The West

Gnaraloo bachelor finds paradise - but no wife
Gnaraloo bachelor finds paradise - but no wife

When one of Paul Richardson's mates dobbed him in to be on the TV show The Farmer Wants a Wife, he thought he was doing him a favour.

After all, Paul, who owns and runs Gnaraloo Station 150km north of Carnarvon, openly admits: "This place is absolutely gorgeous - the only thing missing for me is company."

In fact, Paul's mate could already have done him that favour, even before the series goes to air in August.

For the winsome Irishman, with a surfie-cum-Bob Geldof spike of sun-tipped, matted hair and twinkling eyes, says: "I've had about six fishermen already who've told me, 'You can have my wife'."

He hasn't taken up any offers, concerned that they might not fulfil the criteria he has given the Nine reality TV show producers for his ideal wife . . . "dark, exotic and a bit naughty".

"Though one fisherman did offer to paint his wife black and cover her in chilli powder."

But Paul, 45, says: "I may appear a bit rough around the edges but, when it comes to women, I have gentlemanly views about how to treat them."

Ask a WA surfer or fisher if they've heard of Gnaraloo Station, and I'd be surprised if they hadn't. Gnaraloo is embedded in both WA cultures, though there is more than this for visitors. The swimming and snorkelling on this bottom end of the Ningaloo Reef are complemented by the herby dunes, big sky and dramatic sunset. Aridity meets the ocean. Red meets blue.

And surf breaks like Tombstones and Turtles are the stuff of legend, as are the red emperor and snapper hauled in along this remote coastline.

Surfers might sleep against the roaring waves at Three Mile Camp, right down by the swells, while gaggles of fishermen stay in cabins and other accommodation, boats parked outside.

But Paul, who first came to Australia after seeing the film Crocodile Dundee and thinking "I've got to go there", and has owned and operated the station for seven years, doesn't do either. "I don't even like the water," he admits. "I doubt I've been for a swim 15 times in those seven years.

"I don't surf. I have never fished - never been in a boat."

Given that he doesn't surf or fish, he's regularly asked by visitors who are obsessed with either or both why he's here.

"It's just such a lovely spot," he says. "It's absolutely gorgeous."

At Gnaraloo Station's homestead site, there are 21 comfortable cabins made from stone. The one I stay in has beds for five people and opposing flywire doors that let the cool night breeze through after a blazing sunset. The night stills as Venus drops into the velveteen sea.

There is a kitchen, a deck with a barbecue and a big bathroom. All the fresh water at Gnaraloo is made on site, through a filtration plant, and greywater is recycled.

There's also a fishing lodge with 24 beds, which includes two kitchens and single rooms with ensuites, and is ideal for groups.

There are also the shearers' quarters and the shearing shed - "some people will only rent the shed", says Paul.

At Three Mile Camp, there are people in tents and camper trailers and four-wheel-drive camper vans.

In the last July school holidays, says Paul, there were "384 people - and 84 of them were kids".

The camp has toilets and a shop.

He says he has been told he's not been allowed to upgrade the site until the State Government finalises a coastal plan that has already been in rumination for severaly years.

Gnaraloo Station is around 56km long and 20km wide and currently runs 2000 sheep. Three months of the year are taken up with livestock work.

"It truly is a working sheep station with wilderness tourism," Paul says.

This part of the coast has a loggerhead rookery of major importance and Gnaraloo Station runs a successful turtle protection project.

Staff here, including Paul, have also been made honorary Department of Environment and Conservation rangers.

And Paul says: "Gnaraloo Bay is an environmental asset that should be protected."

No one is allowed to drive or ride on the beach or the dunes.

With part of his mind on the wilderness, part on the visitors and part on the wool, a good deal of Paul's attention still has to go on the massive amount of maintenance.

"This place is all-consuming," he says.

Limestone dust covers everything and mixes with the heavy dews to basically create caustic soda.

It eats everything from window winders to cars. Paul gives a lot of credit to Colleen Mason, who handles the front office of the tourism business, and comments that even the pins in her pincushions rust.

But he comes from a building background in Ballymena in Northern Ireland, where he worked in his father's building business.

"As a builder there, you have to do a bit of everything," he says.

At Gnaraloo he works every day, 100 hours a week, and has to turn his hand to everything. As we chat, he is hanging a new door in one of the cabins.

His mate Feral is a genius with anything that has an engine in it.

There is an impish, indefatigable and very likable quality to Paul Richardson, and one suspects that he thrives on work and commitment.

But he's been under even more pressure recently - both dealing with The Farmer Wants a Wife producers and fitting in filming, and preparing for the entourage of around 50 people staying at Gnaraloo Station for The Reef Residency.

This is a joint project between Tura New Music and the Australian Chamber Orchestra that brought composers, performers, filmmakers and surf cinematographers together with some of the world's top surfers to create a music-and- film production.

Some camped at Three Mile, many were in cabins, and they rehearsed in the shearing shed, before staging a concert there to first present the work.

But perhaps even that wasn't as much pressure as it will be choosing who to send home when hopeful would-be wives visit Gnaraloo Station for 10 days.

  • fact file *

·Visit or call the bookings office on 9315 4809.

As a guide to prices:

·New cabins are $210 a night (for up to three adults) in peak season, old cabins are $130 a night.

·The fishing lodge is $330 for a group of six adults in peak season.

·The shearing quarters are $230 for five adults.

·The shearing shed is $120 for four adults.

·Camping in peak season is $20 a night for adults and $10 for children aged 5-15. ("Well-behaved dogs are $2.50 a night.")

·Peak season is until October 14, and school holiday rates are slightly higher.

Surf breaks like Tombstones and Turtles are the stuff of legend, as are the red emperor and snapper hauled in along this remote coastline.

The West Australian

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