The Shallcross family have owned Bullara Station since the late 1950s. Tim, Edwina and their three daughters have turned part of it into an Agri Tourism business as well as running a working outback cattle station.
Tell me about yourself?
Well, I think my story is not unlike many other countrywomen! I grew up in farming in Kojonup, and I believe pastoral communities and the connection to the land were firmly etched in our family’s lineage. I am an adaptable person who thrives in whatever environment I am placed in. When I was a youngster, city life was exciting, and I still crave a cultural fix after a couple of months in the bush. I could quite happily sit at a café for hours and watch the world go by. I find people fascinating and often imagine what life would be like in their shoes… Nature is my grounding. I take great pleasure in exploring the land on foot. I may take the same tracks each day but always find something new to marvel in.
I love clothes and have to admit my wardrobe is bursting at the seams. I find it so hard to throw things out! Creativity is something that our family thrives on. Whether it’s upcycling horseshoes for door handles or creating wire sculptures. We are always looking for inspiration. I just love art in all shapes and forms and hope to start painting one day again. Maybe dabble in ceramics. I am a Mother of 3 beautiful daughters Olivia, Lucy and Mimi
who are all so different but equally amazing in my eyes. Bush kids are the luckiest in the world. They have such great resilience and appreciation for hard work and living with the unpredictability of the seasons.
In 2015 we had a category 4 cyclone, Olwyn come over the top of the homestead in the middle of the night. It was terrifying, listening to the angry wind lash around and upend our home in a matter of hours. I woke up to 3 little concerned faces telling me that I shouldn’t look outside, it will be ok Mum, we can fix it! Then, they were off to find all the frogs that were popping up after the rain! That childhood perspective really helped me get my head around what a mammoth job we had to take on. We only had three weeks before opening the gates for the tourists. Cyclones have certainly been a test of my resilience, and to be honest, another drought or big blow would probably turn me sideways! I try not to sweat the small stuff and have a copy of this book (by Richard Carlson) next to my bed… it’s my go-to book that keeps me in check.
In my day to day life, there is always a book to read or a podcast playing in the background, often motivating me to do housework! I like to be organised and tidy and write lists each day. To tick some of these tasks off gives me so much joy. I am certainly not an overachiever, I just have big dreams and a positive outlook on life. I think that the world is full of overachievers, so we need some regular hard-working foot soldiers who are happy just to get on with things without the fanfare. I like to think that hard work will pay off in the long run and try to instil this in our girls as they go out into the big world.
How did you come to find yourself at Bullara?
I was just 21 when I first met my husband Tim and moved to the station that has been my home for the past 25 years. The grand plan was to head over to Europe after saving money working on the mines. The bank account looked robust, and I was all on track to leave when having a last hurrah at a mutual friend’s 21st, Tim and I clocked eyes, and the plans went totally off course. My Dad passed away 6 months after this fateful night, and this meant that I had to head back to our family station near Cue to help Mum run our sheep station before putting it on the market. This was a particularly sad and unsettling time in my life, and I felt that staying close to my country roots was the best decision, rather than making plans to travel abroad. I ended up moving back to Bullara to be with Tim and worked in Exmouth while Tim’s parents were still running the station. Initially, I found the landscape to be quite harsh and not as beautiful as the sweeping breakaway country of the Murchison. The trade-off was having this incredible fringing Ningaloo reef right on our doorstep. Weekends exploring the coast for crayfish and diving spots was always on the agenda. We got married in 2000 and took over the running of the station, full of grand plans and youthful energy!
Tell me about your life at Burrara Station?
Life on Bullara! Well, there are no 2 days that will be the same as most rural women would agree. During the months of April to October we are focused on running our tourism business where we offer guests a range of accommodation from campsites to upmarket safari huts. We are all about the experiences and bringing guests together around a communal campfire. At Bullara we have our café open daily (love a good coffee), dinners in the old woolshed, music, damper and lots of things that will generally bring people together. I am up and at it early each morning, and if I am not making scones, I will get myself organised for the day with staff chats, plotting and planning and working with our amazing team to make sure we are ready to welcome the masses! As we are fairly remote, we always have to plan ahead with ordering milk for the café, etc, so keeping on track with all this is a huge job. There is also the office work, housework and everything in between. I would say that I would be working very long 7 days a week during the season…there is no way around this and I am quite happy to do so.
