When Central Queensland mum Michelle Hamilton felt the walls closing in on her after the birth of her son in 2009, she knew it was time to head back out into the paddock.
But a difficult pregnancy and birth left Ms Hamilton unable to do the things she loved on her Springsure property, like horse-riding and mustering.
Isolated on a remote property, without babysitters readily available, she spiralled into postpartum depression.
“I was quite hard on myself because I thought I had to have this amazing bond with my baby in the beginning and it didn’t feel as natural as it should have, and I beat myself up about that a lot,” Ms Hamilton said.
“A lot of postpartum depression came out of that and a feeling other people were looking down at me.
“It was a hard time. I sort of felt I was more isolated than I really was.”
Gardening didn’t make the cut, and Ms Hamilton wasn’t interested in sheep or goats.
‘I started to feel alive’
Then she met her first alpaca at a field day in Emerald.
“It was something a bit different and they were really easy to handle for myself, so I was keen just to learn a bit more,” she said.
She began with just two alpacas of her own, but Ms Hamilton’s herd now numbers 100.
“After setting them up in the paddock, for the first time in a while I felt alive, and I was doing something with such a unique animal,” Ms Hamilton said.
“It really awoke something within me, and I started to feel alive, happy and me again.”
Ms Hamilton’s young son Wylye also got involved in helping care for the herd.
“I felt Wylye was safe around the animals as they are small.”
Hobby turns into a business
The herd has transformed from a simple hobby to a thriving business.
“It’s a beautiful end product and I send my fleece away to a company in Australia, where buyers purchase it and put it in their product,” Ms Hamilton said.
Some of the fleece makes its way to the alpaca capital of the world, Peru, where fair trade producers turn the wool into products for sale back in Australia.
One idea also led to another for the entrepreneur – this time closer to home.
“When I was travelling through Tasmania, I found a shop that was carrying a lot of alpaca products and that sparked the idea to open a community shop in Springsure,” she said.
Eighteen local artisans heeded her call to join in with their creations, including earrings, children’s clothes and barbed wire art.
“Doing things together, especially with rural ladies, we found we all love getting together and are like-minded,’ Ms Hamilton said.
“We are all a bit eccentric at times and it’s great to sit down and have a bit of a chat with a cup of tea, or a glass of wine depending on the time of the day.”
It’s all about the alpaca
Although Ms Hamilton’s son Wylye now mostly prefers to help his dad with the machinery, she’s still doting on her woolly herd and has more grand plans in the works.
“I am looking at being a part of a co-operative to keep the fleece here in Australia,” Ms Hamilton said.
“The industry is quite young and I really want to be a part of it.”