It was almost forty years ago that Maureen and Clive Tonkin received their first cheque for wildflower royalties. Back then they never would have believed that one day the pretty crops of flora dotted around their 2000ha sheep property would be their primary income. “Our friend Bob Blizzard came up that November and asked us if he could pick some flowers from the paddock – he had a wholesale flower business in Perth, but we didn’t expect anything back,” says Maureen. “We told him good luck” quips Clive. “It was stinking hot!”
“On Christmas eve he delivered us a royalties cheque and it was a wonderful surprise!” finishes Maureen. A disastrous drought the following year left the Tonkins with a failed crop and a struggling sheep flock. “We rang Bob and asked if he wanted us to pick wildflowers for him and he was thrilled,” she says.
The rest in history. Nowadays Clive and Maureen pick, pack and preserve thousands of bunches of Australian natives each year – primarily for export to Japan.
Over the years they have perfected the art of preserving the bunches, which hang to dry in the old shearing shed before being dyed different colours to appeal to florists. Alongside the exports, the couple have added two other unique sideline income streams: marketing edible sandalwood nuts and opening their property Westways Wildflowers for self-drive tours. In 2009 Clive planted around 100ha of sandalwood which will be sold as the coveted fragrant wood
when it matures in another 10 years or so. Noticing the abundance of nuts falling to the ground, the Tonkin’s began experimenting with this edible by-product which has been part of the indigenous diet for centuries.
Working in the commercial kitchen of the local Big Bird Cafe, which also sells the unusual product, Maureen processes and packs the nuts roasted, salted, plain and of course, covered in chocolate. From August ‘til October you can visit the Tonkins farm in Coomberdale, just north of Moora. They designed the 12 km 4WD track in consultation with native flower experts from Kings Park Botanic gardens, who identified over 200 varieties of native wildflowers at the
property, mapping the loop, which traverses four different soil types, over 13 months. The self-drive tour costs $10 and campers are welcome. “The blokes love the opportunity to go four-wheel driving in the bush and the ladies love the flowers,” says Clive. “It’s a pretty good combination.”