David Pollock and his partner Frances Jones could be described as an unconventional couple. Living on their station, Wooleen, eight hours drive north-east of Perth, they are in the midst of the sprawling Murchison region of Western Australia, where stations the size of some European countries have run sheep and cattle for more than a century. But in 2007, David Pollock did something “really silly”. He destocked his entire half a million acres.
It was his first year as Wooleen’s owner after taking over from his father, Brett, who despite more than 18 years steering it through boom and bust, lost his heart for station life after the death of his beloved wife, Helen.
The family had cleverly diversified into tourism in 1993 to cushion themselves against plummeting wool prices, converting the sprawling homestead into a station stay and earning a good reputation for showing visitors — particularly international tourists — an authentic Australian outback station experience. Yet they could never have foreseen 20 years on, tourism would take over as Wooleen’s main breadwinner being part of their youngest son’s courageous plan for healing the rangelands, which have been decimated by a century of overgrazing.
Now 27, David grew up on Wooleen. He has travelled extensively, but the station has always been his home and his passion. He explains that destocking was radical, but vital for two reasons. “There are two aspects to the problem and they are recovering the landscape to something that is worth sustaining and then implementing grazing techniques to make sure it doesn’t revert,” he says. “We are really trying to figure out what the country should look like and what it is we should be trying to sustain. Before this project, people would be visiting Wooleen and I’d push this idea of sustainability onto them whether they liked it or not, but now people are coming here for the sustainability story.”
Wooleen is an anomaly as an outback station stay without cattle or sheep, but David is spot on when he says it’s attracting a new breed of tourist, intrigued and in admiration of a committed couple’s brave move and sustainability project. Among them, David says, are people who visited when Wooleen was stocked and are intrigued to see how the landscape has changed. The station’s unique story of regeneration was first given national exposure when the ABC’s TV show Australian Story ran two programs on it, the first in March 2012.
The complete story was originally published in Australian Country issue 16.2. Click here to subscribe to our magazine.
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Words and photography Kerry Faulkner