protect our natural environment from feral animals.
  • The Sidarous Family are rescuing and rehoming a variety of animals and demonstrating how to sustainably and responsibly provide a home for domestic animals within the Blue Mountains environment.

Sun Valley is a hidden world, nestled at the bottom of a winding road that snakes from the Great Western Highway down onto the escarpment of the Greater Blue Mountains National Park. Large properties with rolling pastures unfurl as the road descends. This world is quiet, trees glistening from the unseasonal rain that has made the greenery almost fluorescent in the patches of afternoon sun.

The sleepy feel of the place is heightened by mid-afternoon, that magical quiet time before children are released from schoolyards and chatter happily, loading and unloading from buses as they make their way home.  It is hard to believe that this oasis of calm is only a few minutes away from the thriving metropolis of Penrith and the bustling village of Springwood.

This often overlooked edge of the Blue Mountains is a kind of refuge from the larger world – so, perhaps unsurprisingly, that is exactly what one household in Sun Valley has become. Frances Sidarous and her three children Manuel-Marques, Matthew and Elyse, along with her husband Mena, have transformed their semi-rural property into a safe haven for several rescued animals.

The Sidarous Family in sun valley

The Sidarous Family: Mena (Left), Manuel-Marques, Matthew, Elyse and Frances (R) on their Sun Valley Property. (Photo: Frances Sidarous)

The Sidarous house sits nestled at the end of a long cul-de-sac. You wouldn’t see it from the street except for the large basketball hoop positioned beside the winding driveway. Being a rural property the Sidarous family are able to take in not just domestic pets, but livestock animals that often struggle to find a new home when they are unwanted or abandoned. It’s the perfect place for the family to capitalise on their love of animals, wilderness and community.

Not that this was the original plan. Indeed, when the family first moved up to the fringes of the Blue Mountains they were just an average family with the usual kinds of pets: a couple of dogs, the occasional cat, oh and a snake, which, okay maybe isn’t that usual.

Pet Albino Python Shelly

Pet Albino Python Shelly may have indicated that the Sidarous family were open to all animals, great and small. (Photo: Frances Sidarous)

Maybe it was the presence of the snake, an albino python named Shelly, which signalled the direction the Sidarous’ life was soon to take as they moved into their beautiful 10-acre property. It indicated that perhaps they were always somewhat willing to take in a more unusual pet, and give a home to creatures which might otherwise find it difficult to be loved and cared for.

An animal like a wilful and massive 250kg pig named Bruce, perhaps, who was in urgent need of a home after his current owners relocated out of state.

“We weren’t quite ready to take on an animal like Bruce,” Frances reveals, explaining that the family had only just moved into the area and the property was not yet equipped. They had no enclosures and virtually no fencing, so taking on a farmyard animal the size of Bruce seemed beyond them. Yet strangely the family were undeterred. “We heard about him and since he had nowhere else to go we quickly pulled together an enclosure out of repurposed materials and welcomed him in.”

The process was a little more complicated than simply opening the door to the large porcine, though.

Although the family who were surrendering Bruce lived less than a street away, the pig was not very amenable to being relocated, refusing point blank to get into the transport arranged for him. After hours of fruitless persuasion, he wandered off into a neighbouring property and had to be left there overnight until alternative transport could be found which he would get into.

bruce the pig

Bruce wandered off during his relocation to the Sidarous farm. (Photo: Frances Sidarous)

His huge size meant that getting him to cooperate was essential if they had any chance of moving him without the animal or one of the family being injured.

The next day wasn’t much more successful. After being loaded into the horse float, Bruce managed to jump out and run away, leading everyone on a hectic chase through the pastures and woodland only metres from where he was supposed to be enjoying his forever home. 

bruce the pig in horse float

Relocating Bruce took a lot of community and RFS support! (Photo: Frances Sidarous)

That was when Frances and her family discovered the true generosity and community spirit of their neighbours, many of whom helped out, capturing or even hosting the pig during the caper.

Finally, the only thing for it was to tranquilise the unwilling piggy and hoist him up into the trailer with the help of the kind RFS volunteers who answered Frances’ requests for help.

