Grazing cattle need pampering and lush pastures to produce their best. People, too, respond well to such surroundings, the more so in today’s tough times. Fine farm properties like Hidden Vale in the Scenic Rim hill country of southeastern Queensland produce premium-grade beef and dairy produce, whilst hosting sublime grazing for homo sapiens as well. Notwithstanding the recent floods, Hidden Vale is open and ready for visitors.
Old Hidden Vale Station, first settled in 1841, was the childhood home of Sidney Cotton, a daredevil aviator and pioneer aerial photographer – and an audacious Second World War spy, said to have been close to Ian Fleming, creator of the fictitious James Bond. His father A. J. Cotton was also a larger-than-life character, a pioneer pastoralist who built up vast outback landholdings in the 1890s, winning and losing fortunes along the way, as would his son in later years.
A restless individual, thrice married, Sidney Cotton was never going to stay ‘down on the farm’. Educated at English boarding schools, he became a First World War flying ace and soon invented a flying suit used widely until the 1950s.
From the 1920s onward, Cotton tried his hand at a variety of businesses, from aerial seal-spotting to colour photography. As war again drew closer, Sidney Cotton posed as a businessman to undertake daring reconnaissance flights across Germany, sometimes with high-ranking Nazi officials seated beside him as he triggered a concealed camera.
The intelligence he captured right up until the outbreak of hostilities earned him an OBE, but the iconoclastic Cotton never remained popular for long with the British establishment. After the War he dabbled in oil exploration and civil engineering, at one time running guns into the Indian state of Hyderabad using second-hand Lancaster bombers.
The 1908 Cotton homestead burnt down in 1921 and was rebuilt from 1938 onwards. Today the Art Deco fretwork, mounted shotguns and period photographs decorating the homestead convey the ambience of a prosperous country house somewhere between the Wars. Wide verandahs open to an infinity-edge rock pool. At Cotton’s Restaurant the signature dish is Kumamoto Wagyu beef, reared on the property.
A cluster of cottages, shaded by spreading coral trees, forms a hamlet around the main homestead. Fitted out as well-appointed guest accommodation, the cottages enjoy panoramic views over rich grazing land to the distant blue-grey ranges. Guests awake to a serenade of kookaburras cackling and cicadas buzzing, magpies warbling and the gentle lowing of cattle.
Old Hidden Vale is stocked with 450 breeder cattle and their calves, mostly Brahman or Brahman cross, the breed which revolutionised the cattle industry in tropical Australia.
Mated with Wagyu bulls, the breeding cattle produce calves whose premium beef is largely destined for Japanese markets. The growing acceptance of the rich, finely-marbled Wagyu beef by Australian farmers and consumers, also, challenges our long-established preference for lean, fat-free meat.
Kangaroos, possums, ponies, working dogs and even a few camels share these 12,000 acres of bushland and creek flats, criss-crossed with vehicular and walking tracks; a playground for off-roaders, pony trekkers, trail bikers and walkers. Clay target shooting, archery, croquet, tennis and golf driving are all at hand, as is a lap pool which looks out over grazing paddocks. Galahs, cockatoos and whistling ducks frequent the property’s dams and watercourses. Or you can drive out to visit the grave of Sidney Cotton, who lies buried in the picturesque Tallegalla Cemetery, high on a ridge above the Lockyer Valley.