Seven generations of the Bowker family have farmed and lived at Kangaroobie, and their stories are interwoven with the region’s colourful history – from the Ballarat gold rush to rescuing and sheltering shipwrecked migrants.
The Bowker family’s Australian story began in 1841 when Christopher Hodgson Bowker arrived in Melbourne from Yorkshire, England, at the age of 24. He was an assisted migrant who set up a forge on the corner of Elizabeth and Collins Streets, in what was to become the heart of Melbourne’s central business district.
Christopher later lived in Western Victorian towns and his son John showed great ingenuity as a lad by laying a trail of peas to coax pigs to walk overland from Camperdown to the Ballarat goldfields.
The family became squatters at Princetown before selecting land which they named Kangaroobie – a word for kangaroos’ resting place.
Life on Kangaroobie has never been short on adventure – the Bowker family was involved in helping a number of shipwreck survivors.
When the Fiji, bound for Melbourne with its cargo of dynamite, 400 pianos, porcelain, china and furniture, was swept onto a reef in 1891, 11 of the 24 crew drowned off what has become known as Wreck Beach – a short distance along the coast from Kangaroobie. The Bowkers cared for 10 survivors for months after they were shipwrecked.
They also helped Eva Carmichael, one of only two survivors of the 54 crew and passengers, from the Loch Ard, which ran into rocky reef by Mutton Bird Island on June 1, 1878.
John Bowker lived at Kangaroobie until his death in 1928, when his sons took over the farm, producing cheese from cows’ milk, and growing turkeys, pigs, sheep and beef cattle.
In 1955 John’s grandson Athol and his wife Winsome moved to Kangaroobie with their sons Bill and Bob.
Bill and his wife Jenny ran the farm from 1978, when they decided to diversify and offer accommodation for large groups.
They reinvented Kangaroobie as a school camp, education and holiday destination in the hope that children and families from Australia and overseas would have the chance to reconnect with the land and the farming lifestyle, in a world-class location – surrounded by the Shipwreck Coast, diverse ecosystems and natural bushland with abundant wildlife.
In 1998 Bill and Jenny’s son Matt, a trained teacher, took on Kangaroobie – both the farm and accommodation.
Matt and his wife Sophie have continued the Bowker family tradition where they now live, work and raise the seventh generation of Bowkers – their young sons Lachlan, Christopher and Charlie.