Stationed beside Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia’s West Pilbara, Tim and Edwina Shallcross from Bullara Station are developing a robust pastoral business underpinned by three diverse enterprises – reef, beef and Damara sheep.
Tim and Edwina Shallcross are forging a place in the changing business landscape of the West Australian rangelands, where diversification has become the key to profitability and agri-tourism is increasingly taking centre stage.
The northern boundary of 110,000-hectare Bullara Station butts right up to the Exmouth Gulf and the property has the enviable location of being 86 kilometres south of Exmouth and 65km north of the popular tourist destination, Coral Bay. “Compared to most we really are in the suburbs here,” Tim says. “When we looked at diversifying, tourism was the most obvious choice because of our proximity to all of the hotspots along and around the Ningaloo Reef – it’s also an enterprise that works in well with our existing livestock business.”
Last year an estimated 217,000 Australian and international visitors descended on the coastal strip that takes in Carnarvon, Shark Bay, Exmouth and the Upper Gascoyne region, and tourist numbers are tipped to rise in the future. Since 1997, the Pastoral Lands Board – the body charged with overseeing 470 West Australian pastoral stations – has issued 95 tourism permits allowing pastoral lessees to carry out tourism activities. A total of 26 of these were granted in the past five years, highlighting a shift in focus from traditional enterprises such as livestock production and a move towards the fledgling industry of tourism to boost the economic viability of station businesses.
Three years since Tim and Edwina opened their door to tourists, a steady stream of backpackers, grey nomads, Coral Coast junkies and holidaying families have trodden the well-worn pad to Bullara homestead. “We consider ourselves pretty lucky to be able to muster livestock one day and be out in the Exmouth Gulf fishing for mangrove jack the next,” Edwina says. “Our little corner of Australia is incredibly beautiful and we love being able to share our lifestyle on a working sheep and cattle station with people from diverse nationalities and backgrounds.”
Bullara’s close proximity to Exmouth means the older Shallcross girls, Olivia, 8, and Lucy, 6, are able to hop on a school bus at the Minilya-Exmouth Road and attend a primary school in Exmouth with children their own age. Yet although bitumen roads, speedy internet and solar power may have knocked some of the rough edges off station life for the Shallcrosses, as a third-generation pastoral family there is genuine respect for the tough chapter of history that preceded them.