Making a living off the land
Opening up the land
Whitewells Station plan
Leases
Beekeepers
Sandalwood
Eucalyptus oil
Pastoralism
Shepherds to sheep stations
Fencing the hay paddock
Making hay
Mining
Tourism
Vermin
Wells

Wildflower country

 

The sign erected in 1995 by the Shire of Perenjori near the eastern boundary of Charles Darwin Reserve proclaims 'Wildflower Country'. Western Australia has long been famous for its wildflowers. Being only a few hours drive from Perth , the region around Charles Darwin Reserve has long been a popular destination for those seeking the wide vistas of everlastings in spring, and the rich displays of wreath Leschenaultia, Goodenias and other plants of the sandplains.

The tourism industry promoted the State in the 1960s with car number plates carrying the slogan 'WA - The Wildflower State'.  Ironically, this was at a time when the State Government was also promoting the rapid clearing of wildflowers (the 'bush') for wheat and sheep farming which left the Lake Moore –Mongers Lake area as the only sizeable piece of bush left in the Avon Wheatbelt Bioregion.

Another attraction of the area has been the sense of leaving the city and the settled farmlands behind and heading off into the wide open spaces and adventure of 'The Outback'. Whitewells and Ninghan Stations, and Mt Gibson Station, under the ownership of Dr Peter Underwood and partners, and later the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, have catered for tourists for many years.

 
 

Bruce Boucher, operated Whitewells Station from the 1970s to 90s.  He turned to tourism to supplement the erratic income he recived from sheep. He obtained a tourism permit from the Pastoral Lands Board, and built a rudimentary six-bay caravan park and refurbished the shearers quarters and the old homestead as accommodation. Many comments in the Visitors Book testify to Boucher’s hospitality. By 1994 the Pastoral Inspector was able to report:

A small scale, well provided and successful tourist facility exists with accommodation at and adjacent to the homestead  Department of Agriculture file 660/75.

Whitewells was on the map as a destination for goat shooters, birdwatchers, wildflower enthusiasts, horse riders and anyone wanting to experience life on a station of in the bush.

 

   

After purchasing Whitewells in 1997, the Tappers invested in the promising tourism trade:

We planned to have the Japanese and other overseas tourists by the busload from Perth, but the late ’90s financial crash put an end to that. Robin Tapper, 24 July 2006, interview by C. Nicholson

They laid a poly pipe from Monger Well to put better water  ‘on tap’. Boucher had been trucking it in from Monger Well.  WA Solar Supplies installed solar panels in December 1997 to supplement the diesel generator and give 24-hour electrical power. They built the small complex of transportables near the homestead creek, naming it the Boundary Riders Hut.

The shearers quarters was a timber and asbestos building with three bedrooms and a kitchen .

The old quarters burnt down. I had to watch it burn down because the fire burnt through the electric cables so there was no waterpump. The caretaker did it. He got shitty because I cut off his beer supply. It was about 4 o’clock in the morning. It wasn’t insured. The police investigated but couldn’t prove anything. Robin Tapper 24 July 2006, interviewed by C. Nicholson

The Tappers replaced the shearers quarters with guest accommodation, obtaining two mining camp transportable ‘dongas’ and enclosing the space between as a kitchen and common area with a painted concrete floor.

 

The entries in the Visitors Book at Whitewells commence on 17th April 1987 and testify to the range of experiences visitors enjoyed: good shooting; wildflowers; birds; moonrise; campfire; riding; peace and quiet; good company.  Interesting experiences were never far away.

I used to stop at Whitewells on trips north.  I made the caravan in 1982.  I’d stay in the Whitewells caravan park overnight.  Once I was lying on my stomach photographing wildflowers at White Well. I heard a thumping noise, and looked around and saw a sheep coming straight at me, chased by an emu.  Scared the living daylights out of me, I can tell you!  It saw me at the last moment and veered away.  The emu’s nest must have been nearby. Keith, caravanner, 6 November 2006, interview by C. Nicholson

Charles Darwin Reserve was popular with nature study groups in its former life as a tourist destination. A group of birdwatchers from Sydney came twice and the Birds Australia WA group came at Easter 1996. Many individuals recorded comments on the wildflowers and bird life. Under Bush Heritage management, such groups and individuals have been encouraged, and add to the inventory and understanding of the natural history. Those that have stayed include the WA Naturalists Club and botanist Daphne Edingerat during Easter 2004, the Busselton Naturalists Club; and individual scientists like soils scientist Bill Macarthur, ornithologist Peter Curry, botanist Sue Patrick and botanical artist Ellen Hickman.

Although popular with naturalists, the tourism theme at Whitewells Station appears to have been 'dude ranch'. It promoted goat shooting, horse and camel riding, camping out and four-wheel drive excursions. The tone was set by the old camel fridge at the turnoff from the Great Northern Highway which served as the mail box, with a camel painted on it and the inevitable rusting shotgun pellet holes.

The Visitors Book records that numbers fluctuated from about 220 a year to over 500 per year in 1995. In 1997 they dropped to about 200 then fell away sharply despite the Tappers’ investments in upgrading the accommodation. Although wildflowers were a big attraction, numbers in the Visitors Book did not reflect good and poor wildflower seasons.

   

Carol and Barry stayed on as caretakers until Bush Heritage was able to send volunteer Don Royal in to oversee the property until full time managers were appointed. Barry died of ill health shortly after leaving.

In 2005, Bush Heritage assessed the potential for continuing tourism at Charles Darwin Reserve. The costs to upgrade the facilities to meet the required standards and to manage the wear on the land, were prohibitive. The primary duty was nature conservation. The shearers' quarters which became the tourist quarters are now the volunteers quarters for those who come to Charles Darwin Reserve to help with the management of the property.  The pleasures of the region were still avilable to the tourist, with accommodation and campsites availbale at Ninghan Station and Mt Gibson Sanctuary.

 
 
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