Four days after Bruce had initially been scheduled for departure, the mighty boar was safely in his new home, none the worse for his adventure, aside from a mild tranquiliser headache, no doubt eased by the memories of the merry chase he had orchestrated.

bruce the pig

Bruce was eventually rehomed – happy as a pig in mud at his new digs in Sun Valley. (Photo: Frances Sidarous)

“Yeah, we got him here eventually,” Frances smiles.

Astoundingly this incident did little to put Frances or her family off the idea of taking in more unwanted animals and, within a few months of Bruce’s arrival, the family were welcoming yet more critters into their home.

Allen the Turkey hangs out with the rescued chickens in their own sustainably-built enclosure designed and erected by the family. (Photo: Frances Sidarous)

Their second addition was a large American Turkey named Allen, whose elderly owner was no longer able to care for him, and then Peking the Duck, followed by a group of chickens – who needed to be rehomed from the local childcare centre. Then more chickens, a couple of goats and most recently another dog, a German Shepherd named Rosie, who found herself needing to be rehomed, due to excessive barking and anti-social behaviour.

“The owners were getting complaints from their neighbours. I mean she’s a German Shepherd, so she is a big dog and her barks are loud, but they really aren’t that bad. But I guess if you are in a more confined area people get upset.”

After hearing about Rosie’s situation and that her owner was wanting to surrender the dog, the Sidarous family came to the rescue and agreed to take Rosie in. Now the German Shepherd pup lives a happy life on the Sidarous property where she hardly ever barks. It seems the family’s dedication to training and providing for Rosie’s needs with enrichment and attention has turned her from a neighbourhood nightmare into a well-rounded, well behaved and much-loved family pet: who can now enjoy her days frolicking with her two other canine mates, Liberty and Justice, in their bespoke dog run.

kids and dogs

The Sidarous Children are delighted to have a new dog, Rosie the German Shepherd, to add to their previous canine pets, Liberty and Justice. (Photo: Frances Sidarous)

So now, just two years after moving into the property, the Sidarous homestead has grown into quite a menagerie, with everything from goats, dogs, lizards, parrots, ducks and even snakes living together in harmony.

“We don’t discriminate,” Frances laughs. “Feathers, scales, fur… we will take on anything.”

Yet it is not just domestic animals that the family care for and support. The property, butting up against the National Park, also hosts a range of native wildlife who regularly drop in to feast on the native plantings that the family have cultivated across the property.

“We have such an abundance of wildlife,” Frances agrees. “Wallabies, possums, bandicoots, lace monitors and so much birdlife. We are blessed to have so many amazing native animals visit us.”

wildlife in sun valley

The Sun Valley property hosts a range of native wildlife who love to hang out alongside the rescued animals. (Photo: Frances Sidarous)

Surprisingly none of the wildlife seem at all concerned by the presence of the Sidarous’ other animals thanks to the family’s dedication to ensure that all the animals are housed and cared for as ethically as possible.

“We are so lucky to be able to live in a heritage area like this,” Frances said, stroking Pharoah the black cat who affectionately head bumps her with a growly purr. “It is really important to look after what we have, so we make sure that everything we do is as sustainable and wildlife friendly as possible”.

This includes keeping the outside dogs and farmyard animals in well-made and thoughtfully constructed enclosures and the household pets, including cats, as inside animals only, which ensures they have enough room and enrichment to live happy lives without being a danger to the wildlife in the area (see this article on Responsible Cat Ownership in the Blue Mountains)

A family affair as everyone helps out cleaning, maintaining the property and the dog run. (Photo: Frances Sidarous)

In this Sun Valley family refuge, the Sidarous family have created a small animal haven where wild and domestic animals can all live together in harmony and safety.

 Of course Frances and Mena couldn’t have done any of this without the support and hard work of their three young children, Manuel-Marques (11), Matthew (9), and Elyse (6).

“The kids have been fantastic, they are so heavily involved in it all too. My eldest son, Manuel-Marques, is really into the plants, he loves growing them and making sure there is proper water and soil, which is why we have gotten into planting so many vegetables and foods on the property. My middle child, he’s the one who loves animals. He’s so good with them. But even our youngest is involved, feeding the animals, looking after the plants.”

