As Mike Larder discovered on this working cattle property in far northern NSW, often the most rewarding “hotel” stays come from going back to absolute basics.
Words & images Mike Larder, who paid his own way and visited anonymously.
The Dingo Dam Cottage at Wave Hill Station perches on the side of a hill deep within the Northern Rivers hinterland, 50min of winding bitumen, gravel and cattle grids upriver from Grafton, the attractive pastoral centre almost famous for its maximum security prison, Grafton Cup and the alergically sneaky Jacaranda Festival.
The faded, weathered, dun-coloured facade doesn’t look much from a distance. Doesn’t look too flash from up close, either. Until you realise that, like the venerable Time Lord’s tatty old Tardis, this century-plus, five-room shack is capable in its ramshackle way of transporting to another century all who venture through its battered and peeling front door.
The 120-year-old Dingo Dam Cottage is a creaking time capsule, altered little from the day it was originally nailed, glued and wired together. Once a settler’s spartan farmhouse, the geriatric old homestead offers a ghostly glimpse of pioneering perseverance. Wave Hill Station is a 5000-hectare working cattle property, and the hut was the original residence, since replaced by Sue and Steve Ibbott’s functionally elegant farmhouse in which they run an upmarket farmstay B&B.
If you don’t wish to share your intimate ablutions with a snorting, leering grey gelding named Silver . . . remember to shut the window.
For $30 per person per night, the arthritic old dwelling supplies few mod cons but creaks with rustic character. It is without benefit of electricity. Guttering candles and a few glassless kero lanterns lift the gloom and make reading almost possible (take lots of candles). Air conditioning is effective and carbon friendly; simply open the windows. Sweet fresh water dribbles un-pressurised from a corrugated iron tank. The wonderfully primitive wood chip hot water system, a 44-gallon drum connected to a series of tangled and sooty pipes, ensures an endless supply of hot water, providing you remember to feed it lumps of wood at regular intervals. Firewood is thoughtfully pre-chopped, obviating the need for inaccurate axemen to sever a foot or at least a couple of toes while swiping at iron-hard redundant fence posts.
As a sop to modern convenience, a clunker of a gas half-fridge struggles to provide cool in summer. Take eskies and ice; the last pub is a half-hour back down the Clarence Valley. The kitchen boasts an elderly gas cooking contraption that lights with a dramatic whoomph! The “modern” bathroom is a relatively recent addition. Essentially a draughty add-on to the original house, it features a claw-toe bathtub and flushing loo furnishing a bum-friendly polished wooden seat, a very welcome luxury for those who suffer chapped cheeks in winter.
Horsey types who fancy getting their leg over are well served. Farmer Steve will happily assist with saddle and stirrup. Wave Hill’s resident posse of horses also serve as effective and friendly garbage disposal units and will, with minimal encouragement, join you at table for lunch. Carrot, lettuce and apple core (hold the mayo) sangers are a particular favourite. The nags also have an unnerving inclination towards voyeurism. If you don’t wish to share your intimate ablutions with a snorting, leering grey gelding named Silver . . . remember to shut the window.
Wave Hill is all-weather accessible but a 4WD, or a strong pair of lungs and legs, are necessary to reach, via a lumbar loosening five km track, the awesome Clarence Valley Gorge, a dramatically craggy water feature buried deep in the hills, complete with plunging waterfall. The farm has three campsites adjacent. Fishy folks can wet a line with a reasonable expectation of landing a fine bass, or better, freshwater perch. Pack your tennis bats as well; the farmhouse sports a court and large pool.
Should the inside loo be otherwise occupied, visitors are obliged to pirouette daintily among lavishly distributed horse pats and pungent cow plonkers in order to reach the dunny – providing, along the way, a diverting adventure and a smog-free galactic spectacle. Although experience has proved to this writer that it’s better not to peer heavenward on a dark night while negotiating a minefield of dung. A bat in the dunny, accompanied by a pair of noisily amorous possums copulating on the tin roof just above your crouching and contemplative person, converts a standard dump into an enlivening bowel movement – particularly when playful zephyrs puff your only candle out, you’ve forgotten the matches and it’s chucking it down outside.
The two main bedrooms furnish large, comfortable, if embarrassingly squeaky iron frame double beds – a queen and a double – complete with mozzie nets. A bunkroom sleeps four more next to the small living space, smokily warmed by an archaic potbelly stove. If you forget your current page-turner, the “library” boasts it own eclectic collection of well-thumbed paperbacks, decade-old Woman’s Weeklies, Agatha Christie’s Appointment with Death (a particular favourite), the inevitable pile of last century’s Reader’s Digests and a jig saw with a few crucial pieces missing.
The venerable and cosy old homestead is no-frills fun and a living history experience. In fact, to really catch the mood you could hire some authentic period costumes and play dress-ups. Just don’t forget a sack of carrots for the horses.
DETAILS // Wave Hill Station
Where // Carnham Rd, Fineflower, via Grafton, NSW. Costs // From $75 per person at the Homestead, from $30 in Dingo Dam Cottage, $50 per couple in Cave Falls Caravan, from $20 per day camping. Contacts // (02) 6647 2145, www.wavehillfarmstay.com.au