Sunburnt country …

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The Cockburn Range. Pic Sarah Nicholson

THIS could be the spot Dorothea Mackellar was standing when she penned the most memorable stanza of her ode to Australia.

I can’t see the jewelled sea, but I know there’s a turquoise stretch of salt not far to the north, and from this corner of Home Valley Station in the Kimberley I spy the parched flood plains of the Pentecost River reaching to the jagged peaks of the Cockburn Range.

This is the sunburnt country Mackellar describes in My Country, it is the sweeping plains and ragged mountain ranges, and while the ochre landscape presents a picture of drought on this hot winter’s morning there are stretches during the wet season when flooding rains fall.

I’m a city girl, Melbourne to the core, but there’s nothing I love more than escaping to the outback and immersing myself in colours so vivid – the flawless blue of the sky, harsh red of the dirt, arid green of the scrub – they seem to speak to the soul.

Home Valley Station, an easy 90-minute drive from Kununurra on the eastern side of the Kimberley, is a working cattle station purchased by the Indigenous Land Corporation in 1999 on behalf of traditional owners from the local Balanggarra and Nyaliga clans.

The organisation bought neighbouring Karunjie and Durack River stations at the same time, with the parcel now covering 1.4 million hectares, and as well as offering travellers the chance to experience life on an outback property it’s a place for indigenous trainees to learn about tourism and agriculture.

When it comes to accommodation there are powered and unpowered camping sites, permanent eco-tents, comfortable homestead rooms, and luxury suites beside Bindoola Creek with activities on offer to let those keen to do more than drift around become immersed in the destination.

I can try barramundi fishing, explore by four-wheel drive to discover the station’s history or motor to a secret lookout to watch the sun set, do an aerial tour over Home Valley and neighbouring El Questro in the station’s helicopter, or follow one of the many walking trails.

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Muster at Home Valley Station. Pic Sarah Nicholson

But I decide to explore in the footsteps – or should I say hoof prints – of the fearless pastoralists that worked this hostile environment over the decades by joining a morning trail ride along an old stock route forged in the 1800s that now snakes across the property.

I’m matched with Albert, a beautiful brown horse that I decide was named after Queen Victoria’s loyal consort, and soon we’re ambling towards the Cockburn Range which is still bathed in the golden glow of early-morning sunlight.

We’re heading for a dry riverbed, a stretch that was recently flowing after soaking wet-season showers, but these hot and rainless days of winter have drained the water and we can ride on a blanket of green that seems so out of place in this arid part of Australia.

We pause to see the mail plane land on the station’s runway, rest beside a copse of boab trees to get a lesson on these robust plants from our Home Valley guides, hear stories about the Barclay Stock Route and the intrepid souls that lived on the land, and learn about resilient local flora and fauna.

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Exploring Home Valley Station. Pic Sarah Nicholson

We are meant to be exploring another part of the property but one of the jovial stockmen leading the ride explains that patch of Home Valley Station is so wet it would “bog a duck’’ and instead we follow tracks so thirsty I can feel grains of dust sticking to the sunscreen on my face.

It is hard work, it’s only early but the sun is already hot and high and there’s no respite from the heat even when we linger in the shade under the sprawling branches of riverbank eucalypts, and I savour the chance to lift my feet from the stirrups and stretch my legs when we stop to let the horses drink from a lonely trough.

I kid myself that I’m in charge, that lovely Albert is faithfully following my directions and heading in the direction I ask him to plod, but in reality he knows this route so well he’s just heading for home and the cold shower by the stables he knows is his reward for this morning of work.

And as we wander along I learn to appreciate Albert’s autonomy as it provides these moments on horseback to appreciate the Kimberley as it’s meant to be seen, to assign every detail of this extraordinary landscape to memory, and become immersed in Dorothea Mackellar’s sunburnt country.

Getting there

Home Valley station is 120km from Kununurra – or 643km from Derby and 1080km from Broome if you coming from the west Kimberley – with the property’s front gate 9km from the Pentecost River Crossing and a 45-minute drive from El Questro Station’s township. See www.hvstation.com.au

Airnorth has regular flights from Darwin and Broome to Kununurra, with convenient connections offered by both Qantas and Virgin Australia, and Home Valley Station can organise transfers from Kununurra Airport to the property. See www.airnorth.com.au

For more information on exploring the Kimberley visit the region’s tourism website or the West Australian page. See www.australiasnorthwest.com or www.westernaustralia.com

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Welcome to Home Valley Station. Pic Sarah Nicholson

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THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE COURIER MAIL ON SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2014

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