Wool and Waves

Words and photos by Carlisle Rogers

Quobba Station, home to pragmatic men, wild surf and wandering sheep.

On a forgotten stretch of coastline just north of Carnarvon lies a paradise for fishermen and surfers, lovers of the pastoralist lifestyle and anyone who really wants to get away from the real world for a while.
Quobba Station has changed dramatically since its inception in 1898 as a merino wool farm. Measuring out over 80km of some of the most rugged coastline in the  country along the Indian Ocean, the station is bounded to the east by Lake Macleod and by Gnaraloo Station to the north.
Further south along the coast the surf is tripped up by outer reefs, and the beaches are placid. Here, though, the swells that march from as far afield as Antarctica and Madagascar hit the shore unadulterated, the full force of 10,000km unleashed in a few booming seconds.

A foreboding sign rises from the moonscape rocks that tumble into the sea — ‘King Waves Kill’

As we drove down the desert road that heads west from the highway, I could smell the sea spray in the air, and feel the moisture on my face. I couldn’t see the ocean, but I could sense it tangibly.
As the paved road makes way for the graded dirt road that runs all the way north to Gnarloo station, a foreboding sign rises from the moonscape rocks that tumble into the sea — ‘King Waves Kill’. Nothing else, but then, a statement like that doesn’t really need explaining.
We finally pull into Quobba Station, just up the track, under a moon pregnant with its fullness, lighting up the landscape with a shadowless glow. Tim Meecham, who has been running the property for the last 14 years, saunters out in the waning twilight and greets us like old friends. His son stands there, shivering in his footy colours — having won two days ago, he isn’t quite ready to take them off.

Tim and one of the jackeroos count his damara sheep that have just been dehorned and rounded up in a small pen.

Tim shows us to a campsite flanked on one side by the old shearing shed that still stands after over 100 years of western wind and the slow, steady polishing of wool, sweat and broom bristles. On the other side is a quaint little camping kitchen.
With the mustering happening in the morning, Tim lets us know that we’ll have to get up early if we are to join him and the boys down at the yards as they round up their mob of sheep.
As we fall asleep under the shade of a stretching gum tree behind the main house at Quobba, I can hear the surf thrashing the limestone cliffs over the dunes behind us. There are no stars, only the haze from our campfire smoke rising up into the circle of the full moon.
The sun is still under his covers, snoozing in dark indigo bliss when the roaring hum of Tim’s ultralight buzzing our campsite wakes us up. Early has an entirely different meaning on a working station than it does in the suburbs of the Sunshine Coast.
It isn’t hard to find the track that leads down to the yards where Tim and his jackeroos are busy tagging and dipping a herd of sheep. His ultralight helicopter is parked in the bushes where the main road turns off at an old fence post. Not a bad way to get around, but taking off on a dirt road must be half fear and half terror in one of these things.
Since 2005 the station has been running a middle-eastern species of sheep called damara. The wool business just isn’t what it used to be, and most of the pastoralists in this arid country have moved over to this species, which is more successful in the dry climate.

Tim serves up boiling hot coffee from a jet black billy for the boys while they take a five minute break from mustering.
The damara wander over about 187,000 acres, and Tim and the boys still had many days ahead of them just to round up a decent mob. Tim put the oldest, blackest billy I’ve ever seen onto the fire and poured in enough coffee to keep everyone going until lunch time.
When you’re working in the sun, the dust and wrestling hot animals between rusty fences all day, life takes on a simpler, more direct meaning. That cup of coffee cooked on a fire made of cobbled together sticks and an old cigarette packet becomes something more than it is possible to understand until you’ve worked the same conditions and then sat down in the shade of a dilapidated stock truck and sipped that coffee, black as the soul of a sinner.
I watched these guys working, and then resting, and a part of me envied them that brief moment of complete respite. That moment when there are no aches, no long day ahead, no pain from the early morning ride in the frosty air on a dirt bike, when your fingers become ultra-sensitive to the slightest blow from the cold air. For them, this clear, crystalline moment was nothing more, and nothing less, than complete immersion in the act. The perfect
Zen moment.
Tim walks over to me and starts talking, lifting my thoughts above the surface and pointing at something.
“We love having visitors,” he says. “But some people I don’t understand. See over there, that water tank? It has about 20 bullet holes in it. Some people came down here and camped out a few weeks ago, and they decided to put some targets up against the tank. Then they pulled down half of the stockyard fencing to burn.”
Tim is a pragmatic man – most people who live off the land are, especially in a land as fickle as Australia. It is clear, watching the way the men and boys working for him out here treat him, that he isn’t just the boss. He is a man to be respected for his own sake, because of who he is, not what he does.
Tim grits his teeth, pulls out his little notebook in which he keeps track of the multitude of animals under his control, and jumps over the fence with the boys to start rounding up another batch of sheep.
Point Quobba is home to a small but violent collection of limestone blowholes that you can walk around. It is located at the southern extremity of Quobba Station, just past the scary sign.
Spraying water 30m into the air, the wind coming off the sea was not very predictable, and you had to be very careful about where you choose to stand, as I quickly discovered, after being covered in freezing cold sea water while standing somewhere I thought would be well away from the water!

The Quobba Point blowhole doing the blowhole thing.

I like being next to the sea again, not the calm sea that caresses the coast further south, but the living, angry, impetuous sea that meets the jagged cliffs so spectacularly here. Tim tells us that, as the sign on the way here implied, there are many deaths along this coast each year. When someone tells you that rock fishing is the most dangerous sport in the world, this is what they’re talking about. You can watch waves roll into these limestone crags for hours, and then, without warning, a lone wave will roll through calmly, demurely, washing up over previously dry rocks with all of the grace of an egg smashing into a car windshield. They rarely recover the bodies, and as I glance over at the surfboard in my passenger seat, an image burns into my retinas from behind, of me riding it out into a massive set, the board on fire, in my own funeral pyre. So I pull it out and ask Craig to take a photo of me in front of the sign with my board. I feel like this little piece of bravado may have cancelled the spell and we head back to camp.
There is a free camping area at the point, populated by caravans and wiry old fishermen, and it isn’t a bad place at all to stay.
The spots down at the homestead aren’t expensive, though, and you can buy firewood here too. There isn’t much to pick up in this country, all of the wood is trucked in.
That afternoon, several boats rolled through the campsite, back on their trailers and still dripping salt water, their eskies full of tuna, mackerel and tailor caught just off the coast here. Someone threw us a kilo of fresh red tuna meat, which we ate, sliced as thin as paper. It doesn’t get any fresher than that, and who knows what a meal like that would cost in a Sydney restaurant!
That night, around a campfire of our own under that grey moon, hazy from sea spray, we listened to the ocean over our shoulders, and the occasional bleat of a lost sheep.