Tourism, wool provide perfect blend for Henerys

IN THE heart of the Flinders Ranges, Alpana Station has just marked 140 years and six generations of ownership by the Henery family.

The station's history began with Paddy Henery, an Irish immigrant who arrived in Australia on his own in 1846, at the age of 12.

These days it is run by fifth generation David and Sally Henery, alongside the sixth generation - John and Keziah Henery, who recently returned to the property.

Paddy began working in the sheep industry in the state's north for the Hawker family, before taking on management of Oraparinna Station in the central Flinders Ranges.

In 1878, land near Blinman was surveyed for farmland, and Paddy and his wife Ann Downer, who immigrated from England, were the first to take up the farmland, with 54 hectares. This is where Alpana Station began as Alpana Farm, with the land selected for its permanent spring.

Despite the land not being traditionally considered cropping land, records show Paddy sold some wheat in 1879.

His original idea was to grow fodder to feed the bullock teams in the area, and he did sow crops for four years.

At that time, very little of the surveyed land in the Hundred of Carr had been taken up, so in 1882, the Henerys expanded to 2020ha, including some leased land, and they began running sheep.

Since then, the Henerys have run Merinos, with the land passed down from father to son across the past 140 years, while the station has expanded from the original 54ha to 25,280ha, all based within the Flinders Ranges.

Following on from Paddy, each first-born son has been named John - although every second generation is known by their middle name.

The family line includes Paddy's son John, who drove cattle up north before returning and marrying Nellie Conway, from a freight family in Port Augusta.

With tourism we get people out here all the time, and even a lot of repeat tourism, and they become friends.

SALLY HENERY

Then there is John Patrick or 'Pat', who married South Blinman girl Mona Kipling - also from a freight family.

Then followed John Kipling, who is the father of John David - the present owner - who married former governess Wendy Torr.

This history is reflected in the station's sheep brand, which combines the letters J and H.

The Henerys usually run about 3000 Merinos but with the dry seasons, their November cull has become a "bit more heavy-handed" in recent years.

RIGHT TIME: Sally Henery said the lowering of their average micron came at the right time for the market.

RIGHT TIME: Sally Henery said the lowering of their average micron came at the right time for the market.

Alpana Station runs a self-replacing Merino flock.

For the past four years they have been buying Oak Farms rams from the Lienert family at Kimba.

They keep both wether and ewe lambs, with wool the major enterprise.

"This is tough country for ewes," Sally said.

"We expect them to grow wool and a lamb every year.

"This is real wether country - wethers just have to grow wool."

David took on the duty of ram selection in the early 1990s.

In that time, their average micron has gone from 24M to about 20M.

David said he selected plain-bodied rams to fit their program.

"(I like them) big and straight with medium micron wool and not too many wrinkles," he said.

Sally said this matched market demand from sport or leisurewear.

"It is perfect timing," she said.

Our maximum stocking rate is one sheep per 4ha but at the moment it's more like one sheep on 8ha.

SALLY HENERY

With the dry, harsh conditions, their average micron has been even lower in the past two years.

Knowing how quickly a season can turn, and wanting to protect the land, they have traditionally kept stock numbers low.

"Our maximum stocking rate is one sheep per 4ha but at the moment it's more like one sheep on 8ha," she said.

"It's all about looking after the land."

Sally said some paddocks that had remained completely destocked since the 2008-09 drought were only just being used by stock again.

It was during a drought in the mid-1990s that the Henerys introduced tourism into their operation.

David's father, John Snr, started the practice out of "economic necessity".

"A few properties in the area were involved in tourism 25 years ago," Sally said.

"There was a big turnaround in (John Snr's) mindset with tourists going from 'rubberneckers' and a bit of a nuisance to something he realised he could pass on his passion and love for the land and its unique history."

It began with an upgrade of the shearers' quarters and some four-wheel-drive tours across the property and has grown steadily.

One of the biggest milestones came with the sealing of the road between Wilpena Pound and Blinman, which happened in 2009.

"Before tourism we were in a very little bubble," Sally said.

"We are only 5km from Blinman but it could be quite lonely, especially for the women.

"With tourism we get people out here all the time, and even a lot of repeat tourism, and they become friends."

The sealing of the road had an impact, not just on tourism numbers, but also on their ability to leave the station.