Our girls are all in Perth at boarding school and uni now, but you still need to coordinate their lives from 1200 kms away. I suppose I am managing and juggling all the balls, ready to jump on the coffee machine or broom, at any given time. The only thing I don’t do is first aid. I am not the best with blood and gore. After the tourism side of the business shuts down we are all about R&M and station work with some much-needed downtime which usually means a trip to the beach in January. Station homesteads are hard work, and the elements are always beating you. I have an ongoing love affair with the end of a broom and a de-cobwebbing brush!!
How did the opportunity for accommodation come about?
During those early years at Bullara, I felt the travel bug quite strongly. Both my parents had travelled extensively when they were younger, and my Dad grew up in India. Station life is very much all consuming, there are no weekends and those best laid travel plans often get put on the back burner. If you haven’t already heard it, there are no Sundays in the bush. My parents had run a station stay business at Nallan, just north of Cue. Mum and Dad would invite guests to stay in the homestead and dazzle them with fabulous lamb roasts and delicious lemon puddings. I am quite certain Mum had 4 dishes on rotation, and the guests loved it and were none the wiser. I took inspiration from my incredibly hardworking parents, who went to great lengths to educate my sister and me at Perth boarding schools. We were cooking for groups of road workers and Tim and I decided that we would diversify our agricultural enterprise to include tourism. It was obvious that the Ningaloo reef was becoming a very popular travel destination and recognised world-wide, particularly for the intrepid European market who were happy to go off grid and found the Aussie outback very appealing. Whale Sharks weren’t hot to trot then nor was the focus on Exmouth being a world heritage area. We started with just 6 campsites and revamped the old shearers’ quarters in 2008. However, it was 2010 when we started to invest more time and energy into our nature-based tourism dream. The live export ban was an important catalyst for us to ramp up our hearts and energies in a new direction. 40% of your income gone overnight will do that to people! Those early years were extremely challenging, juggling 3 small children and all the other roles that station women manage day to day.
About 6 years ago, a lovely Women by the name of Colleen breezed into Bullara and made scones for guests around the tiny camp kitchen out of her caravan. After 6 weeks she left me to carry on this offering and now we produce up to 28 thousand scones each year out of our cafe!! I wouldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams, that I would become a scone maker. It is now our eleventh season, and we are just so incredibly proud of the way our tourism enterprise has evolved. We have done it very organically as cash flow has allowed us to grow, and it’s such a treat hearing from our loyal guests who remind us of where we have come from. Our favourite part is dreaming and planning. Both Tim and I are creative people and love salvaging old parts of the station to repurpose as new accommodation facilities. I also think it’s important to include the little touches, like green foliage and homemade soaps, in the rooms. These extras are certainly appreciated by our guests. Our ethos is the make sure each guest arrives as a stranger and leaves as a friend.
How has Covid affected your business?
Covid has been both challenging and positive for our tourism business. When the world stopped last year and we went into our very first lockdown we were not able to open our doors to guests and had to refund all our bookings, international guests were our priority. It was a particularly tough time. We were also in the middle of a 4-year drought, so the income was pretty much non-existent. We were feeding out so much hay and supplements to the cattle, that it soaked up any cash flow from the previous year. Lockdown on the station was also like a big brother social experience with 11 of us all bunkered down at Bullara, girls home schooling, back from boarding school and no one quite sure of when we could get the show back on the road. I think everyone was feeling very unsettled with the uncertainly of it all. Looking back on those few months it was special as we had quality family time and there was no rush to be anywhere, time seemed to be on our side. 2021 has been a turnaround for the best!
From the moment we opened our doors on April 1 we have been inundated with people coming through the front gate, which has been so wonderful. Yes, it’s been extremely exhausting for all our team, but we are so very grateful to remain open as a small tourism business and be able to employ extra help. The tourism industry has taken a huge hit and we are always thinking of others who have been affected with the ongoing boarder restrictions. Locally, people from all demographics are getting out and exploring this incredible state in WA, and we just hope to keep the doors open at Bullara during these uncertain times. Another silver lining has been the beautiful rainfall that has fallen over the North west and everywhere in between. It will still take time to heal the rangelands so follow up seasons are on the wish list.
