THE BUSH BASH
A working station in the NSW central west offers quadbikes, kangaroos and first-class comfort, writes Susan Kurosawa
THERE are two surprising things I learn on my first day at Burrawang West: alpacas are efficient shepherds and I am a terror at quadbiking. We are touring the property with station manager Bill Royal who’s been on the land here for more than 30 years. Royal must have seen the lot in his time, although he seems bemused that my partner somehow manages to tilt his quadbike down a riverbank, coming to rest by a tree.
It’s hard to know which of us is the sillier on a quadbike: my other half, who progresses in the slow, weaving style of Mister Magoo, or your travel editor, who takes off like the Road Runner, shaky new lambs all but sent airborne in her wake.
We are kitted out with helmets, DrizaBones and sturdy gloves aboard the quadbikes, which are a terrific way to explore this 4000ha working selection near Parkes in the central west of NSW. They are easy to ride and feel sturdy and safe, although Royal says groups of alpha males out here on corporate bonding retreats are the worst behaved, carrying on like maniacs on the bikes, spinning in dust-flying circles. ‘‘ Too much testosterone,’’ he sighs.
The striking homestead and guest outbuildings on the Burrawang West property were developed in 1993 by a Japanese corporation as an executive bush getaway; it’s now in Australian hands and continues to fulfil its original purpose as a house party retreat although individual bookings, mostly stressed city couples looking for a country drop-out, are also popular.
So, take Burrawang West as a full rental or book one of its 12 rooms, all contained in six weathered timber constructions with rippled tin roofs and screened verandas — dubbed Barns 1 and 2, Woolsheds 1 and 2, Jackaroo and Jillaroo — a short stroll from the homestead proper.
Our group has the run of the place for a convivial weekend; we have borrowed Audi cars and although our arrival has not been in convoy, we have similar stories to tell of our drive from various parts of Sydney.
Our chat is not so much of the wide, flat scenery and the meagre traffic west of the Blue Mountains but of the heated seats, automatic electro-hydraulic hoods and other small miracles that appear to be standard on Audi convertibles.
Perhaps it is my thrill at driving the Audi A4 Cabriolet at heroic speed with the top flicked down and the radio turned up along the Mulguthrie-Ootha dirt road to Burrawang West that has me in such a fastminded mood when the quadbikes appear. I want to ride until the cows come home, belting along corrugated tracks, through gated paddocks (Royal and a helper have to go like the clappers to unlatch the gates as we approach with a roar), beside paperbarkrimmed Goobang Creek and along to Koala Point (where there appear to be none, but it’s no second prize that a flock of budgerigars suddenly arrives, circling my head as bright as flying lollipops).
Co-managers Doug and Stefanie Loeb have been at Burrawang West since January, swapping big-city jobs in hospitality and architecture for managing livestock, riding and putting city slicker guests at their ease. They are perfect hosts and Doug, in particular, seems thrilled to be in the country environment; when he’s not producing fine meals, he’s demonstrating how to crack a whip like a pro as we gather by a campfire to taste sundried tomato damper. It’s the recipe of one of ‘‘ the ladies in the kitchen’’ and the freshly torn bread is warm, tangy and utterly delicious.
None of us manages to make even a squeak when we try a spot of whip-cracking. We are similarly inept throwing a boomerang when Mark from Condobolin’s Wiradjuri Arts Group gives us a lesson.
All except my partner, that is, who throws a perfect return arc. Hard to know who’s more astonished: the gentle Mark or those of us who witnessed my chap’s off-course driving this morning.
Doug’s food is excellent, served in the formal dining room or on a sandstonepaved terrace by the pool. There is much Bloodwood Big Men in Tights Rose and Prince of Orange Sauvignon Blanc to consume; both are excellent regional drops. Where possible, Doug sources local ingredients (Burrawang beef is a given; Murray cod regularly features) and sings the praises of parish producers, such as Ploughmans Hill cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil from nearby Parkes.
We are enchanted with the atmosphere and the surrounds of Burrawang West: the quiet, green-and-gold country of the Lachlan River Valley, the wallabies and especially the alpacas, constantly stretching their long necks like telescopes, forever on the lookout for foxes and birds of prey as they keep small herds of sheep in line. Royal says Burrawang West runs about 1000 head of cattle, a composite Angus and Shorthorn breed, and about the same number of plump dorper sheep, a hardy South African breed that naturally sheds its wool.
We read and laze around the splendidly proportioned homestead, which is a tallceilinged replica of the classic genre, with wide hallways, fireplaces and gleaming timber floors. There is a billiards table, a piano and a serious collection of curated artwork on display, from John Gould lithographs and a whimsical Michael Leunig diptych to bark paintings and welded metal installations, including a sheet of iron in the shape of a kimono, its sleeves splayed like a crucifixion. On the wall behind the small but encouragingly well-stocked bar, an assembly of wool stencils is a clever and apposite decoration.
In our Woolshed 2 accommodation, a handmade quilt, circa 1870, lends a splash of carnival colour to the spare decor. The feel in these outbuildings is rustic chic (claw-foot baths, French doors), perhaps as a deliberate counterpoint to the almost English countryhouse grandeur of the Denton Corker Marshall-designed main house. Even its lavender beds, rose bushes and high-hedged square with a centrepiece sundial would seem more suited to the home counties; metres beyond, the countryside is flat and
Burrawang West is 435km west of Sydney near the village of Ootha, between Parkes and Condobolin; driving time is about five hours, via the Blue Mountains, Bathurst and Orange. Rex Airlines flies from Sydney to Parkes. More: www.rex.com.au. Tariff is $770 a person a night, including meals, open bar and on-site activities and tours. There’s a 20m pool, indoor and outdoor spas, sauna, boatshed with canoes, archery range and fishing. More: www.burrawangwest.com.au. Burrawang West is a member of the Outback Encounter portfolio. Bookings: (08) 8354 4405; www.outbackencounter.com. Audi is the fastest-growing luxury car brand in Australia. In 2008, it will start series production of the world’s cleanest diesel technology. More: www.audi.com.au.
Country style: Burrawang West homestead, top; art-filled entry, above left; making damper, centre; the popular billiards room, right