Several years ago Krissy Harris declared that she would like to own a showground. As a young showjumper she had spent a lot of time competing in ag shows around Australia.
“These events were often held in beautiful historic surroundings,” she recalls. “I was fascinated by how the grounds would come alive during the early morning. Riders arriving in floats and trucks, traders putting up stalls, Ferris wheels and sideshows being assembled. I just loved the atmosphere.
“It was a similar experience when I worked in the film business with Heath. We were always on set very early with the horses when the crew would be preparing for the day’s first scene. When the time came for the director to call ‘action’, much of our work had been done.
“I’ve always enjoyed the planning and setting-up process, and when Heath retired from the film industry, I told him how I wanted to create a beautiful park-like equestrian facility – one that was horse and rider-friendly which competitors and spectators could enjoy.”
“You’re barking mad,” responded Heath, “but I’ll help you.”
After months of searching, they found some land at Mangrove Mountain on the NSW Central Coast, not far from their present home in Mt White. It was ideally situated on Wisemans Ferry Road, close to shops, a petrol station, cafes, doctor’s surgery, a couple of golf clubs, several B&Bs and a motorway. Spread over 110 acres, this former citrus farm was little more than a neglected rubbish tip – but to the Harrises it had enormous potential. They bought it – and the creation of Stonewall Equestrian began.
In February 2016 a stream of semi-trailers removed countless loads of junk – fridges, stoves, car bodies and tyres abandoned beneath jungles of lantana. Once it was all cleared away Heath and Krissy were left with a blank canvas upon which they could begin to realise their vision.
In five years the transformation of this shabby, run-down acreage has been spectacular. While it is still a work-in-progress it is already being hailed by experts as a world-class equestrian facility. Two thousand trees have been planted and nine kilometres of roads laid, with rows of drystone walls, reminiscent of the Irish countryside, running from the entrance gates. It is, of course, these, which give the property its name.
“The walls are organic and unpretentious, and the sandstone comes from various local quarries,” explains Heath, who has a hands-on approach to everything being built on the property. He drives bobcats, backhoes, bulldozers and operates an on-site sawmill for preparing timber for wooden and corrugated iron sheds and shelters. These are scattered across the property and are similar to the Snowy River-type huts prominent in the iconic Australian film which Heath had worked on back in the eighties.
“He’s a wizard at conceiving atmosphere,” says Krissy. “It might have been my idea to build a showground but when it comes to creative input it’s Heath who’s supplied 90% of it. He works out what goes where and how; and I make technical suggestions such as the sizes of arenas and stables. Shortly, 250 portable ones will be built with connections to power and water.
“People love to be with their horses and our parking is specifically designed so that they can pull up in their floats, stable their horses close by and, at the same time, be near to the competition arenas.”