South Australia’s Princess Royal Station has the appearance of a tranquil English country estate but the Rowe family are anything but old-fashioned, complementing their cattle enterprise with crops, grapes and carob.

Story By Ian Glover

In 19th century Australia, the word ‘home’ had a totally different meaning than it does to contemporary Aussies. ‘Home’ was in a wet country, not a dry one. It was green rolling hills, fly-fishing in icy streams, stately homes and snow in winter.
Homesick expatriate English folk often tried to recreate those images as much as possible in their new country. Where water was (once) plentiful – in places like Sydney and Melbourne – they were often successful. Further out, trying to morph lignum plains into Longleat House was usually an exercise in complete futility. Not always, however…
Standing on – almost ‘in’ - the lush, deep lawns of Princess Royal Station’s homestead surrounds, you could be back in Wiltshire. Massive ancient trees form a screen around the grounds. The dawn air is rich with the intoxicating scent of pine needles. Heritage roses grow beside well-tended paths, alongside weeping cherries and silver birches. Fluted planter pots stand on sandstone plinths. Classical stone statuary and the two-storey ‘homestead’ continues the English theme. Built in the early 1860s, it’s Georgian style, with large expansive walls, small eaves, multi-paned double hung windows and large patios (‘verandah’ just doesn’t do the house justice) with Mintaro slate floors. It’s like something out of Tom Jones or Emma, from a time of elegant coaches and fours, crinolines and Empire line décolletages, rather than moleskins and elastic-sided boots. Inside, the bedrooms are on the top level, each one not with an ensuite, but dedicated separate bathrooms! Naturally, the house is National Trust listed.
What’s most remarkable about this place is that the property is just out of Burra, in the south-east of South Australia, with its barren, almost lunar landscape, where bare hills look like the skulls of primordial giants, pushing upwards, trying to break through the very skin of the earth.
Princess Royal Station was named after a copper mine that in turn was probably named for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s eldest daughter Victoria, styled Princess Royal from 1840. (Princess Anne carries the title on today.) From 1845, the mine produced £7000 of ore before the seams unexpectedly petered out. In 1851, it was sold as a 10,000 acre (4047 hectare) sheep property to a pastoralist named McCullough. He had the house built, but didn’t stay in it long. It then remained in the Tennant family for over 100 years until acquired by T&R Pastoral in 2000, and a couple of years ago, was taken over by Simon Rowe and his father Bob (the ‘R’ in T&R).
Princess Royal is the Koh-i-Noor of the crown jewels; one of many properties either owned or leased by T&R and the Rowes. They include famous names such as “Wooltana” and “Wertaloona” in the Northern Flinders (now run as one block carrying shorthorns destined for the Japanese market because the meat marbles well), then “Mullaby” and “Mackerode”. Droughtmasters are preferred elsewhere, with Angus being bred on Princess Royal.

This story excerpt is from Issue #54

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2007