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Australia's Golden Outback
The Gascoyne Murchison region is an essential addition to any intrepid adventurer’s Western Australian checklist.
Words and Images by: Julia Jene

Western Australia’s Golden Outback is one of the most fascinating regions in this country. The picturesque landscape is a wild and enchanting combination of outback plains, salt lakes, rocky outcrops, eucalypt woodlands, and turquoise coastline. During spring, the region famously transforms into a rainbow of blooming native Western Australian wildflowers. The Gascoyne Murchison region is characterised by its gold rush-era towns, miles of red earth, rugged rock formations and huge cattle and sheep stations. With 90 million hectares (36 per cent) of Western Australia filled with pastoral stations, they represent an important part of the state’s fabric and offer a unique holiday experience. In this feature, we will take a closer look at some of the iconic station stays in the region — kicking off with a chat with two station owners.

FRANCES POLLOCK — WOOLEEN STATION

What do you love most about running a station?

It's very varied. Your role changes constantly. One moment you can be housekeeping, the next minute you might be needed on a motorbike to bring in cattle. You can be doing the bookkeeping one minute; helping in the kitchen or organising marketing and social media the next; then mowing the lawns! Like any small to medium sized business owner, you need to learn to do a bit of everything — especially when you live 200km from the nearest town!

What do people love most about staying with you?

We aim to offer an experience that is ecologically responsible on multiple levels and engages people with the natural environment — I think that is the main reason people choose to stay with us. Focusing our sustainable tourism practices on the natural environment ensures that visitors not only enjoy Wooleen, but they get actively involved in caring for and respecting it as well. Tourism and pastoralism have helped us establish a suitable balance between the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural aspects of Wooleen. Education is a huge element of our experience at Wooleen, with open and honest discussion forming a big part of that. I think our customers like being part of the solution.

Do you offer any tours or experiences for your guests that you could tell us about?

We've got lots of different experiences to offer and they all tie back to sustainability and responsible management of pastoral land. Everything is very sensitive to the environment we operate in, so we  really encourage bushwalking and hiking, birdwatching, photography, picnics, canoeing, and so on. We also offer a long guided sunset tour. While the glass-in-hand sunset is always spectacular, the tour is truly focused on our commitment to land rehabilitation, understanding the pastoral estate, and the possibilities of the future. Guests learn about the longevity of our arid plants, their palatability and indicators, the importance of apex predators and why food security and sustainability are so important for our future.

On duty at Mellenbye Station

What do you love most about living in such a remote and beautiful part of Australia?

The space and solitude. The beauty of the outback is breathtaking, and the silence is deafening. It leaves you grounded and at peace. The sunsets and moonrises are incredible. I wouldn't trade that for anything.

What’s your hidden gem that everyone should see when travelling around the Gascoyne?

Rocky breakaway country at sunset! It's my favourite. Most station stays will have rocky outcrops like this. The town of Sandstone has London Bridge and Mt Magnet has The Amphitheatre. Travel anywhere around the Murchison and you'll find remarkable rock formations just asking you to hike to the top for sunset.

What are your favourite wildflowers out here?

I love the blue pin cushions (Brunonia australis), but also the Stylidium trigger plant flowers. The Melaleuca smells amazing, as does the purple vetch. This year we found a Verticordia we'd not discovered before. It's so diverse and amazing I couldn't choose just one.

Once you open up, what does a day look like for you?

Every day is so different, but there's usually some routine. My day always starts by helping our cook prepare for breakfast and then hosting our homestead customers for breakfast until 9am. After that I'll be checking out anyone leaving for the day, helping the team with housekeeping, and catching up on emails. Lunch for our homestead guests is at 12.30pm and then the afternoon is spent on laundry,  checking in arrivals, and more office work and emails! Hopefully I slip in a visit to the vegetable garden, a change of sprinklers in the main garden and possibly a pre-sunset walk with the dogs. The early evening is the beginning of pre-dinner canapés and dinner is served at seven. Other days might require a 32km return drive to service amenities at the river campsites, a reconnaissance trip for a new walking trail, preparing for our guided sunset tour, quick repairs and maintenance to midseason breakdowns (hopefully not!), or potentially having to help with the cattle at Wooleen. Mondays are ordering days at the supermarket, while Thursday is freight delivery. We always have something different happening amid the routine.

