IT TAKES a special kind of person to live and work on a cattle station in remote Western Australia and what better way to understand why the life they choose is so inimitable, than to be part of the action on a station stay.
Over the July school holidays I embarked on a 4500 kilometres round trip to WA's amazing North West with my family of five, including three children aged 10 and under.
When researching our trip I knew we had to do something distinctly different, something our children could enjoy and learn from at the same time and so when I found Bullara station stay - advertising gluten free scones, as two of our children have coeliac disease - I knew it was the place for us.
Situated between Coral Bay and Exmouth, with access to the Exmouth Gulf, Bullara station is not the typical cattle station many would associate with WA's north, but then if you haven't experienced station life, how would you really know what was typical?
We as a family know our way around a farm and rural life, but the experience of pastoral life is one we will never forget, thanks to Edwina and Tim Shallcross and their desire to maintain the family legacy that is Bullara station.
Bullara station was established in the 1920s, with Tim's great grandfather Victor Shallcross purchasing the 101,200 acre station in the late 1950s in partnership with Herschel House.
Being busy as a wool broker for Elders, Victor had the station managed, until late 1969 when Tim's father and mother moved to Bullara from Lake Violet station and started the legacy that Tim, Edwina and their three daughters, Olivia, 17, Lucy 15, and Mimi, 12, have continued to build on.
"Traditionally Bullara was a sheep station," Edwina said.
"At our peak during good seasons there were 22,000 head of Merinos, in the late '90s, when I arrived at Bullara.
"But the last shearing was in 1998 and with this we changed to running Damaras for seven years, until the live export ban and the market crashed."
Maintaining viability is the cornerstone to any business and having suffered a loss with the sheep markets, they decided to diversify into cattle.
"We have always had a few hundred head of cattle on the station," Edwina said.
"But we built our numbers up and breed all Droughtmaster cattle.
"Unfortunately we have been in drought for three years now, so we have cut down to our core numbers of 1000 head of breeders."
Station stays are trending in the current WA tourism market and their popularity has been highlighted with all the post COVID-19 restrictions everyone has experienced and the flood of WA tourists trying to find places to stay.
Bullara was well equipped to deal with the sudden uptick in demand, as it had been refining its experience over the past decade.
Having started their tourism business in 2010, the Shallcross family has been able to gradually develop and expand their station stay experience.
"It started with main roads contractors," Edwina said.
"I was catering for them all as well.
"We opened up the shearers' lodge first and then the campsites were a natural progression.
"When we as a family moved out of Kapock cottage, we then included this and then Hale hut.
"Then the next step was the powered sites."
However, it has not been all smooth sailing and in true pastoral, pioneering style, they have experienced devastating cyclones and debilitating drought and still managed to grow as a business and as a family.
It really is a story of diversification and innovation at Bullara and speaking to Edwina and Tim, you get the real sense that there is nothing that could stop them from keeping their family heritage alive and strong.
"Cyclone Olwyn hit in 2015 and took out part of the homestead, we lost windmills and all of our homestead power system and multiple infrastructure - it was pretty devastating," Edwina said.
From the adversity they experienced through the loss of so much infrastructure, she said they were able to rebuild, with a focus/purpose and five years on they are still planning for an even brighter future.
"But I truly believe there is a silver lining to every situation we experience," she said.
"We were able to build a new kitchen and café.
"I have always loved coffee, so this meant we could incorporate a coffee machine and this then led to our whole garden café experience."
On one of the days we were there, the Garden cafe did a mammoth 153 scones in its opening hours from 8.30am - 12 noon, proving its popularity and not just with tourists.
The café is not the only dining experience at Bullara, with a dedicated restaurant hosting dinner nights for those staying at Bullara in any of the accommodation, while the café is also frequented by passers-by and those driving from Coral Bay or Exmouth for the day.
The dinner nights are popular with guests from campers through to those in the houses, with cook Courtenay Stickels providing a meal of the night.
Patrons get to enjoy an authentic experience of sharing a long table under the night sky or at some of the smaller tables hidden beneath the trees adorned with fairy lights.