Indeed on any day the three Sidarous children can be seen mucking in, helping with everything from mending fencing for enclosures, to collecting the grass and leaves for mulch, feeding the animals, growing the veggie boxes and even recycling all the cans and paper goods to make sure the Sidarous family have a lifestyle that is as sustainable as possible.

feeding a pig

Even the youngest Sidarous, Elyse (6) loves to be part of looking after the animals. (Photo: Frances Sidarous)

“It’s how we live. Everybody has to be involved, or otherwise we just couldn’t do it,”  Frances says, proudly showing off her son Manuel-Marques’ latest botanical endeavour, a free growing avocado suspended in a hydroponic bath.

It’s a big ask, to take on the responsibility for so many animals, sustainably and ethically, asking for no return from the animals themselves, as the Sidarous property is not a working farm, but a place where animals can live out their lives in comfort and leisure.

“All the animals are pets, even the chooks and ducks. They give us fresh eggs, but we aren’t a chicken farm by any means.”

All the animals on the homestead are pets and beloved by the children and adults alike. (Photo: Frances Sidarous)

Frances hopes one day she may be able to operate the property as a registered not for profit animal shelter, but for the time being, while she and Mena are working in their own businesses and raising their family, there simply isn’t the time or resources to take on many more animals.

“We don’t want to take an animal in and not be able to look after them properly. That would undermine all we are trying to do here for the animals and for the community. Each animal takes time, especially the dogs, who have to have training and affection and time spent with them. I don’t want to take in an animal only for it not to enjoy a good quality of life, so we have to limit how many we can take. Five is a good number of dogs.” She considers for a moment. “Maybe we could take in one more,” she adds, smiling mischievously.

frances sidarous in sun valley

Frances Sidarous and her newly rescued goats. (Photo: Gabiann Marin)

Another dog, or snake, or rabbit or goat may well be in the Sidarous future, but for now they are already showing their children, their community and the world around them, how each one of us can contribute to the welfare of the animals we share this world with .

Frances insists that all that her family has achieved is because of the community in which they’ve found themselves.

“I think it’s because of this community in Sun Valley. It’s such a generous and welcoming community here. So much support. There’s a real sense of empathy with creatures and nature and each other. Where I used to live (in Sydney), I think they didn’t have so much of that, but I have found it here, and that’s why I think I can look after the animals, and my family, and help the world a little bit, here in this forgotten little pocket of the Blue Mountains.”

cats inside

The two strictly inside cats, Pharoah and Cairo, get to enjoy the magnificent sunset in this forgotten pocket of the Blue Mountains. (Photo: Frances Sidarous)

Take Action:

  • Support animal shelters and refuges within the local area.
  • When looking for a pet or companion animal try adopting an animal in need of a home.
  • If you have the capacity, choose an animal which may be harder to place, such as an older animal or one with disability.

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Sun Valley is deemed a rural area and as such is appropriate for the housing of farm animals and multiple pets. If you are considering adopting or taking in a larger animal check with Council to determine the requirements and allowances in your area and suburb as these may vary widely.

Consider fostering animals for short periods of time, many abandoned and dumped animals need temporary accommodation until they can find their forever homes and fostering can be a great option for those unable to make a longer commitment to an animal.


This story has been produced as part of a Bioregional Collaboration for Planetary Health and is supported by the Disaster Risk Reduction Fund (DRRF). The DRRF is jointly funded by the Australian and New South Wales governments.

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About Gabiann Marin

Gabiann has worked as in-house writer/editor for Amnesty International, Greenpeace and Médecins Sans Frontières across Australia, Africa and the Asia Pacific. She is an award winning novelist and children’s book author, having won or been shortlisted for several Australian and international writing prizes. She was one of the key designers and the writer of the award-winning multimedia interactive narrative, Kids Together Now, which focuses on helping children deal with issues around bullying and racism. In addition to her role as storyteller for the Planetary Health Initiative, she tutors in narrative and writing at Macquarie University and works as a writer, story developer and script producer.

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