Labour of love - the story behind Ferguson Farmstay

Shannon VerhagenSouth Western Times
Ferguson Farmstay owner Rosa Madigan with the farm’s resident emu.
Camera IconFerguson Farmstay owner Rosa Madigan with the farm’s resident emu. Credit: Shannon Verhagen/Shannon Verhagen

More than two decades ago, Ferguson Farmstay owner Rosa Madigan and her late husband John travelled far and wide to find the perfect spot to relocate to with their three young children.

From Mt Barker to Donnybrook and everywhere in between, the Perth-based university lecturers spent years searching for a tree change to bring their kids up in the country.

“We had no idea what we were looking for and not the slightest idea of what we were going to do,” Rosa said.

“We wandered around everywhere looking for a piece of land, a farm, something that we could really make something out of.”

Ferguson Farmstay owner Rosa Madigan.
Camera IconFerguson Farmstay owner Rosa Madigan. Credit: Shannon Verhagen

One piece of land — the first they ever looked at — set in the rolling hills of the Ferguson Valley, kept popping up.

“It was calling us,” she said.

“After searching for two years... we were shown around by a local (real estate agent)... he said ‘I’ll show you a piece of land you’ll really like … and he brought us here, the first place we’d ever looked at.”

But at three times over budget, the family had to start from scratch, embarking on the country adventure of a lifetime.

We spent all of the money we had, every single cent, just on the land.

Rosa Madigan

“Not only did we not have any jobs any more but we didn’t have a place to live.

So we started with that, just an empty piece of land, no idea what we were doing, just loving that we were together with the kids.

Rosa Madigan

They lived in a caravan park in Waterloo for a year while they built a shed, which they then lived in for three years before they built the first chalet, which eventually became their home.

“The day we moved into the shed we thought we were rich,” Rosa said.

Ferguson Farmstay owner Rosa Madigan with the farm’s resident emu.
Camera IconFerguson Farmstay owner Rosa Madigan with the farm’s resident emu. Credit: Shannon Verhagen/Shannon Verhagen

Spending most of their lives in the “big smoke’, Rosa laughed as she recalled the many mistakes and learning curves she and her husband encountered as they embraced country living.

“We spent a whole weekend building a water tank — my husband and I — and went back to the caravan park to get a good sleep that night and during the night the wind came and blew the plastic up,” she said.

“We had no idea we had to put a little bit of water in it.”

“Everyone would’ve laughed at us – everyone knows that.”

Nowadays you go on the internet and get information and you learn … we didn’t have any of that.

Rosa Madigan

After building the first chalet, the couple soon realised they would need to build more for it to become a profitable venture.

Over the next decade, they juggled working at Edith Cowan University in Bunbury, raising a family and building and running a farm stay.

Ferguson Farmstay owner Rosa Madigan with her cat Calico.
Camera IconFerguson Farmstay owner Rosa Madigan with her cat Calico. Credit: Shannon Verhagen

Today, there are 10 chalets set on the picturesque hillside, with families coming from far and wide to stay and get a taste of farm life.

“They love it,” Rosa said.

“We have pigs, emus, kangaroos, ducks, guinea fowl, sheep and goats.”

“So we go and feed all of the animals, then after that we have a pony ride, then a tractor ride — we have a trailer behind a tractor with seats.”

Tragically in 2014, John died and Rosa was forced to make a decision — sell or stay.

Unable to run the property on her own, she said her eldest son John, who she affectionately calls Sas, “saved the day”, by swapping his trade as a boilermaker for working full-time on the farm.

I’m so happy that Sas is here with me... it’s really lovely. I would have been heartbroken if we’d have had to sell the property.

Rosa Madigan
Ferguson Farmstay owner Rosa Madigan feeds the animals.
Camera IconFerguson Farmstay owner Rosa Madigan feeds the animals. Credit: Shannon Verhagen

Over the years, Rosa said visitors had formed quite a connection with the farm stay, with a number people who had first visited as children returning as adults to get married in the gardens.

Rosa said having so much support from her clients — from attending her husband’s funeral to writing letters to “Farmer Rosa” during the COVID-19 crisis — had been really touching.

As for the future, Rosa has no plans of retiring any time soon, keeping busy around the farm and proudly tending to her 1000 rose bushes.

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