Hands up who has set foot inside a homestead on one of Western Australia’s iconic pastoral stations? Yep, as guessed, there aren’t many hands held high! For most West Aussies, station life is not something that has been experienced first-hand. Given that over 90 million hectares - 36 per cent of the state - is filled with stations on pastoral lease, it really is an important part of WA’s fabric, and once you’ve experienced station life firsthand, you’ll never look at the red dust quite the same way again.
Given we will all be looking to holiday throughout the state this year, it’s the perfect opportunity to take a road trip of a different kind. With the usual Easter crowds heading down to the South West, and Exmouth due to be overflowing with sun-seekers, a station stay at Wooleen Station in Australia’s Golden Outback is an achievable road trip adventure eight hours north of Perth. I drove up and back in a day (each way), which provided plenty of stop-offs for Wheatbelt bakery meat pies, roadside wildflower hunting, and fresh produce snacks to stock up on in the pretty food-bowl of Chittering.
Childhood holidays were spent regularly visiting my family on their station in the Gascoyne Murchison; and while their property was located next door to Wooleen Station, most neighbours are at least a thirty-minute drive out here, so popping over for an afternoon cuppa wasn’t exactly a regular occurrence. I do remember one afternoon visit though, and walking into the front garden of Wooleen Station twenty years later, it felt like a trip down memory lane. While farming technology might have evolved and the rest of the world has sped up in more ways than one can count; a station stay is a gentle reminder that some of the greatest pleasures in life don’t change.
Padding across the lush lawns, the swallows swooping under the wide verandas that skirt around the main house, my road-trip companion and I are greeted by Frances Pollock, one half of the dynamic duo that run the station. Her husband David is still busy out with the day’s work, as Wooleen is, after all, a working station. David grew up on the property and took over the management with Frances thirteen years ago. Since then, things have changed, with the couple’s priority shifting to the regeneration of the land and sustainable farming practices in an attempt to save the land from years of overgrazing: a situation that unites all properties under pastoral lease, and a huge part of Western Australia’s cultural heritage.
Frances shares, “Where we are going is evolving all the time. The aim will always to be better rather than bigger, without a doubt. That suits Dave and I and what we are about. I always come back to the feeling that I get when I am in the bush. How does the bush make ME feel? I feel like everything we do is about how to make sure that people get that same feeling. Even if what we are showing guests is how big the issue is in the pastoral rangelands and how much there is to tackle. How do they leave feeling inspired by what they see?”
The answer is simple: guests leave feeling inspired because Frances and Dave care deeply. They care about the experience their guests have, just as much as they care about sustaining the environment here. Over my four day stay at their homestead oasis in the middle of the Murchison shrubland, I joined my ten fellow station stayers (the maximum number of guests) in exploring the beauty of the station, while learning about the natural habitat and what is being done to rejuvenate it. The benefit of staying on a station is that your time is your own, and there is no struggle for space with other guests to enjoy the facilities. At Wooleen, there are ample self-drive journeys to explore, a number of carefully designed hikes, mountain bike trails to ride (bikes are free for homestead guests), and of course PLENTY of hammock naps to be had. It would be easy to just stay curled up under the shade of the trees with a good book and a cup of tea all day long if a good relax is what you want from your holiday here. The one serious “don’t miss” experience, however, is the guided sunset tour with Dave, where you’ll be thoroughly entertained as he shares the regenerative work they have been doing across the station, and takes you to a special sunset spot for a glass of wine.
It’s amazing how quickly we adjust to the station homestead way of life. Time slows down, and priorities change. No longer are days about lists of to-dos, instead, it’s about making conscious choices, and an awareness of what it means to be in this precious life together. Every day is wrapped up with all of the guests and our hosts around the dinner table in the formal dining room. Frances and her team are expert cooks, crafting meals from the kitchen garden and as much local produce as possible. A steak and kidney pie involves Wooleen beef, roasted root veggies from the garden, and a glass of wine from the well-stocked wine cellar – WA wineries only, of course.
A station stay at Wooleen is much more than just a trip to the outback. It’s about the people, the sense of place and above all, it’s a chance to be looked after. There really is something luxurious and nurturing about being welcomed into someone’s home. It’s hospitality that no level of hotel magnificence can match. There is no need to make decisions here: dinnertime is set, and the menu is the same for all (allergies are of course catered for). Afternoon tea is freshly baked and on the table every day, and a casual lunch is set at 12.30pm sharp. Surely, one of the greatest holiday treats of all is to be looked after. To feel nourished by hosts that have a natural sense of hospitality and care. It’s no surprise then, that I’ve just booked my return trip the homestead at Wooleen Station, and it can’t come soon enough.