Steeped in 181 years of history, sustainably ensuring their future
Located 18km west of Uralla in the historic merino country of the New England region of NSW, Balala station has been operating since 1841. Its inauguration was during an era of mass labour migration, where enterprising types were willing to travel across the world in wooden boats in the pursuit of opportunity, often in agricultural frontiers, to build a life and hopefully make their personal fortunes.
At that time, the NSW Colonial Government was keen to shake off its label as a convict settlement and was actively encouraging free settlers to migrate from the United Kingdom to NSW. Many of these immigrants paid their own way, but the Government was also assisting with transport costs and in some cases, was investing in the private enterprises they undertook upon their arrival.
The society that had developed in NSW by that time was one where the men, women (and children) of the colony were judged primarily on how hard they could work, and what they could produce, not on who they were, or where they had come from. The crucible that was forming the Australian concept of a “fair go” was in full production.
It was upon this backdrop that a new friendship was struck between Mr. Thomas Tourle and Reverend John Morse as they travelled on the Lady Raffles from England to Australia. The ship Departed England on May 1st, 1839, and arrived 4 ½ months later on the 13th of September in Sydney. It must have been a very productive journey for the men as they did not waste any time in consolidating their plans together and heading north to the New England region of NSW upon their arrival.
Rev. Morse was the Church of England Reverend in Scone, and he covered a wide territory across the Upper Hunter in that capacity. His wife, two sons and three daughters had all journeyed with him from England. Both sons became pastoralists in the New England Region, one son George was a partner in Balala and enjoyed continued success with ongoing pastoral concerns with Tourle. The Reverend’s eldest daughter became Thomas Tourle’s wife in 1846, a union that was presided over by none other than the good reverend himself. Reverend Morse died in 1852. His short 13 years of life in Australia were unquestionably productive.
We’ve not uncovered much about Tourle prior to his arrival in Australia. It is clear though that he was exceptionally successful in his ventures in the NSW Colony. In 1854, just 15 years after his arrival, he purchased Waratah House at present-day Mayfield, near Newcastle. At that time Mayfield was an area of vineyards and large country estates, of which Waratah House was considered the most prized. He enjoyed the lifestyle and reputation of a wealthy English gentleman there until his death at age 93.
Original cattle branding irons
Current owner of Balala Station, Richard Daugherty
In 1845, just four years after Balala Station’s inauguration, the station was running 380 head of cattle, 9 horses and 10,000 sheep. The squatters act of 1846/7 listed Balala Station as 96,000 acres in size. Just a few years later the station recorded 20,000 sheep. This was an exceptional achievement, particularly in light of drought and economic depression that had prevailed in the early part of the 1840’s. At the property’s peak, it reported 44,000 sheep shorn, producing 1,160 bales of wool.
Preserved wooden shingles lining the roof of the main residence
Today, Uralla is the closest township to Balala, but it did not exist as a township until 1855. For that reason, Balala was initially a wellspring for its own essential services and had a butchery, a general store, a post office, granary, bakery, blacksmith, carpenter, stables and more. They were strung along a street-like common in front of the main residences. Of the commercial premises, the granary and general store are both still standing to this day. So too is the woolshed. The four residences are not only all still standing; they are all still inhabited. This includes the original timber homestead which is built of timber slab and still wears its original timber shingles under a protective corrugated iron roof. The original free-standing kitchen, along with its masonry oven, which would have been used
to bake the daily bread are all still in use, though the masonry oven is used more-so for wood fired pizza and special occasions – suckling pig at Christmas being the specialty.
Tourle and Morse sold Balala Station in the late 1870’s to the Hudson family, and despite many divisions and sell offs over those years, the homesteads and surrounding 1500 hectares remained in the family’s possession until 2011,
when Richard Daugherty and Sarah Burrows purchased the property.
Where success for Balala in years past was measured by its size and output, today, under the stewardship of Richard and Sarah success is
Granary and general store still standing after 181 years
measured by an equally impressive set of numbers that record its biodiversity, its sustainability and its intentionally developed resilience to combat future environmental change.
Diversity across eco systems is at the heart of Richard and Sarah’s philosophy of environmental stewardship, of which holistic and regenerative management is core. Pastures are managed to maintain healthy and diverse deep-rooted perennials, with the driver of the whole system being maintenance of green leaf area in support of the soil ecosystem. Koala habitat is nurtured, and the creek that runs through this working farm is home to hundreds of platypus and a sanctuary for the endangered Bells turtle.
Cattle and sheep have been the mainstay of the farm since 1840 and are still the backbone of operations today. It is not without some nostalgia that the original sheep and cattle brands are still in use today.
Originally the Balala school teacher’s home
The management approach towards the sheep and cattle is an extension of the holistic approach to all other aspects of the farm. With all animals they adopt best animal practice and aim to achieve the ‘5 Animal Freedoms’ being Freedom from hunger and thirst, from discomfort, from pain, injury, and disease, in order to express normal behaviour, free from fear and distress.
The property maintains both a self-replacing flock of Dohne and super fine Merino sheep. The dual-purpose nature of the Dohne allows a different enterprise mix than may be achieved by only running Merino. The Dohne wool strategy is concentrated on achieving a bright white 17 – 18 micron wool suited to the difficult conditions of the New England. Focus is on the Dohne Index and wool is only 35% of this focus, the balance is focused on meat production. Whereas with the Merino flock the concentration is essentially on softness and style in the wool, aiming to produce 16.5-17.5 micron wool. Balala are proud members of AWEX’s SustainaWool Gold program.
The Angus cattle herd is also self-replacing, though there is a pragmatic approach to managing this herd in consideration of climatic and seasonal change. At times this requires a greater focus on trading stock and de-stocking to form a carrying capacity buffer.
To achieve the best product, focus is on ASBV’s when selecting bulls. Because Balala are in control of the Farm Gate they can focus on IMF and Shear Force in ASBV’s, because they get the direct benefit of product. It is extremely important from an epigenetics perspective that the animal is suited to the environment in which it lives.
Richard and Sarah take enormous pride in the whole farm approach and bringing the terms of trade back to the Farm Gate was the obvious circular connection to complete the process.
To that end, the birth of Balala Station Butcher Box was born with a mission statement: to supply ethically raised nutrient dense and diverse sheep, pork and beef product to conscious consumers who want to be a part of the solution, closing the loop where best practise is undertaken by the producer and supported by the consumer.
It has been a very rewarding venture for the farm, and consumer feedback regularly states how much improved the product taste is.
Pork was introduced to the farm as part of a recovery strategy from the brutal dry period of 2017-2019. With the option of getting back into cattle not financially possible at that time, the opportunity presented itself to run a free-range pig enterprise. This has been an interesting learning curve, but the pork produced and the small goods options now available, a nose to tail utilisation can be achieved.
The burgeoning Angus heifer herd have all recently calved and so the herd is growing slowly as they focus on a rebuild of herd numbers. Cattle as a large grazing ruminant are vital in the whole ecosystem and play such a critical role in bringing plant matter back to the soil surface to feed microbes and life in the soil.
Recently Balala station has ventured into the farm stay enterprise, partnering with friends who own a Tiny House. This is exciting for Richard and Sarah, because education and sharing what they do on the farm is so important to them. Other farmers have an option to stay on farm to see what happens and for them to then make their own minds up as to how they may farm sustainably on their own enterprises. The other option with the farm stay is to just come
and enjoy the surroundings being immersed in nature.
Balala station is perhaps one of the most unique farms in Australia. Steeped in history, with a clear vision for both its preservation and its development, its future is assured. For more information visit the Balala Station website at balala.com.au.