Geraldton, Wandina Station to Port Gregory Western Australia
9 Mar 2007
Our next journey was to take us back inland to a two night stay at Wandina Station, a working sheep station we had seen advertised in a brochure. When I think of the Australian Outback it is usually of these big stations that come to mind. On our first visit to Australia a few years ago, on visiting the School of the Air we had read about the isolation of some of these stations so thought it would be interesting to actually stay on one.
We travelled from Geraldton along the road number 123 to a town called Mullewa, stopping for lunch at a view point called Bringo. There were three hills in the area, the view point occupied one and the other two had a house on each. From our vantage point we could see quite a distance so the houses must have had quite a view as well. I would imagine it would also have been cool up on the hills as the temperatures once you leave the coast gets pretty hot at this time of year. We were also treated to a train travelling along the line below us returning from the port back to the mine for another cargo, we later had to stop at a crossing whilst one crossed over the road. It reminded me of a holiday in America and Canada nearly two years ago when we would have a competition to count the number of trucks. Over here it is much easier as the trains are not as long.
Our next stop was the town of Mullewa, 62 ½ miles from Geraldton, which in the spring time hosts a week long festival dedicated to the spectacular wild flowers that grow in the area. The photographs are all we had to look at and judging by what we saw it really looked worth a visit. I am all ready planning my next trip back to Western Australia in the spring time just to see them, I haven't told Jeff this yet so keep it quiet. The town has adopted one of the flowers as its emblem; the Wreath Flower (Leschenaultia Macranantha) is a green bush type plant with pink and white flowers shaped as a wreath. It looks quite unusual but very pretty. Mullewa also has a number of historic buildings one of which is the Town Hall. This hosts the tourist information centre and the tele-centre which runs a children's computer club every evening after school.
The road out to Wandina is the same one that goes to the mine so it is sealed for the first 25 miles then the last 16 is on dirt roads. In this entire journey we only passed road trains and no other buildings, so we really were heading for the outback. The station is a working sheep station with 240,000 acres of land. When we arrived we went to the homestead and was greeted by Danielle who told us she was only here for the week with her partner to assist in the sheep shearing. Her partner helped the owner and his two staff round the sheep up and she was the chief cook and bottle washer. She suggested we just find a place to camp and the owner would come over when he returned later in the evening. We had plenty of choice from the 12 power sites as we were the only ones there. We plugged into the electric and nothing happened, later one of the staff came over and switched the power on for us. The power comes from a generator and we were told it would support the fridge and lights but nothing like an electric kettle. The water was bore water which is not drinkable but we had enough in our tanks for our use. The showers and toilets were in need of a good clean to get rid of all the creepy crawlies that were about.
Later in the evening, Bourne, the owner came across to meet us. He told us that most guests come during the spring for the wild flowers and when it is cooler, today it was close to the 40's C in temperature, so he was surprised to see us. Usually he had a couple in to manage the tourist side of the business but they had recently left and he was in the process of interviewing to fill the position, he said we could use the showers in the homestead. He told us a little bit about the station, Wandina is one of two that he owns and between them both he has 650,000 acres with 7,000 sheep, 10,000 feral goats and 500 cattle. There is also 750 wind powered windmills to pump the boar water into troughs for the stock. The tour managers maintain all the tourist facilities and keep the windmills running. When we were later shown their accommodation I did wonder if Jeff and I should apply for the jobs.
That night we sat out in the warm air looking at the stars in the cloudless sky, it was only spoilt by the electric lights in the distance from the mine spoiling the effect of being in the middle of nowhere. When the generator went off at 9pm we were left with only the sounds of the Australian bush and a few small creatures that bight, so we retreated indoors.
We were woken at 7am next morning when the generator kicked in. After breakfast we walked over to the field at the back of the original homestead to look at the black re tailed cockatoo's that were there. In some areas we had read how the local growers were hunting them to near extinction but here they seemed plentiful.
