Station and farm stays are a ripper way of experiencing a special slice of life in this giant State.
Roughing it with no mod cons, fending for yourself during the day and sleeping under corrugated iron in isolation.
Doesn’t sound like your normal holiday? Give it a thought. It can be therapeutic for the urban-weary.
Farm and station stays are great. And sadly, the traditional Aussie outback atmosphere won’t last forever.
A number of stations have converted their old shearing quarters into cheap, no-frills accommodation. Other options include camping, cottage accommodation and even the more upmarket choice of a comfortable room in the main homestead.
Some properties are still working stations whereas a few are providing facilities for a full tourism experience: accommodation, facilities and activities. But most juggle the two. The best time to visit is during the often-spectacular wildflower season from July to September when the weather is quite mild.
Facilities are pretty basic but that is a big part of the attraction. The shearing quarters are generally corrugated iron, inside and out, with just a bed or possibly a small bedside table or cupboard.
There are no phones and no internet. In fact, some rooms do not even provide power. Many stations obtain their power from petrol or diesel generators, some have converted to solar but, either way, it is a finite resource. Those with generators usually have a curfew because of the cost and, depending on the situation, the noise factor at night.
Many stations do not provide or allow microwaves, air- conditioners, toasters, or electric jugs because of the drain on power. Hot water is provided by wood-fired heaters locally referred to as a “donkey” or by gas cylinders. Most have gas stoves, although some only have wood fires for all cooking in a communal kitchen.
Most stations will provide generous, cooked meals either at the homestead or in the communal kitchen. The owners generally make only a small profit by providing meals with the accommodation — cheap at $20-$25 a night in the shearers’ quarters and less if camping.
Water is also in limited supply with most stations relying on rainwater tanks.
Outdoor barbecue facilities are common and offer the chance to meet and exchange stories with other travellers. In fact, sharing cooking facilities is one of the major drawcards for many travellers. It’s an opportunity to meet people who have interesting tales to tell, offer advice on places of interest and point out spots to avoid.
Groups that enjoy the outback experience include caravanners, campers, 4x4 car clubs, art, church and motocross groups, wildflower seekers, bird enthusiasts and families.
I met two Geraldton families travelling together with teenage girls who spend every holiday at station stays. They loved the informality and the social aspects of sitting around the camp fire with a drink, chatting and playing guitar.
It is so quiet and peaceful without traffic that visitors can enjoy reading, contemplation, bush walks, listening to the birds and spotting wildlife.
Gabyon Station in Yalgoo has guided horseriding and quad bikes for hire but most stations leave you to your own devices. Some station owners are happy to take visitors on a windmill tour.
A broken pump or busted fence in the outback can mean the death of livestock as water is so vital. Facilities are inspected regularly.
Nalbarra Station near Mt Magnet does a windmill run every three to four days. The property is so big at 161,000ha that it takes two days to get around and check the 38 windmills.
John and Karen Wainwright stock sheep and range-land goats. Goats, presently worth about $2 more per kilo than sheep, are trucked to Perth for the local market or the meat is exported overseas.
The skies in the outback have to be seen to be believed with their spectacular showings of millions of stars. Stargazers and photographers can get magnificent shots of the Milky Way and star trails without any light pollution.
The Department of Parks and Wildlife has several park stays that permit camping. Australian Wildlife Conservancy and Bush Heritage also manage big tracts of land in WA with some reserves allowing camping and short stays.
The opportunity to experience the real Aussie outback will not last forever. Technology has affected the methods of running sheep, goat and cattle stations. Horses, camels and donkeys have been replaced by ATVs, motorbikes and 4x4s. Access is a lot easier now with improved roads and vehicles.
According to Karen from Nalbarra Station, many English and German visitors are attracted to the outback to experience the novelty of hot weather.
Some stations close during summer so it’s advisable to check with them first. The best time to visit is spring when the wildflowers may explode in carpets of colour and the birds are more active.
Top image: Horseriding at Gabyon Station by Chris Tate.