SCENIC VIEW: Rocky Knob Hill, visible from the house and camping areas, is an old volcanic plug.

SCENIC VIEW: Rocky Knob Hill, visible from the house and camping areas, is an old volcanic plug.

"Having a sealed road has also made a big difference to all the stations along here becoming less isolated," Sally said.

"In 2012 the regional highways boss came up and tried to stop in and visit some of the stations, and we were the first ones he found at home.

"It made it easier for people to come here but it also made it easier for us to leave.

"We used to have to think really hard about a trip to Adelaide, or even Port Augusta, and needed a really good reason to go.

"The sealed road has been a game-changer."

Sixth-generation John and his sister Michelle were the first generation of the Henery family to complete their early education through School of the Air, after the Blinman school closed in 1980, with fifth-generation David and his sister Amanda some of the last students taught there.

I've learnt so much about my backyard to run the tourism side.

SALLY HENERY

Acting as a SOTA supervising parent formed a major part of Sally's role during their early years.

When John and Michelle finished year 7, they transferred to Port Augusta for secondary schooling, boarding in town during the week.

Michelle then went on to study at Urrbrae Agricultural High School in Adelaide before returning to live and work at Port Augusta.

This left Sally with a lot more time on her hands, which led to her taking on a larger role in tourism operations on the station.

"I've learnt so much about my backyard to run the tourism side," she said.

"People ask a question, so I do research and am learning all the time."

She even took a geology course to understand more about the formation of the Flinders Ranges.

I made up my mind this was where I wanted to be and this lifestyle suited me.

SALLY HENERY

Sally spent her early childhood in the Riverland, where her father worked for the Department of Agriculture, before moving to Adelaide at the age of nine.

"I never really felt comfortable in Adelaide and I'd read about governessing and it sounded like the life for me," she said.

At 17 she began her first job on Gum Creek Station, next door to Alpana Station, which introduced her to David.

"Instead of governessing all across Australia, I spent five years in the Flinders," she said.

Sally moved back to Adelaide during their engagement for eight months, saying "I thought I better give the city life one more try".

"I made up my mind this was where I wanted to be and this lifestyle suited me," she said.

She has just marked 30 years living at Alpana Station.

Her journey is not uncommon in the Henery family.

David's mother Wendy had also initially worked as a governess before marrying John Snr.

Sixth generation John's wife Keziah Carter, who grew up in the Barossa Valley, also made her first venture to the Flinders Ranges through her role as a governess before she met John at the Blinman gymkhana.

Despite the long-standing tradition, Sally said there was little pressure on John to return to the farm.

After he finished school in Port Augusta, he began a heavy vehicle apprenticeship at Hawker.

After a few years, he and Keziah announced they would be coming back to work at the station.

"I am proud to be the sixth generation on the family-owned and run station and was keen to come back and contribute what I can," John said.

For Keziah, the chance to try her hand at different tasks was a major attraction of station life.

"I enjoy the lifestyle and the variety of work," she said.

These days, the entire operation is run by the four of them with no staff.

After more than a century of wool being the primary income at Alpana Station, in the past 25 years diversifying has become a major focus.

LOOK BACK: The original woolshed was built in 1882.

LOOK BACK: The original woolshed was built in 1882.

As well as tourism, they also operate one of the 120 registered recycling depots across the state, starting this in the 1990s as well.

David collects the recycling from local businesses and stations and transports it to Adelaide.

This also gives him the ability to bring back some general freight.

In recent months, the major cargo has been hay for Blinman graziers.

Their next step is building a shed to allow John, a licensed heavy vehicle mechanic, to set up a business working from the farm.

John said it was a chance to maintain these skills, while also potentially helping out neighbours.

It also has the benefit of being another "off-property, non-rain dependant" income source, says Sally.

"Having those different income sources can take the pressure off the fact it isn't raining," she said.

"Prior to 25 years ago - before tourism and the recycling - wool was the only income.

"We'd get one big cheque each year.

"Now, with tourism, recycling and possibly a mechanic business, there is income trickling in most of the year."

Rangeland goats are another avenue. Each year they capture and sell about 700 goats in smaller lots throughout the year.

At times like this, when we're back into another drought, you really appreciate having these other forms of income.

SALLY HENERY

Sally said these alternative streams were particularly beneficial during tougher times.