Either way the experience is magical and the Friday night burger nights give you the opportunity to experience the Bullara station produce, with the burgers produced from Bullara's own Droughtmaster beef, and often accompanied by live music during the busy periods.
Another one of the newest inclusions at Bullara is the glamping experience, or Soul Camping, which is the option we chose as a family and a pretty awesome choice, even if I do say so myself.
Glamping meant we did not have to pack our own tent, instead we were greeted with a large six metre round, Teepee style, canvas tent, complete with made up foam mattresses, battery and solar powered lamps and lights, and our own set of crockery and cutlery, a kettle and towels.
We had access to a camp kitchenette with fridge, oven/stove, washing up and tea and coffee facilities, as well as the luxury of ensuite style showers and toilets, located in the outstation facilities located nearby.
Alternatively Bullara offers campsites and all patrons, the shower and laundry facilities at the rear of their historic shearing shed or the authentic outdoor experience of their Lava Trees - specially set up outdoor showers.
I am sure whatever experience you choose to indulge in at Bullara, whether in a tent, a house, a caravan, camper trailer or glamping, you will not be disappointed.
Edwina was also originally inspired by her parents' small tourist business they set up at Nallan station when she was younger, after having moved there from Kojonup.
"Anyone who wants to get into tourism and diversification will need to get through a lot of red tape," Edwina said.
"But if you are passionate about it and you like people, it is such an amazing thing to do and be a part of."
Edwina said it was great to be able to share their way of life and their part of WA with so many different people, but also to hear the stories of past workers who were employed at Bullara in their youth and learn from their memories also.
Earlier I mentioned the Bullara Beef burgers, these are also available for purchase through the cafe/reception in their raw patty form, along with other cuts of the Bullara beef - everything from T-Bones and Scotch fillet through to chuck steak, mince and sausages.
This is yet another way in which the Shallcross family has kept its business thriving and constantly innovating.
Tim said they were members of the WA Accredited Grassfed Beef Co-operative Limited , which consisted of eight current members.
"The co-operative was developed four years ago," Tim said.
"We are the furthest north supplier, with other members spread all the way to Nannup in the south.
"We supply our beef 12 months of the year to Harvey Beef.
"We grow it here and it is finished off in the South West.
"We supply the campground and our kitchen and any tourists who come in off the road."
At Bullara they are conscious of not overgrazing their paddocks and land to allow the native grasses and shrubs to rejuvenate and rehabilitate.
The Bullara cattle are pasture-raised, as their accreditation suggests, and have a good rangelands mix of feed to choose from.
"We have buffle grass and soft spinifex," Tim said.
"There is also Karrara, Jam, Blue bush and Saltbush and mixed shrubs.
"The coastal sandplain has spinifex and 12 other varieties of grasses."
Although 44 millimetres of rain was recorded in June, Bullara is still in drought, but the stock have access to water via bores and 43 water points throughout the station.
Visitors have the opportunity to see the cattle wandering through the station, as well as horses, a few Damara sheep that are left, a bush turkey, the pet goat Buckley, Emmit the emu and friends, kangaroos, spinifex hopping mice and a vast array of native birds.
There is John and his damper mix sessions and recipe to take home, as well as various walk trails and for the avid fishermen and four wheel drivers, there is access to the Exmouth Gulf at low tide, although you will need to check the details with the office and log you intention to drive to the Gulf with the office beforehand.
Tim and Edwina have plans to restore the historic shearing shed hub in the future, to include the shearers' kitchen cafe - plans that were put back a little due to COVID-19.
If you have ever wanted a truly different holiday in WA, why not go and see Bullara station for yourself, with the world renowned Ningaloo Reef accessible a short drive away in Coral Bay or Exmouth and all the nature at your doorstep, there has never been a better time to discover something new.
We had a truly awesome time as a family and are already planning our next visit to the North West and Bullara station.
It is important to remember the seasons are very different in the north and so with this in mind, Bullara Station Stay is open from April 1 through to October annually.