This is a piece for our local publication, the Esperance Tide. I’ve been writing the 5 Minute History column for them, and particularly enjoyed this one, as it’s quite personal for me. I’m related to the Macks, and have fond memories of Esperancho from when I was a child. Plus my first two horses (Grandad and Princess) came from Esperancho, as well as my beautiful hand made roping saddle! I’m not alone in remembering it as a wonderful place. Thanks to those who shared their memories with me, and to Geoff Rose for some of the photos that appeared in the article!
Anyone who grew up in Esperance in the 70s and 80s will remember a wild, adventurous place called Esperancho. Half Wild West Ranch and half teenagers’ paradise, Esperancho was a youth campsite based on a farm just out of Gibson. Esperancho was a 200 acre property with a lake, horses, archery, canoes, rollerskates, singalongs, bonfires, hay rides,go-carts, games and activities, and even a miniature train that operated around the property.
Part of the fun and adventure of Esperancho was the people who ran it. Brothers Dave and Vince Mack, along with their wives, Sue and Robyn, started running church camps on the Esperancho property in the early 70s. Esperancho was officially opened in 1975 by MP Geoff Grewar, and the Macks, along with a number of staff and volunteers, started running youth camps: school camps, summer camps, holiday camps, and even leadership training camps. The Mack families both went on to have young children, who grew up around the campers at Esperancho, charming campers into giving them lollies and having adventures.
In the 70s, holiday camps were hugely popular, and in 1977, Dave and Sue went on a six week trip, visiting campsites in the USA and in Canada, and going to a camping conference in Banff Springs. In 1978, Vince and Robyn went Rawhide Ranch in the USA, where they enrolled in a 2 year training college, which taught horsemanship, animal science and husbandry, leatherwork, and leadership, and they were also involved in running the Ranch’s summer camps. They came back full of knowledge and inspiration, and soon the horsemanship program at Esperancho was flourishing.
The facilities at Esperancho were all very basic. There was a log cabin dining room, and two log cabin ‘bunkhouse’ style accommodation blocks, plus a covered wagon, which served as more accommodation. Sometimes the carriages of the train were also pressed into use as further space for the campers to sleep. There was a chapel and activities hall, some staff houses, and, of course, a big barn and horse arena. Vince and Robyn recall that the covered wagon came from a property at Salmon Gums, and was then carefully restored. The mini train was originally from a mine site where it had been an underground ore train. The chassis was donated to Esperancho, and Vince and Dave then rebuilt the rest of the train, as well as the train tracks that ran around the oval and up to the barn.
Schools from Esperance and Kalgoorlie, and even some from Perth, brought their students down for school camps year round, and campers came for holiday camps from Esperance and many surrounding areas. Each camp would cater for around 40 young people, in addition to staff. Campers were kept very busy with sport, archery, canoeing, leatherwork, games, and many other activities. The horsemanship program was particularly popular, with around 40 horses on the property, all equipped with Western style roping saddles, some of which were hand-made by Vince and Robyn. Campers had to learn about basic horsemanship and how to care for a horse, before they could go on trail-rides or take part in gymkhana style games. Robyn even taught some of the campers vaulting, which is a style of gymnastics on horseback, including standing on the horse while it is in motion. Other camp activities included a huge Earth ball, which, as Vince recalls, they had to stop using, as it could be dangerous. “One of the smaller kids would sit on the top of the ball, and two other kids would run into the ball on either side – and as you can imagine, the kid on top would go flying.”
Every evening, the campers would have Chapel, where they would hear a message from the leaders, and usually have a gospel style singalong. After Chapel would be night time activities, such as hay rides, bonfires, and games of ‘cops and robbers’ and ‘spotlight’.
Camps at Esperancho ran until 1988, when the lake, and a lot of the facilities, flooded. Camps were stopped, because, as Sue recalls, the toilet block was under 18 inches of water. Around this time, the Mack families started to feel that as wonderful as the camps had been, they had run their course. In 1989, the Macks gifted the property to Teen Challenge WA, a fledgling drug and alcohol rehabilitation program that was based, at the time, in Gingin, just out of Perth. Even though the camps were closed thirty years ago, many people still recall the happy memories that were built at Esperancho – Vince recalls that he often meets people who reminisce happily about their time as a camper. Since that time, Teen Challenge WA has operated a residential rehabilitation program on the Esperancho property, which is there to this day. Sadly, the Western cowboy theme, along with covered wagons, horses, bunkhouses and train are all gone, but the property is still being used for its original purpose, that is, to change and enrich the lives of young people.