A claypan on a Queensland cattle station nourishes a garden that eschews the showy over the practical, resulting in towering trees, colourful fruit plants and fragrant perennials.

Story By Trisha Dixon

"Mount Enniskillen” in central-western Queensland truly celebrates and embraces the stunning landscape of this part of outback Australia. Its eastern boundary is the western side of the Carnarvon Gorge, and when the sun goes down in the west, the ancient cliff faces glow golden red.
Dating back to the first European settlement of this part of Queensland, Mount Enniskillen has an interesting connection to explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell, who first travelled through the country in 1846. So enamoured of the country and the permanent stretch of water, he enthused young James Allan, who is said to have been engaged to Mitchell’s daughter. Heading north, Allan’s party reached the area, selected 600 square miles (1554 square kilometres) of this fine pastoral country and hurried home with carefully documented sketch maps to lodge claims. On the way south, the party sold its spare horses to the expedition in search of Burke and Wills.
Known as ‘Black Allan’, James Allan was said to be a terror to cattle thieves and trade unionists, but well adapted to the setbacks of a harsh frontier. He prospered until the 1890s drought when he sold to Clark and Tait, who have owned it since their purchase in 1909. It is a magnificent property with its 56-centimetre annual rainfall and good Mitchell grass and gidgee timber.
Penny and John Wagstaff, who have been the caring custodians of Mount Enniskillen for the past 30 years, have nurtured the garden surrounding the gracious 1911 Queenslander to its present beautiful state.
The peacefulness and coolness of the garden, with its towering shade trees, expanse of lawn and softness of planting makes it the perfect complement to the fantastic architecture of the homestead. Wreathed in fragrant flowering wisteria in early spring, star jasmine in early summer and colourful Virginia creeper which colours spectacularly in autumn, it provides the central pivot for the garden.
Challenges facing gardening in outback Queensland are played down by Penny, who casually mentions the garden is built on a claypan so they have had to bring soil in from the paddocks. “The soil surrounding the watering points on the property is amazing as the cattle camp here and the manure mixed with the leaves shed by the native bauhinias throughout the year provides really good, rich soil,” she says.

This story excerpt is from Issue #57

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2008