WA’s Stonehenge, and some cattle, on the block

Dorothy HendersonCountryman
Esperance Stonehenge owners Jillian and Kim Beale.
Camera IconEsperance Stonehenge owners Jillian and Kim Beale. Credit: Dorothy Henderson

A busy road not far from the English town of Amesbury, in Wiltshire, is overlooked by a big stone structure that is older than the pyramids and instantly recognised by many: Stonehenge.

The lack of written records shrouds the history and purpose of this structure in mystery.

Overlooking another sometimes busy road, not far from Esperance and 15,178km from its inspiration, is a similar structure. Not so shrouded in mystery, and not so old, this replica is built from pink granite quarried nearby.

Stonehenge is believed to have been constructed around 3100BC and while the Esperance version is not as ancient and the rocks are not as well worn, it provokes the same feelings of awe and wonder.

Constructed by Kim and Jillian Beale on their grazing property overlooking the Southern Ocean, the Esperance Stonehenge graces the hills of Merivale by chance, not by design.

It was originally destined for Margaret River, but lay as giant pink granite slabs in the Merivale Quarry as that project floundered and the stone, with no purpose, lay abandoned where it had been cut.

The Beales learnt of the stone from the quarry manager.

The pieces had been shaped to specifications that would enable an accurate replica of the original Stonehenge to be built; the stones were homeless, a puzzle waiting to be completed.

Originally, the Beales saw the Esperance Stonehenge project as one for the people of Esperance, a way of expanding the tourism potential of the place.

Their enthusiasm resulted in the Esperance Rotary Club taking it on as a fundraising project — but the embryonic plan was stymied after a furore erupted once the idea was warped by the forces of social media and misinformation, and the not-for-profit idea faded away.

The sun rises through two stones.
Camera IconThe sun rises through two stones. Credit: Tim Slater

Seeing it as an opportunity too good to pass up, considering the proximity of the “rocks”, the Beales decided to take it on themselves, and set about the task of gaining the permission and planning approvals to build the colossal replica on their own land.

With 431ha located within a kilometre of the quarry, the Beales had the room and it seemed that the 137 stones were destined to share the space occupied by the Beale’s Gelbvieh cattle stud, not far from the yards and sheds of a working farm.

With an annual rainfall of 650mm, the property is as productive as it is scenic. The Beales run 200 breeders, a Gelbvieh pure herd of 35 breeders, with another 100 head of heifers and bulls.

“We carry the majority of our heifer calves through after weaning, for replacement breeders and grass-finished trade cattle,” Mr Beale said.

The commercial herd is of cross breeds, predominantly British bred and leaning more into Red Angus, currently producing Gelbvieh Red Angus cross bulls for the use on the commercial breeders to lessen the Gelbvieh content as they are all starting to get too pure in the Gelbvieh.

“This should keep the hybrid vigour going,” he said.

The Beales are farmers first, and their foray into construction and tourism was an accidental adventure they have not regretted.

“We didn’t build our Stonehenge for ourselves, but we couldn’t ignore the rocks in the quarry,” Mr Beale said.

Ensuring the structure aligned with the summer sun (like the original) had not been hard. “We used line posts to mark the angle of the sun at both the winter and summer solstices,” Mr Beale said.

On the morning of the summer solstice (December 22), the sun’s rays align with the Station Stones and shine through to the altar stone. The sunset of the Winter Solstice (June 21) repeats the same alignment in reverse. “Both are an amazing sight to witness,” Mr Beale said.

Construction got under way in January 2011 and was completed on October 26, 2011, more than 5000 years after the construction of its parent. The resulting structure is the only full-size replica of the original Stonehenge and appears as it would have about 1950BC.

The presence of the stones, with their links to the seasons and the coming and going of the sun, has served to heighten an awareness of the seasons that these farmers already possessed.

“Kim has always been fascinated by the stars,” Mrs Beale said.

The Beale family homestead.
Camera IconThe Beale family homestead. Credit: Jillian Beale

He is not alone and that sense of wonder has led to people from all over the world travelling to Esperance to view the pink granite structure.

“We had one visitor who had flown from Scotland, to Perth and then to Esperance, just to see this,” Mrs Beale said.

“It attracts interesting people. Sometimes it is like the United Nations here, with people from all over the world arriving in cars, off cruise ships, in buses. It is a positive thing.”

Entering the stone hedged circle, there is a sense of peace. Once in the inner sanctum, feet cushioned by soft grass and the Southern Ocean sparkling between the glistening pink granite stones, it is hard not to be silent.

The 10 inner trilithon stones form a horseshoe and weigh between 28 and 50 tonnes each. An 18-tonne lintel lies over each pair, reaching a height of 8m.

Inside the trilithon horseshoe stands another smaller horseshoe of 19 blue stones, while outside the trilithon horseshoe lies a circle of 40 smaller stones that are referred to as the bluestone circle.

The perimeter has 30 sarsen stones, weighing 28 tonnes each, with eight-tonne lintels lining the top. Together, they reach a height of nearly 5m. At the base of the tallest trilithon stone lies the nine-tonne altar stone. “We get plenty of the usual jokes about sacrifices and offerings,” Mr Beale said.

While now a part of the Esperance landscape, the Beales’ role in the structure’s development is nearing an end as they prepare for a lifestyle change.

The couple are in the process of subdividing the property, so that the farming land can be acquired separately from the tourism venture, if so desired. Once separated, the farming portion will comprise 343.5ha of annual and perennial perennials (98 per cent arable), with two bores and mills and mostly near-new fencing.

With children now grown and living far from home, the Beales feel it is time to take to the road and let the Esperance Stonehenge continue to work its magic.

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