The Mackenzies are capitalising on the distinctive geology and far-flung location of long-time family property Plevna Downs, in south-west Queensland, for their successful organic wool operation.
Story & photos by Annabelle Brayley
Once upon a few million years ago, during an evolutionary squeeze of the surrounding layers of earth, the Mount Howitt anticline was born. The technicalities are best left to geologists but, basically, a strip of the crust was extruded upwards and then weathered away by the winds and rains of time. It resulted in a 283,000-hectare window of exposure to soils of a different geological make-up to the country around it. Its location is roughly 90 kilometres west of Eromanga, Qld, and 140km from the South Australian border. Given that Eromanga claims the distinction of being the Australian town furthest from the sea, the extraordinary Mount Howitt anticline really is out in the middle of nowhere, and the 112,000ha Plevna Downs sprawls right down the centre of it.
Coming from the east, the country looks like it should be vast and fairly flat, yet driving into Plevna feels like driving into a valley. But it’s not in the usual sense of the word. It is a special piece of rolling, pebbly, Mitchell grass downs that lies between ranges and hills. There are areas of gidgee scrub and the odd channel passes through. The surrounding area is predominantly Channel Country floodplain. With a 200–230-millimetre annual rainfall, blowflies are rarely a problem, and its location means it’s a long way from the nearest chemical spray. Like the OBE (Organic Beef Enterprise) group, of which they are members, the Mackenzies of Plevna are making the most of their natural assets to guarantee sales of their product in an ever-changing global market. Plevna Downs is perfect sheep and woolgrowing country, and an elegant, natural background for organics.
Under an already blistering, pale-blue November sky, clean-faced, clean-bottomed ewes and their lambs gossip their way back from the portable crutching plant to the wide-open space of the paddock. Small, rust-red pebbles scatter on the plains right out to the shimmering blue hills in the distance, interspersed by Mitchell grass stubble that the seemingly endless drought has failed to completely annihilate. The sheep are pure Mumblebone bloodline bred by the Mackenzies for nearly 60 years, and it’s no stretch to imagine that this very spot is God’s gift to clean, ‘green’ wool.
This story excerpt is from Issue #53
Outback Magazine: June/July 2007