Sharing the land they love
Gates are opened up on station
AFTER a long day aerial mustering on Kilcowera Station, Toni Sherwin downs her pilot wings and takes up the role of tourism host.
In the early 2000s Toni and her husband Greg swung open the gates of their isolated cattle property to paying campers and guests.
The station is about 90km south of Thargomindah in western Queensland, and their visitors are as varied as their property is large (48,562ha or 120,000 acres), ranging from rally car teams and four-wheel-drive enthusiasts to home gardeners and green thumbs.
It’s obvious Kilcowera Station is close to Toni’s heart. It’s where she has made her living, raised her two children and learnt to fly.
She has been there for almost 40 years, and to this day she still looks forward to the wet season, when the property comes to life with swamps, a great big lagoon and an array of wildlife.
The outback grazier explained to the Rural Weekly why sharing her home with tourists is worth the effort.
COMING TO KILCOWERA
Greg Sherwin has dedicated his life to working on the land.
When Toni first met him, he was the young fellow running cattle on the property her parents were managing.
Hitting it off straight away, they soon married and moved on to Kilcowera, which had just been bought by the Sherwin family’s business.
For the first 10 years, the couple lived in the station’s shearers quarters, which was a great big fibro and pine building that had open ends either side.
“It had a little flat attached to it and it was quite comfortable,” Toni said.
With two daughters, Katherine and Angela, later joining the family the couple built their own home.
In the beginning, Kilcowera ran sheep and a hereford herd.
“When the big drought started to bite pretty hard we sold all of our sheep. That was around 2002 and 2003,” she said.
“After that, of course, we had to sell off cattle too so our numbers went right down.”
Their restocker herds came from the Cloncurry region and were a mix of brahman, charolais and droughtmaster cross cattle.
The couple still run a hereford herd that are bred with hereford bulls, and now put droughtmaster bulls over their mixed-bred herd.
OPENING THE GATES
In early 2001, a friend visiting Kilcowera remarked how picturesque the property was.
This friend also happened to be the tourism officer for the Bulloo Shire Council, and encouraged them to start a tourism venture.
“He just said we had a fantastic place and that it was a shame that more people didn’t get the chance to see it,” Toni said.
“We didn’t do it to create a revenue stream. What we were doing was giving people the opportunity to stay on a place like this.
“This allows them to find
out what happens, how we run things and how we run our country – this lets them see what happens in the bush.”
Their gates are open from April to October.
For the most part, Toni and Greg do all the property work themselves, as well as managing the neighbouring property.
Toni joked that all you had to do was read between the lines on their website to work out how much time and effort was involved in their tourism business.
“We show each guests to their camp site or to their rooms and we have a chat with them,” she said.
“We talk through the information folders and show them our maps.”
Meeting and talking to people who have an interest in the bush has its benefits.
“We have made some nice friends and we have made some really great friends,” she said.
“There are people who will come here and look after the place for us if we want to go away.
“And next year we are going on the Canning Stock Route with two other couples who we met with through our tourism business.”
Cattle are mustered twice a year on Kilcowera Station. This is the “lucky time” for guests.
“We will put on our Facebook when we are mustering because people want to see it,” Toni said.
“They don’t get to do anything, but they can see what goes on.”
Toni and Greg hire two stockmen, Jim Fort and Mitchell Gimm, and use motorbikes, dogs and a plane to muster.
About 200,000 acres of mulga-rangeland country has to be mustered, which includes the neighbouring property.
Toni became a pilot in 1989, and said their plane had become a vital tool in managing their landholdings.
“In the past, when we wanted to do our mustering, we would have to book a pilot well in advance,” she said.
“And sometimes if they had an offer of a better job they would go somewhere else. It just became expedient for us to learn ourselves and get an aeroplane.”
While much of the industry now uses helicopters, Toni said they preferred their plane because it was less noisy and allowed their cattle to be mustered in a smooth and quiet manner.
Jim and Mitchell have been coming to lend a hand on Kilcowera for years. Toni described them as “absolutely wonderful fellows” who embraced their tourism venture.
“They are two big mustering types of fellows – you know they ride their bikes around all day, then all of a sudden they will be helping out by doing waitress duties at night when we have a car rally, or they take up being the tour guide,” she said.
PATCH OF PARADISE
Toni takes great pride in their property, and it gives her immense joy that guests appreciate it.
“We ask guests to fill in a little survey when they leave and the comment we receive most often is ‘thank you so much for allowing us to stay on your beautiful, beautiful property’,” she said.
“When we have had rain and there is water about we have swamps, and a lovely great big lagoon.
“The campsites are quite secluded. Really they don’t know there is anyone else around them, they can sit back and think they have the place to themselves.”
Over the years they have refined their product, and now have signs scattered about, highlighting the different species of plant life. Guests can also do a 60km drive right around the property.
“This takes them to a salt lake, which is part of the Currawinya National Park,” Toni said.
She described their visitors as being respectful and kind – gates were left shut and rubbish was collected after their stay.
“I think that’s because we are a long way from anywhere,” she said. “To come here you have to make a huge effort, so they fully understand where they are coming to.”
When we had rain and there is water about we have swamps, and a lovely great big lagoon. — Toni Sherwin
INNOVATORS: Toni and Greg Sherwin from Kilcowera Station, an isolated cattle property that is also a tourism venture.
Kilcowera Station’s lagoon after some rain. This is one of the places where visitors can camp. Cardenyabba Lagoon is part of Cardenyabba Creek, which can eventually run into the Bulloo River and then into the Bulloo River overflow in NSW in very wet times.
Cattle at the Kilcowera Station sign.
A beautiful camp site at Kilcowera Station.
Toni and Greg’s daughter Angela Whitehall and her husband Glenn lending a hand.
Jim Fort and Mitchell Gimm from Bollon during mustering time. Greg Sherwin is on the right.
Kilcowera Station’s runway.