Perricoota Station stands as a reminder of just how the border communities of NSW were settled. Paddle steamers still pull up to its bank and the homestead’s buildings — at least on the outside — remain in the condition of their 1840s development.
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Barry and Jodie Clark, who set themselves a five-year plan in April, 2019, when they bought the property, are well ahead of schedule.
They have spent 30 years travelling Australia, restoring historic homes to their original condition, with the Perricoota project by far their most challenging.
Barry, a shearer who bought his first home as a 19-year-old, and his Perth-born wife who shares his vision for mixing modern comfort with heritage surrounds, are about to embark on the next stage of their journey.
A museum paying homage to the role the station has played in developing the border region will be one of the next projects for the owners of the riverside homestead.
It will be housed in the historic stables, which are just a stone’s throw from the 10-bedroom two-storey 1850s home the Clarks now call their home.
Everywhere you look there is a story, whether it be the Packing Shed which is home to a 300-person function centre or The Quarters — once occupied by fruit pickers and now offering a unique accommodation experience.
A five-bedroom home which was the manager’s residence when the Watson family owned the station has been given a facelift, and then there is the stables building, which was re-located to the site — brick by brick — more than a century ago.
The Clarks share a vision for keeping the historic values of the station, while delivering a five-star experience for those more intent on a modern experience with a 19th century twist.
No stone is being left unturned in a bid to achieve the master plan for the homestead, which from what I could gather is constantly evolving in the minds of its owners.
A major component of that plan is to share the history through the existing structures on the building — starting with a mural on the property’s water tower.
A four-sided mural will be a tribute to the history of the iconic homestead. It will feature fruit pickers, the Emmylou paddle steamer and original owner James Maiden.
Renowned Melbourne artist Damian Cazaly, a winner of the Rochester Mural Festival and known for his work with several major organisations including Richmond Football Club, will paint the mural leading up to the property’s 2023 celebrations.
The water tower sits alongside the function centre, which faces onto a pair of winding bends of the Murray River.
Perricoota is an Aboriginal word meaning “deep hole”; a student of history, Barry was quick to explain that on the sweeping bend of his new home is a 20m deep section of the river.
The Clarks are working closely with Alan Hardy and Maureen Baker for a celebration in two years’ time of the 40th anniversary of the filming at Perricoota Station of Australian production company Crawfords’ mini-series All The Rivers Run, which catapulted the careers of its stars Sigrid Thornton and John Waters.
The Clarks are the seventh owners of the historic Perricoota Station — 178 years after a founding father of the Moama community, James Maiden, first established the property.
This is their 10th “historic renovation”, and follows that of a property at South Australian border town Lucindale.
The Clarks have mostly concentrated their efforts on farming properties for the past few years, in keeping with Barry’s Minyip upbringing.
But, and both agreed immediately, their “flipping” days are over. Perricoota Station will be their home and potentially a part of their daughter Jessica’s or son Mitchell’s lives.
Why Perricoota Station?
“A friend of 40 years, Wayne Stanley, showed me this property 20 years ago,” Barry said.
“When it eventually came up for sale, and a neighbour of our Lucindale property wanted to purchase our home, we didn’t hesitate.”
Originally a panel beater, Barry can turn his hand to most things; he said his and Jodie’s dream was to have the station back in pristine condition.
They have a big assignment, 259 hectares and 4km of river frontage, not to mention multiple buildings scattered around the 36-room homestead — which will probably be Barry’s last port of call.
“We will probably do four or five rooms at a time. It is about 100 squares and has three cellars,” he said.
At every opportunity Barry and Jodie have honoured original owner James Maiden’s part in the development of the property; a sign in the bathroom of the Maiden wing — the original Maiden home — signifying their commitment to his memory.
Ron Watson, whose family owned Perricoota Station for 100 years, is a key player in maintaining the heritage feel of the property.
Ron enjoys spending hours on end with the Clarks, sharing the history of the place and how best it can be honoured in their refurbishment.
If the Clarks were not students of history prior to their arrival at Perricoota, they certainly are now, with Ron regularly arriving on their doorstep with folders of paperwork and photographs.
At every opportunity the Clarks have included a historic piece in the accommodation quarters of the station — bed heads, coffee tables and bathroom decorations — all offering a reminder of a time gone by.
Adrian Worswick is the ham in the Clarks’ renovating sandwich; he is the caretaker responsible for ensuring things are done to specifications in the absence of the pair.
With a particular drive to retain the history of the property, the stables will eventually —according to the Clarks — be the pièce de résistance of their work.
“We have big plans to tell the story of the station through the stables museum,” Jodie said.
“A lot of people have had a member of their family, some back several generations, work on the property.
“We want to make that history available to people, and tell their stories.”
Not surprisingly, the pair also has a penchant for philanthropy, and with every component of their dream being realised they are determined to share their success.
“We really want to support the local community. Wherever we can we will do things, and run events, which can raise money for local organisations,” Jodie said.
Perricoota Station is already a major partner of Echuca Racing Club and each part of the property’s development has involved Echuca and Moama tradespeople.
“We’ve used local trades wherever we could. Our builder is Adam Mundy, from Rochester,” Jodie said.
“He has spent the best part of two years here. He has even put on an apprentice, Tom, who has spent most of his first year working on the station.”
There is a constant reminder of the paddle steamer era, with the Emmylou arriving on the Clarks’ doorstep at least once a week, having made the 63km journey from Echuca.
“They usually stop at Deep Creek and take a couple of days to get here. The paddle steamer cruises along at about four kilometres an hour,” Barry said.
“It’s a bit slower going upstream.”
Jodie and Barry have researched to the point they now feel comfortable in taking the final steps to bring together all their dreams for the property.
“We really want to share the history with our visitors. From the last bare knuckled fight that was held here in front of 700 people who were brought onto the property by horse and cart in 1876, to the filming of that iconic series.
“There are so many stories for people to follow,” Barry said.
In the ensuing 12 months the population of Echuca and Moama, along with the tourists who will no doubt flock to the green river banks of Perricoota Station, may even be able to get a sneak peek of the renovated homestead.
“If we can make some money for the hospital or something like that by staging events, we will,” Barry said.
“That’s our aim. To share everything this place has to offer with as many people as possible.”
The Clarks have started a Perricoota Station instagram page and a new webpage, which will have photographs of the historic buildings, old and renovated, along with information of coming events. Visit www.perricootastationevents.com.au