What do you do in the off season?

Other than co-ordinate the improvements for the station stay, it's also a time to try and catch up on some of the pastoral side of the business. Station stays have two prongs — tourism and pastoralism — so we've used this summer to shift the cattle to a new paddock, put in new fencing, upgrade water points, and work on other jobs. Whilst the cattle take daily priority, you’re still busy taking reservations for the coming season, implementing marketing strategies, and thinking about staff recruitment.

Coalseam Conservation Park

JO CLEWS — MELANGATA STATION

What do you love most about running a station?

The ability to just be a part of nature, and have no neighbours!

What do people love most about staying with you?

The quiet boutique accommodation experience — especially in the homestead — and the fact the campgrounds are not overcrowded, so we still have time to socialise with our guests.

Do you offer any tours or experiences for your guests that you could tell us about?

We have several escorted tours available. The historic homestead tour runs once a day and can be part of a delicious scones with jam and cream morning tea. The tour of the station takes you places we don’t allow people to go without a guide. We also conduct full moon and campfire tours when the full moon is rising.

What do you love most about living in such a remote and beautiful part of Australia?

Freedom, the night sky, and quiet.

What’s your hidden gem that everyone should see when travelling around the Gascoyne?

Walga Rock, Dalgaranga Meteorite crater, Big Bell Ghost Town and Cue are popular day trips that my guests take from here.

What’s your favourite wildlife out here?

The birds, definitely the birds. As it’s so dry at the moment, we have massive flocks of budgies at many of our waterholes and we sit on the front veranda in the morning watching them play around the trough that is near the shearing shed. The bustards are aloof magnificent birds that we have on the station at different times of the year, then there’s the crazy antics of the spotted bowerbirds. We’ve located many bowers and have incorporated them into our driving and walking tours. Because I leave out plenty of water for the birds, we have large families of mudlarks, pink and grey galahs, yellow throated minors, willy wagtails, yellow-rumped thornbills, butcherbirds, mulga parrots, Australian ringnecks, bowerbirds, honeyeaters and the odd bird of prey around the homestead yard.

Once you open up, what does a day look like for you?

At 6am I am up and about doing outside chores like feeding chickens and watering the gardens. Homestead guests can have their breakfast from 7am, so that needs to be set out and ready for them. The rest of the morning is taken up with seeing to homestead guests and checking them out, plus remaking rooms if any guests have left early. At 10am all homestead and campground guests are welcome to come and participate in a historic tour of the homestead with morning tea available after. The bulk of the rest of the morning is taken up with cleaning, remaking rooms, and ensuring cooking and preparations for the next group of guests is completed by 1pm.

What do you do in the off season?

Once the guests leave at the end of the season, we pack up and store things like linen, bell tents, rugs, mats, and floor coverings so they stay clean over the summer. If there are any renovation jobs that need to be done, we get stuck into those. It can of course be extremely hot out here, so when the odd cool day comes along it’s work, work, work! Projects I have been working on this year include renovating and reorganising the kitchen, pantry, and coffee station to make working and catering for my guests easier and more pleasant for all involved. My homestead is a 100-year-old building and needs a lot of care and maintenance.

The vistas of the Gascoyne Murchison region are nothing short of incredible

GASCOYNE MURCHISON STATION STAYS

Wooleen Station

A working cattle station covering over a quarter of a million acres of Western Australian outback, hosts David and Frances Pollock are passionate about land rehabilitation, sustainable grazing, and preserving the unique ecology of the region. The 1200sqm homestead has wide colonial verandas and is surrounded by landscaped gardens. You can stay in the homestead itself with homestyle cooking, a cellar full of Western Australian wines, and a huge formal dining room — not to mention the full-size billiard table to be enjoyed after meals. The guesthouses are a short stroll from the main homestead and can sleep up to five people; all linen is provided as well as the option of a continental breakfast (ensure you request this when booking). The guesthouses have a full kitchen and are otherwise self-catered. There are unpowered camping options for tents and RVs, with composting toilets available at some campsites and shower facilities at the homestead. Dogs are welcome at remote campsites but must be secured in vehicle when visiting homestead. No pets in homestead or guesthouses. Open from April to October each year.

