Sharon is a third-generation farmer.
Sharon is a third-generation farmer. Sophie White Rural Photography

Just 21 and left to run 40,000 acre station

SHARON Atkinson's first memory with her dad is walking down to the stud cattle in the afternoons to look at the new calves.

As a pair, they would record the newborns, discuss the pedigrees of the cows and pick out which cattle they thought would do well on the coming show circuit.

At the time, Sharon had no idea this would be a tradition she would soon be doing on her own as her dad, Sam, died when she was just 21.

While still shaken by his sudden death, the young woman got to work and stepped up to manage the property, Bundarra Station, on her own.

Although 21 seems terribly young to be taking control of a 16187.42ha property , Sharon said the role felt natural to her.

"I think that was all down to my dad," she said.

"Since I left school in Year 10, he knew running the place was what I wanted to do.

"So he was stepping back slowing and progressively already.

"When he passed away, I wasn't in a state of shock thinking 'oh my God, what am going to do? How will I manage?'

"I was confident that I knew what to do.

"I think he installed that independence into me."

The block is rich with family history and is home to the Wairuna Stud, which is the first brahman stud established in Australia and celebrates 80 years of business this year.

The stud was originally founded by her grandfather Ken at Wairuna Station west of Mount Garnet in north Queensland.

Bundarra was bought in the 60s by her dad, and when Ken retired the stud was moved to the station.

Sam's legacy has left a lasting impression on the property.

The farm, which is situated about 30kms outside of Nebo in central Queensland, is set up so it can be run with limited staff.

There are holding paddocks, trap yards at watering points and laneways so cattle can be walked to the yards by one person.

Thanks to a crow's nest unit above the race, drafting only requires two people.  

"Dad did some of the work and we continued it on," she said.

Jan, Sharon's mum, was still on the property when Sam died but she didn't have a hands-on role.

There were no other young ladies Sharon knew of who were managing a cattle property in the area.

"I know my mum said to me not long after dad died that a lot of people had come up to her and asked, 'when are you going to sell?'" she said. 

"She was dumbfounded to think they were even thinking that we would sell.

"I didn't know any younger ladies doing what I was doing. But it didn't matter, dad didn't have any sons so I just had to step up regardless if I was a boy or a girl."

Sadly, Jan passed away in 2006, seven years after Sam.

Today, Sharon lives on the block with her husband Wade Clein and children Hayden, 12, Sophie, 10, and Mitchell, 8.

Her big sister Katrina, who is intellectually disabled, is cared for by Sharon, and Wade's parents Rod and Carole also live on the property.

Although there was a time when Sharon was running the place solo, operations nowadays are very much a team effort.

"Rod and Carole moved on when I was first pregnant," she said.

"They have been a wonderful support, hands-on baby sitters and just wonderful grandparents."

Rod still works in the mines, but helps out on his days off with fencing and mustering.

Sharon loves taking photos of her cattle on Bundarra Station.
Sharon loves taking photos of her cattle on Bundarra Station. Sharon Atkinson Photography

Wade has a family background in the cattle industry but was working in the mines when he met Sharon. Before getting married in 2002, Wade decided to leave the mining industry to help run the property full time. Sharon said she was upfront with Wade about her plans to continue on with the cattle work.

"When we first had the kids, I said to Wade there would be days where he would have to stay home because I would be the one who would go out mustering," she said.

"And he was really supportive of that, he knew I wouldn't just sit back in the house."

Sharon's dogged determination even saw her mustering bullocks nine days after her first baby was born. 

"There are plenty of mornings where he does the school run. You know, does the lunches and gets them off to school, then I will go out early to start the muster and meet the helicopter.

"It's vice versa now too, there are some mornings I stay in and do the school run and head out later on."

They are a unified team, and there isn't day where Sharon doesn't love her work.

While it's been a tough road she said the "hard work" was actually something that kept her dedicated to the station.

"I always wanted to be home running the property," she said.

"I just love cattle.

"I really enjoy the hard work, if you know what I mean. It's a challenge. I never really thought of doing anything else."

Now with her own kids at tow, Sharon still heads down to the stud cattle to check the cows and calves in the afternoons, just like how she used to with her dad.

Sharon loves taking photos of her cattle on Bundarra Station.
Sharon loves taking photos of her cattle on Bundarra Station. Sharon Atkinson Photography


SHARON Atkinson has brought a new passion to her tradition of checking cattle in the afternoons: taking photographs.

The mother of three was inspired by her children to learn how to take better images.

"When they were still little, I just wanted to be able to take a photo of them that was of the high-quality style of picture I liked," she said.

She never does things by halves, so soon enough she had invested in a Cannon SLR and completed two photography workshops, including a lesson in Victoria with esteemed landscape photographer Mark Gray.

Her gorgeous pictures of newborn calves show the bond between a cow and its offspring, and are also incredibly cute.

When uploaded on social media the images receive hundreds of likes.

"I just started my Facebook page because it was a place for me to put my photos and a way for me to show my friends, it all sort of snowballed from there," she said.  

Sharon currently has more than 3300 followers on Facebook and now gets asked by other stud owners if she will take images of their cattle.

Event photography has also been added to the fold.

While her kids and husband are competing at local campdrafts, Sharon will fill the day perched near the arena rails snapping action shots.

"I just love it," she said.

"As long as I still enjoy it I will keep doing it."

To see more photos, search Sharon Atkinson Photography on Facebook.

Bryony Puddicombe drafting, Sharon posted this panning image with a post saying, 'yes, it's meant to be blurry!\
Bryony Puddicombe drafting, Sharon posted this panning image with a post saying, 'yes, it's meant to be blurry!\" Sharon Atkinson Photography

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