"At times like this, when we're back into another drought, you really appreciate having these other forms of income," she said.

They also cull sheep in November, primarily cast-for-age ewes and wethers, sold either directly to processors or occasionally through the Jamestown market.

Lambing is in May, while shearing takes place in November.

It used to be in September but with tourism in the Flinders Ranges at its peak in spring, they needed to keep the shearers quarters free at that time.

David said this was his favourite time of the year to be on the station, as "The weather has warmed up a bit and we are shearing."

WELCOME SIGN: The sign into Alpana Station.

WELCOME SIGN: The sign into Alpana Station.

Sally said their central location in the Flinders Ranges played a big part in attracting tourists.

"They can base themselves here and visit Blinman or Wilpena Pound or the National Park," she said.

"More and more caravaners and campers are looking for something different to the traditional caravan park, they're looking for an authentic experience and station stays are a good way to experience that.

"Even the fact we don't have wi-fi or mobile phone coverage can be a plus. People are happy to have a break for a little while."

It has been 12 months since Blinman got Optus coverage, but 5 kilometres out of town, Alpana Station remains out of service.

"People up here are using Alpana as a place to explore or a place to be," she said.

For David, his favourite place on the station is also remote.

"Oratunga Spring in our Oratunga Paddock is only accessible on foot," he said.

"It is a good spot with running water."

While the station has been through some tough droughts in the past, this one has created a few firsts.

The Henerys have been feeding sheep for more than 12 months - "that's unheard of up here", Sally said.

Another indication of the lack of water is a natural waterfall on the property.

"Even in a big drought, when most of the other springs had dried up, there would still be a bit of a pool," Sally said.

"When the kids were young, we would go there for picnics sometimes.

"Last time I was there, the water had stopped flowing over the rock and that's the first time I've ever seen that."

WETTER TIMES: The Cascades on Alpana Station when the water is running.

WETTER TIMES: The Cascades on Alpana Station when the water is running.

There are about 50 people living in the Blinman region with community a major focus.

The town is not included in any council area so it has to do much of its own fundraising to support local amenities, such as the town hall.

"We like to have our hall there as a community meeting place," she said.

Some support is provided by the Outback Communities Authority, but most of the heavy lifting is done by the committed group of locals.

Each year it hosts the Blinman gymkhana - on October 19 this year - and the motorkhana on June 1, which help raise money for the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the local community.

There is also an art exhibition as part of the Flinders Ranges - a Brush with Art program, as well as a weekly pizza night each Friday at the Blinman Hotel and a cricket competition in summer.

John is a bowler and batter while David is the team's wicketkeeper.

The cricket practice nets were recently upgraded with a donation from the Glenelg cricket club, with a new tennis court built in recent years.

The old tennis courts are being converted into a park and playground for tourists and locals.

There are four teams in the cricket association - Quorn, Hawker, Blinman and Copley.

Everyone runs their own business but they put in a lot of volunteer hours ... but we have to because there are so few people.

SALLY HENERY

This season the competition was particularly close and almost came down to percentages to work out the grand final.

"They say it's all casual but it is getting quite competitive," Sally said.

Sally said the progress association had to be particularly active.

"Everyone runs their own business but they put in a lot of volunteer hours - probably more than the average Australian, but we have to because there are so few people," she said.

"The community, everyone's got everyone's back."}

Family history shown in early homestead

LOOK THROUGH TIME: The worn doorstep and old pines show the history in the cottage.

LOOK THROUGH TIME: The worn doorstep and old pines show the history in the cottage.

THE original homestead, built when Paddy and Ann Henery first arrived, was constructed with "pug and pine", a technique using native pine trunks installed vertically and rendered with clay.

The Henery family bible shows the family was living in the cottage in 1880.

Three generations of the family lived in the cottage, across 60 years, before a stone house was built next door in 1939 - 80 years ago this year - made from reclaimed stone from the Blinman Mine buildings, originally quarried by Cornish miners.

Sally Henery said the cottage provided a great sense of history.

"Looking at how the door frame is worn - I love the thought of generations of Henery women's feet going over that, day in, day out," she said.

"You can also see the whitewash where they tried to make it homely."

The modern-day Henerys are in the process of restoring the cottage.

This has involved the replacement of all the exterior pines, while the majority of the original interior walls remain intact.

When the restoration is finished, they will set it up as a family museum.