More information: Wooleen Station

Phone: (08) 9963 7973

Email: info@wooleen.com.au

Web: wooleen.com.au

Location: Twin Peaks-Wooleen Road, Murchison WA 6630, GPS: 27.087630, 116.161848

London Bridge

Melangata Station

A working sheep station located near the town of Yalgoo with a historic homestead built by Monsignor John Hawes (a famous priest architect) in 1917. It was originally constructed as a private residence and features an internal chapel and turret. The current owners have lovingly and painstakingly restored the residence and offer historic homestead tours as well as escorted self-drive tours and camp oven cooking classes. Also on offer is birdwatching, wildlife spotting and an abundance of wildflowers in season. Accommodation options include homestead rooms with king and queen rooms (with meals), unpowered camping, and an elegant bell tent.

More information:

Melangata Station

Phone: (08) 9963 7777

Email: melangatastationstay@gmail.com

Web: joclewscooking.com, Melangata Road, Yalgoo WA 6635, GPS: 27.7915° S, 116.8222° E

Nallan Station

Mellenbye Station

A working cattle station located 6.5km off the sealed Morawa- Yalgoo Road in the district of Yalgoo, Mellenbye is a great base for exploring the districts of Morawa and Yalgoo. How about a day of birdwatching or hiking? Find your creative side with the painter’s easels available for free use, or have fun with musical instruments in the shearing shed. During wildflower season, the station offers visitors the chance to see the famous wreath flower, Lechenaultia macranta. Walk or drive around the property to spot more flower varieties, including everlastings and orchids. The wildflower season can vary but is generally at its best from mid- August until mid-September. There is a wide range of accommodation options including cottages, cabins, homestead rooms, and glamping pods — all linen is supplied. Shearers quarters and campsites are also available. No dogs permitted due to risk from 1080 baiting.

More information:

Mellenbye Station

Phone: (08) 9972 3072 (email preferred due to poor phone coverage)

Email: bookings@mellenbye.com.au

Web: mellenbye.com.au

Location: Morawa Yalgoo Road, Yalgoo WA 6635, GPS: 28.8336° S, 116.2993° E

A truly otherworldy landscape

Nallan Station

Nallan Station is a working cattle station covering 98,886 hectares on the Great Northern Highway. ‘Nallan’ is an Indigenous word meaning ‘good eating’ in reference to the bountiful lake environment of Nallan Lake — a large clay pan lake on the station where wildlife watered. Explore historical sites such as local Indigenous art at Walga Rock or Milly’s Soak. Keen birdwatchers take note — Nallan Station is also renowned for its amazing bird life. Accommodation options include a self-contained two-bedroom cottage, renovated shearers’ quarters with kitchen facilities and unpowered camping with undercover BBQ and fire pit area.

More information:

Nallan Station

Phone: (08) 9963 1054 or 0498 747 422

Email: visitnallan@outlook.com

Web: nallanstation.com

Great Northern Highway, Cogla Downs-Taincrow Rd, Cue WA 6640, GPS: 27°18'58.2"S 117°58'21.1"E

Nalbarra Station

A working sheep station set on 161,000 hectares located 70km north of Paynes Find, Nalbarra is the perfect stopover for travellers on the Great Northern Highway. Stay in the shearer’s quarters accommodation with a self-contained kitchen, wood stove, dining room, bathrooms, and barbecue area. Camping is also available. Activities include birdwatching, bushwalking, sunsets, driving, or stay put and use the tennis courts and dart board. Pet-friendly. Popular with large groups, clubs, and touring companies.

More information:

Nalbarra Station

Phone: 08) 9963 5829

Email: nalbarra7@bigpond.com

Web: nalbarra.com.au

Burnabinmah-Nalbarra Rd, Mount Magnet WA 6638, GPS: -28.649677, 117.609027

Gabyon Station

A working sheep station located in the stunning red earth country of the Murchison, Gabyon is next to the Miners Pathway self-drive trail. Accommodation options include rustic shearers quarters, homestead rooms, camping, and caravanning. Activities include horse and motorbike trail rides, driving the windmill tracks, wildflower spotting and birdwatching, and exploring historic relics. Outdoor barbecues and fire pits are available. Meals available at an extra cost.

