THE BUSH BASH

A work­ing sta­tion in the NSW cen­tral west of­fers quad­bikes, kan­ga­roos and first-class com­fort, writes Susan Kuro­sawa

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

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

Check­list

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

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