Bourne had invited us down to the shearing shed to see what was going on so just after 10 am Danielle and her 4 year old daughter Emily drove us down the 3 miles to reach the sheds. This week they were shearing 2,000 sheep, 5,000 had been done the last time the shearers were on the station. When it is shearing time a spotter plane goes up and they work a grid system to cover the station, the pilot radios down to the staff where the sheep are. The hands then use trail bikes to go and round the sheep up bringing them down to the shearing shed in lorries. The sheep were all kept in pens whilst awaiting their turn in the sheds. There were 4 shearers working in the shed and it was a noisy place with the sound of the music and the electric motors driving the cutters. It didn't take them long to take the wool off the sheep and I was surprised how gentle the guys were with the sheep whilst working with them. The guys suggested we look at the quality of the wool, it was known as a double in the trade meaning it was double the length of normal wool taken off at shearing. This is because these sheep must have missed the last shearing; they don't always get rounded up. The wool was very rich in lanolin and you could feel it on your hands after touching it.
At 'smoko', (cigarette time), we were able to have a chat with the head shearer. He laughingly told us that one of his mates had been over in Scotland shearing and came back an alcoholic with all the drinking they had done. His mate had said that when they finished on a farm they would all go out for a drink to celebrate before moving on to the next farm. I suppose that the farms in Scotland are a lot smaller than the stations so there would more celebrations. The sheep that had been shorn were loaded up on a truck and taken to the other station.
It was time to return to the homestead as Danielle had lunch to prepare. On the way back she told us that the life of a shearer was quite hard and they were a law unto themselves, her partner had been one many years ago. We went back via an old grave that had been discovered a few years ago, out in the bush. Bourne later told us it was the grave of Dingo Ross, a guy that used to trap dingoes in the area and also acted as an entertainer at functions and parties. He had discovered the grave and it had been vandalised so he cleared the bush around and erected a fence to protect it. We also went looking for a Malleefowl nest but were not so successful.
On returning to the homestead Emily took us to see the kangaroo's in the enclosure, there were 4 different breads and all had been raised as pets by people who then found they got too big to keep as pets. They were now too domesticated to be released into the wild. After lunch we went over to have a look at the old homestead which is now a museum. It has all the old farming implements that would have been used by the original settlers around it; the house itself was very basic. It must have been a hard life living in such intense heat without the modern day conveniences that we have now and so isolated from the rest of the world. We returned to the van and just spent a lazy afternoon, it was too hot to do much else as the temperatures were well over the 40's and we couldn't use the air-conditioning.
Sunday morning was time to leave and move on. We went across to say goodbye to Bourne and settle our bill. He asked if we would like to see around the homestead and took us on a conducted tour. It was built in 1925 and had a number of extensions added to it over the years. It was much bigger than it looked from outside and most of it was let out to the tourists in the wildflower season. It was built of sandstone and was much cooler inside than it was outside. Bourne asked us if we would take some leaflets advertising his station with us to leave in the different places we visited. He said he was sorry we were going today as tomorrow when the sheep shearing was over he could have taken us around the area a bit more. He has a natural pool about 18 klm from the homestead which he is developing into a bush camp which he would have liked to have taken us to.
We set off back to Mullewa and from there cut across some of the back roads to a town called Northampton and then back onto the coast to Port Gregory, another little fishing village. As we drove in we passed the Pink Lake which was very large, some areas were quite pink and others very red. Beta Carotene is extracted from it for commercial purposes. We found our site, had a coffee and decided to go out on the bikes to see the village. We nearly didn't make it as the caravan next to us had a big dog on a lead, as I went passed it ran out to have a bark at me. Jeff wasn't so lucky, as it ran out to bark at him it broke its rope so kept going. The owner said it had been frightened by someone on a bike when it was young; however one word from Jeff and it was further frightened and ran back.
We set off up the road only to find it came to a dead end, there was a small sandy path indicating it went to the beach so we dismounted and pushed the bikes through it to a view point. We found the way down to the jetty so had a walk along it. The bay at Port Gregory is protected by a five kilometre exposed coral reef and it was difficult to see how the fishing fleet got in and out of the harbour. But there was no time to ponder on this as we were on a tour of the village, so on to the bikes and down the road to see what there was to see. Five minutes later we had seen it all; it had not really been worth taking the bikes down for.
The next day was a housework day so I won't bore you with the details. Tuesday morning we drove up to the jetty area and saw the refrigerated van waiting to collect the fresh lobsters off the boats so we decided to stay and watch the process. Now we would see how the boats got across the reef, we saw two boats come in to empty their catch and then we set off for Kalbarri.