More information:

Gabyon Station

Phone: (08) 9963 7993

Email: gabyonstationstay@gmail.com

Web: gabyon.com.au

Gabyon-Tardie Road, Yalgoo WA, 6635, GPS: 28° 14’ 58” S 116° 20’ 27” E

The Granites

MORE TO EXPLORE IN THE REGION

Murchison Georegion’s self-drive trail

This unique self-drive trail visits 21 sites of immense natural and cultural significance. You will go on a journey through a beautiful and ancient landscape full of stories that go back almost to the beginning of Earth some 4.54 billion years ago. April to October is the best time to visit, and most of the sites on the Murchison Georegion are accessible for all vehicles — with the exception of a few marked as 4WD only. Head over to murchisongeoregion.com for more details.

Mount Augustus

Towering 715m above the surrounding landscape, awesome Mount Augustus is twice the height of Uluru and is visible from a distance of more than 160km. Mount Augustus is known by the local Wadjari Indigenous people as Burringurrah. There is a 49km self-drive circuit around the national park suitable for 2WD vehicles.

Kennedy Range National Park

If being surrounded by pristine wilderness and camping under a star-filled night sky is your thing, then Kennedy Range National Park is perfect for your next 4WD adventure. The beautiful gorges and red rock landscape are a two-hour drive east of Carnarvon, or one hour from Gascoyne Junction.

Mount Magnet

Known as the hub of the Murchison, Mount Magnet is an excellent base for exploring the region. If you are interested in gold rush history, then this is the place for you — Mount Magnet is the longest surviving gold mining settlement in Western Australia and offers multiple gold prospecting and fossicking opportunities. The town has two service stations, a supermarket, cafe, butcher, nursing post, and post office. Hotel and caravan park accommodation is also available.

Walga Rock

A huge granite monolith and site of deep cultural significance offering a time-preserved natural gallery of Indigenous art. The painting that sparks the most debate is that of a sailing ship and accompanying text which is thought to resemble Arabic script. The origin of the painting remains a mystery to this day. Walga Rock is located 48km west of Cue, an eight-hour drive north east of Perth.

Paynes Find Gold Battery and Museum

Visit the only working Gold Battery remaining in Western Australia and witness the gold crushing plant in action whilst learning about the gold mining process in the early 1900s. You can try your hand at gold panning and examine the wide range of mining and farming relics on display. Open daily from 1 August to mid October.

Helen Ansell Studio Gallery

Helen Ansell is a regional Western Australian artist who produces vibrant paintings of native Western Australian flora and fauna. Having grown up in Ululla, a remote Indigenous community in central Western Australia, she has strong ties to Indigenous communities and has always been inspired by the wild desert landscape. Please email contact@helenansell.com before visiting to ensure Helen is in her studio, as she welcomes visits.

Mount Augustus

ROAD TRIP ITINERARIES

Road to the Rock

A nine-day 4WD round trip adventure from Perth to Mount Augustus, all located within stunning Mount Augustus National Park. You can easily take longer than nine days for this one as there is so much to see — take it at your own pace.

Wool Wagon Pathway

A three-day 4WD journey through some of Australia’s legendary sheep and wool country, from Geraldton through the Gascoyne Murchison and into Exmouth.

Miners Pathway

A five-day self-drive trail through the Gascoyne Murchison region to explore the legacy of the incredible gold rush era. The route is usually accessible for 2WD vehicles, but depending on the time of year and weather conditions, some parts may only be suited to 4WDs — please check before you leave.

Kingsford Smith Mail Run

A-three day 4WD journey following the exact mail route of Charles Kingsford Smith, the transport pioneer. You’ll start in Carnarvon and head east to Meekatharra via the Gascoyne Murchison, learning about some of Smith’s larrikin antics and discovering early Australian communication and transport history.

Tags: cmca campervan and motorhome club rv caravan camper trailer golden outback meekatharra mellenbye station coalseam conversation park melangata station gascoyne murchison station stays melangata station nalbarra station gabyon station nallan station mount augustin kennedy range national park walga rock helen ansell studio gallery wool wagai
Category: Features
Written: Tue 01 Mar 2022
Printed: March, 2022
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