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Born to be wild

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As we head into wildflower season bright bursts of colour are starting to dot roadsides and nature reserves – and the unique Calingiri bushland that is home to Carrah Wildflower Walks – putting the wild back into wildflowers!

Sarah Mason runs Carrah Wildflower Walks, providing visitors with an opportunity to meander through remnant bushland on her property, spotting anywhere from twenty to fifty different species of wildflower on the tour and tapping into Sarah’s vast knowledge of the area. Visitors can also enjoy a tour of her home – an impressive, sustainably-built straw bale house that is a unique breath of fresh air, both architecturally and decoratively, in a time of cookie-cutter house plans and mass produced homewares.

Sarah and her husband Geoff spent three years planning and constructing their home, with Sarah managing the build and caretaking the staff involved in the project. Once that was completed, she found herself looking for the next challenge.

“A friend actually suggested the wildflower walks. She said, ‘You have great bushland and the capacity to do this as a business’.
“I realised she was right, and it would also mean I would be able to justify going for bushwalks!” she laughs.

Remnant bushland can be defined as patches of native trees, shrubs and grasses left on agricultural properties. It is rapidly disappearing, due to factors such as clearing, dieback, overgrazing, burning and weed infestation. The small remnants of native vegetation that remain are valuable.

“Some of the farm was only cleared in the late 1980’s and as a result there hasn’t been a lot of grazing. We therefore have very few weeds and lots of flowers,” explains Sarah.

“Each season is different due to the rainfall, so I can never guarantee what we will see during a walk. It can change from one week to the next. There is always something flowering. The real burst starts in July and lasts until October. This year there are loads of Greenhood orchids.”

Sarah admits to her lack of expertise when she moved onto the land – “I didn’t know anything about anything when we moved here in 2008!” she laughs. It is something she was quick to remedy though, harnessing the collective knowledge of community groups in her area.
“We had a Landcare officer visit the property when we moved in and she gave me the best advice, which was: don’t learn the common names of the flowers. That will never help you. Learn the botanical names, then you can start to recognise when something belongs to the same family,” she said.

“I also like to hit the bush with a book – the Chittering Landcare wildflower book is excellent; I am a visual learner.”
The wildflowers at Carrah are not only abundant, but diverse due to the property being situated in the margin between Wandoo and Marri woodland.

“We are on the edge of a bioregion, in the transition where Marri are the really dominant species, out to Salmon Gum. We therefore get wildflowers that grow in jarrah forests and some that would ordinarily grow further out,” explained Sarah.

Groups of 8 to 20 can enjoy either a casual billy tea in a camp kitchen after their walk or return to the house for a formal morning or afternoon tea. The walk takes approximately an hour and Sarah provides her guests with information beyond just wildflowers. Her enthusiasm for revegetation, sustainability and improving habitat for wildlife is palpable and her knowledge is something she willingly shares.

“The best way to learn is to teach,” she says. “And I have gathered so many little gems of information from people who have come to visit Carrah.”

Sarah and Geoff’s straw bale house is certainly worth a visit. It incorporates many well known sustainability features — well planned, solar power, rainwater tanks etc — and some that are next level, such as an earth tube that runs underneath the foundation of the house to assist with air flow and temperature regulation. Recycled timbers feature heavily in the home.

“The timber in the kitchen and roof trusses came from the Bindi Bindi Hall and doors from the old Calingiri caravan park. I wanted it to feel old – it’s all a bit eclectic!” says Sarah.

Treasures can be found throughout the home, from Sarah’s great-grandmother’s fine china that she uses for the morning teas after wildflower walks, to pieces of heirloom lace turned into framed art, to an absolute showstopper of a front door. Every item has been placed with intention and has significance to Sarah and Geoff, as though they are the curators of a personal museum.

If you would like to experience this unique piece of bushland for yourself, Sarah is conducting several tours during the Chittering Spring Festival Season:

Saturday 1 September – Wildflower Walk and Billy Tea, commencing at 1.30pm
Sunday 15 September – Wildflower Walk and Afternoon Tea in the house, commencing at 1.30pm
Sunday 21 September – Wildflower Walk and Billy Tea, commencing at 1.30pm

Alternatively, you can visit www.carrah.com.au, phone Sarah on 0459 212 780 to make your own group booking. You can keep up to date via the Facebook page @CarrahWildflowerWalks.