Sixth-generation cattle graziers, the Harrisons are a humble family and proud of their family name, which is recorded in the historical documents of Beaudesert, dating back to the 1800s when they first settled in the region. Fifteen years ago, they established Ladybrook Farm in Darlington, and they have restored a charming Queenslander homestead called Kirro, where guests can enjoy the breathtaking views of the Kerry Valley — and even bring the dog. (www.stayatkirro.com.au)
IAN, SUE AND MATT HARRISON
How much land do you have here?
IAN: From this end of the world, if you keep going five kilometres east, that is the end of the boundary. It is also the bottom of O’Reilly’s, the beginning of the national park to Murwillumbah and the top end of NSW. There’s no fencing from five kilometers up; it is a no-man’s-land. We go up to Junction Bridge, which is two bridges up, and on the western side we go to the top of the range. There are 2,600 acres here. It was owned originally by the Markwell family, the settlers of the area. Over the years, various members of the Markwells owned different parts of the area. The last ones were John and Barbara, who put the place up for sale fifteen years ago and we were in a position to buy it. That’s where it started.
Did you grow up here?
SUE: I grew up in Beaudesert. We had a dairy farm outside Beaudesert, near Cedar Grove. Ian is the fifth generation of cattle farmers, so we’re not new to this. Ian and I have been married more than thirty years now, and we’ve been farming down there at Cedar Grove. We’ve only recently moved up here permanently. Ian’s family settled there in 1859.
IAN: As Sue said, my grandfather settled there in Cedar Grove, and Dad bought a lot of his country as a timber cutter. He’d buy a paddock, cut the timber out of it, pay for the paddock, buy another paddock, cut the timber out of it and go from there, back in the days when you had bullock wagons and nothing else. With the Cedar Grove country, well, a lot of it is subdivided now. Some of that was our land. With the proceeds of that, we decided we’d move a little bit further south, and when this property came up, we decided to do our best to buy it, and we did.
How many cattle do you have?
IAN: Running on here, we have about 500-odd, depending upon the time of the year. At the present moment, there are not that many because we’ve sold all of last year’s weaners and we are just starting to wean this year’s weaners in the coming weeks.
Where does your beef go?
IAN: The bigger cattle go to the overseas export market. The younger cattle we provide to ACC (Australian Country Choice) for Coles beef.
What do you like best about the lifestyle?
SUE: Being able to do what you want when you want to do it. I breed horses. We have our own stockhorse stud. It is a great place, because we campdraft to give the horses that experience with the cattle. We do all of our cattle work with the horses. It is just being able to be your own boss and do your own thing.
Where does the name ‘Kirro’ come from?
IAN: It is the actual property name. I was doing a search for a fire permit and the rural fire brigade fellow gave me a map, and that is what the map calls it. We have found the name on a couple of different things now, so it must have been called ‘Kirro’ by the original settlers.
You’ve done a beautiful job of restoring it.
SUE: It was totally run-down.
IAN: It looks very different to what it was.
SUE: Having a builder brother also helps. He has a passion for Queenslander houses. A lot of people said, when we bought it, ‘Oh, you are just going to push it down, are you?’ That’s how bad a state it was in. It was a mess.
IAN: They said to bulldoze it. That’s all it was worth. But, we said, ‘No’. We’ve done a few of these renovations over our time, so we know what you can and can’t do, and we had a fair idea of what we could do with this one.
SUE: It is so nice. People love coming. We have bulldozer tracks where they can walk to the top of the hill if they so desire. People love to go for walks and go to the river. The kids love it.
It is amazing how many people have come because we have pets here as well. Dogs that come from the city, they’re just awe-inspired. There’s so much room, they run everywhere. We’ve had poodles and maltese terriers and German shepherds — we’ve had all sorts.
IAN: They like not having to leave Woofy at home. The other thing we have on offer is, if you have a horse, you can bring your horse and stay here. You can ride right along the top of the range, from one end to the other, cross the road and ride back down the river again. That’s a fair scenic ride you can go on.
You’ve started smoking your meat, haven’t you?
SUE: We’ll stick to our beef cattle. Matthew was the one that started us off on the smoking.
MATT: There was a place that had opened in Cooloongatta called JR’s Smoke House, and the guy, JR, was an American who had moved to Australia. My friend said that JR’s was as authentic as you can get for American smoked meats. I had never had smoked meat — other than smoked salmon, and that’s not the same thing — and my friend said I had to try it, because it is divine. So, my wife and I went down there one night and ordered a sample plate of different meats: they call it the Holy Trinity, which is beef brisket, pulled pork or pork rib, and sausage, usually served with coleslaw, refried beans and pickles. We tried it and, literally, from that moment on, it became an obsession of mine to replicate this meat. I had never tasted anything like it before in my life.
Obviously, growing up on a beef farm, we’ve had just about every cut of meat under the sun, but I had never known what beef brisket was. It is not an interesting cut of meat if you have it on its own, as it is very lean, and unless you cook it for a very long time, it can be as tough as nails. ‘Low and slow’ is the Texan motto — twelve hours slow-cook under a smoker. I make my own dry rubs: usually a combination of salt and pepper, paprika, garlic powder, mild chilli powder for flavour, onion powder and mustard.
I am really passionate about the smoked meat side of things. It is time-consuming, but when I used some of our beef and realised how much flavour comes out when you smoke it, and given smoked meats are starting to have a huge following, I thought this would be a great way to promote our beef to the greater community.
Your beef is grass-fed?
SUE: Because we breed our own cattle and have our own bulls, we know exactly what they’ve eaten, which is mostly grass. Our cows are pasture-fed, and when we bring them home they have oats and pasture. It is probably as organic as we can get without getting an organic accreditation.
IAN: We still have to control worms and ticks and things. You just can’t beat them. You have to do something or you shoot yourself in the foot because the cattle won’t do any good.
SUE: They don’t get any drugs, or hormones, or antibiotics or anything like that. It is pure pasture, with a little bit of grain to finish the ones off that we keep for ourselves. They’re Hereford Santa crosses, and they’re good.
What are your plans for Ladybrook?
IAN: The Harrison family has been in the cattle industry for six generations. We can’t be doing it too badly because we’re still going along alright. We have always been in a position to produce bullocks — that is what our main income has been. The Harrisons have always had bullocks — grass-fed bullocks.
MATT: The interactions I’ve had with people who eat a lot of meat say our beef stands up next to some of the famous Tasmanian brands and the likes of that. We’ve had a lot of people approach us who want to buy from us direct, but at the moment it is an issue of supply and demand.
SUE: Eventually, I’d like to get the vegetable patch growing and have all of our own vegetables. We’ve only been here for just over twelve months, so we are still getting everything back into gear. When we get all of our paddocks up and going, we might be able to dabble in selling the beef direct. Anyone who has our beef says it is good. It is a matter of how much you can do within a certain space of time. Maybe next year we can even look at buying our own cooker.