What have been some learning curves since running a business and running a working station?
Prior to starting our tourism business, I was working out on the run with Tim, fixing windmills, fencing and livestock work. It was just the 2 of us. Roll on 3 beautiful bouncy daughters and suddenly you realise you haven’t been on a bore run for 6 months. Today I find it hard to leave the front gate, with my role in the business focussed on managing a team of 20 staff and running the tourism side of the show. I feel so sad about this at times and make a conscious effort to be more involved with the livestock and rangeland management. Staying connected with other station people at pastoral forums and taking committee roles in our local Gascoyne community helps to keep me connected. Now that we are “empty nesters” with all 3 girls in Perth, I am doing my best to reconnect with the working station side of things.
Another challenge is that now that we have opened our home up to tourists, it can be like living in a fish bowl! We don’t get much time alone with staff or guests requiring attention. I am naturally quite extroverted but I have found that I really need down time, switch off completely from the demands of others – thank goodness we have so much space on the station to hide out if need be. Another positive aspect of running the 2 businesses together is that you organically become an ambassador for Agri- tourism and rural people. By opening our doors to the public, it helps to bridge the disconnect between the city and country that has always been an underlying issue. Most are fascinated to see a working station, whether is a grader buzzing past or a someone on horseback. It all offers an insight of what happens in outback WA.
We have also started a small Pasture fed Cattle Assurance System grass fed accredited beef supply chain so we sell this meat back through our office on the property. This paddock to Plate concept is super popular as guests can taste local beef and in turn this value adds to our end product. The most important thing is that we have diversified our business now, so that if we do have another drought, we can at least rely on another source of income. I know Tim and I both feel very proud to invite people into our homes and offer them some genuine country hospitality…there is ALWAYS someone to have a wine with come 5pm!
As a rural woman, what is your biggest piece of advice for living in isolation and raising a family?
Be kind to yourself. Honestly, find something that brings you (and you only) some joy each day. We must wear so many hats and with each one, comes so much responsibility. Be resourceful and resilient, we shouldn’t feel we have to be strong and available all the time and do everything for others. I find I am the glue who keeps the team together and this can be exhausting, as well as rewarding. Personally, I really enjoy people and fostering connections with others. Last year I was absolutely broken after the stress of the drought and financial pressures. I took myself off to the GP thinking I was seriously unwell, and she just said, take a break, you have been under so much pressure, it’s time to rest. Today, I look forward to a walk-in nature, yoga and my early morning coffee to start the day. This can all happen before 7 am and then I can be ON and available for others.
I also always try and wear a skirt when I can. I know this sounds really silly but I remembered this advice from one of my grandmother’s friends. They suggested it was important to maintain your femininity in the bush. That has always resonated with me. I think it’s important to have something to look forward to, away from the farm gate because as rural women, we find it difficult to separate work and home life. Planning a weekend away with friends and family is also an important part of self-care. I have always spent 1 day in town each week since the girls were on School of the Air so that we could all have connections to our community, even if it meant spending long days in the car.
I also carry a lot of guilt about my girls as with a tourism business we don’t take time out like lots of families on school holidays. This is because it is now our busiest time for visitors, so my daughters are expected to help. This though, I think they enjoy doing and they are now very handy in the café and with cleaning. These skills will hold them in good stead for their future lives.
What is your hope for the future for RRR Women in Regional Western Australia?
That we continue to be empowered by our connections with other fabulous like-minded rural women. I feel that more than ever, stories about courageous and inspiring women are saturating the podcasts and social platforms, which is so positive. I feel very content knowing that we all have each other backs, especially as a mother of 3 girls. I worry about their mental health, with the pressure that comes with all the noise on social media, but I also feel confident that having those rural roots will hold them in good stead for the future.
For rural women in Western Australia who might be on isolated properties, what is your biggest piece of advice?
Stay connected! Act belong commit – Thanks to technology nowadays, there is no reason we can’t be. Support all the women in your life and celebrate that we all bring to the table different sparks and strengths and some of us are yet to discover them! Choose to be kind to yourself and others.