STOP PRESS: The Dag is back! They even won an award

What kind of bloke would call his tourist destination "The Dag"? Meet James "Howie" Howarth, city boy made good.

The Dag, a whimsically named sheep station and popular farmstay attraction, is located sixty kilometres from the Country Music capital of Tamworth, NSW, and the arrival point for most visitors. James and partner Anika were waiting for us as we disembarked the CountryLink train from Sydney and gave us the low-down on the way back to Nundle.

James, as I quickly discovered, is not your average country lad. His easy, almost boyish charm and quick wit belie an astute business sense inherited, no doubt, from several generations of very successful Howarths. A relative newcomer to the country, James' father Peter brought the clan out to Nundle in the late eighties after years of lucrative property developing in Sydney. With the aim of developing the magnificent Simmental cattle from Switzerland, Peter chose the Nundle area because of its favourable rainfall and climatic conditions and acquired the historic Wombramurra property, near Nundle, for that purpose.

View of The DagStocked predominantly with sheep, six thousand to be precise, the Howarths initially found the woolly side of the business hard going with fleece prices at historic lows in the early nineties. And they weren't the only ones. Many of the local businesses in the idyllic Nundle township were also doing it tough, and to reinforce their commitment to regional tourism, the family found themselves acquiring some of the town's struggling small enterprises in an attempt to keep the community together.

While Dad was finding his feet on the new property, young James stuffed his new Bachelor of Economics into a backpack and spent the next few years "ski-bumming" in Canada. Not content with the simple life of a young Aussie playboy in the Rocky Mountain ski fields, James flexed his entrepreneurial muscles by developing a snow clearing business.

"We called it 'Snow Ejectors' and really showed the Canadians how to shovel snow," reminisces James, "we had several strata contracts and used other 'ski-bums' like myself as labour. As it turned out, we got too successful for our own good."

Back home in Nundle, James was beginning to wonder what a former ski-bumming economics graduate does on a huge sheep farm in rural New South Wales. Then, together with mates Neil Geddes and Graham Warring, The Dag concept was hatched in late 1995.

"Of course it was always a fun idea to give young travellers a close-up of Aussie farm life," reveals Howie with trademark grin.
Then in a quick code-shift;" … but because of the many changes in sheep farming we really needed to better utilise that part of the property's assets."

The real brains behind 'The Dag', 'Albert' - and his owner James Howarth. (c) Jane E FraserPrimed with that valuable entrepreneurial experience and considerable "market research", James and his mates developed the almost dormant sheep property into a country escape for "working holidaymakers".

The reputation of The Dag as a fun place to stay and work soon grew and before long, busloads of 'young independent travellers' were enjoying a stopover or even a few days or weeks at the burgeoning retreat.

The station itself is disarmingly simple. A shearing shed, a homestead and two sizeable shearers' quarters all nestled comfortably in the picture-postcard scenery of the Great Dividing Range. A rush of country air, tinged slightly with the aroma of a log fire, greets us as we pile out of the F100. Our quarters, in the shearers' digs, are homely and unpretentious and immediately set the mood for our country getaway.

We're soon grafted into a throng of new arrivals and led out into the paddock for a quick sheep-mustering demo. A small "volunteer" flock is run around in circles by a couple of lively dogs and it seems that the bemused crowd of on-lookers is also being unwittingly mustered as the flock presses closer to us. Perhaps a bit contrived for one who's seen the real thing, but clearly a thrill for the many visitors fresh off the bus.

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More travel stories by Roderick Eime