An artist who together with her farmer husband found salvation from drought in their herd of alpacas has won an award for her emerging venture.
The toughest of times on their Tomingley property drove Amee Dennis to make jewellery and other products from the animal's wool and offer them on the online market.
They found demand, and last year alone she used more than 90 fleeces in the creations she sold, Mrs Dennis told the Daily Liberal.
In continuing diversification, 15 months ago the couple started what would develop into alpaca meet-and-greet experiences, and a gallery to view the fibre products.
Mrs Dennis's vision to launch Quentin Park Alpacas and Studio Gallery was this month recognised when she was presented with the AusMumpreneur NSW/ACT Rural and Remote Business Award.
By the start of 2020, a third year of crippling drought had Mrs Dennis and husband Shaun considering their options and looking for another income stream.
"Essentially for us, being toward the third year of drought, we had to really make some decisions about what we were doing and how we were going to continue to stay on the land," she said.
"Both of us being from farming families, it was what we wanted to continue to do, we wanted to stay on the property.
"We wanted to continue the life that we'd started but we couldn't, we had to find another income in order to be able to do that."
The artist and mum said there were a number of options they could have taken.
"One was that we did sell, and move to town, which is not what we wanted to do," Mrs Dennis said.
"We had sold animals to feed animals and done that kind of thing through the drought, so we didn't want to do any more of that.
"We had the option of going to find other work, or for me to go and find a job in town, and work in town every day, which was absolutely valid, but it didn't allow for the flexibility we need on the farm...
We needed to find a way to just kind of earn just a little bit of income, and really all it needed to be was enough to continue to put food on the table for our family...Quentin Park Alpacas and Studio Gallery founder Amee Dennis
"We needed to find a way to just kind of earn just a little bit of income, and really all it needed to be was enough to continue to put food on the table for our family, but with some flexibility with it."
The mixed farming enterprise had a small mob of alpacas as herd protectors.
Mrs Dennis, a papermaker by trade, had the idea to branch out and make products from the alpaca wool stored in their shed.
"[I thought] If I can use paper to make jewellery, maybe I can use alpaca wool to make jewellery," she said.
"I know jewellery, I know wearable art, maybe I can start there and see what happens."
Her first six alpaca wool flower pots were snapped up within 10 minutes of being offered for sale online and with a post to the Buy From A Bush Business Facebook group in January 2020.
"We had 80 orders in 48 hours for alpaca flowers and flower pots," she said.
By the middle of last year, the business diversified further to host events for visitors to look at Mrs Dennis's creations under a marquee set up out in the paddock with the alpacas, whose number had grown more than ten-fold.
"Within an hour of having those online, all of the spots were full," Mrs Dennis said.
"We thought, well maybe this is something that people do want to do, maybe we could do it."
It led to the business offering alpaca experiences, and the first stages of renovating an old farm house into a studio and gallery to display the growing collection of alpaca products.
Tough economic times required a particular approach, but the couple made the venture possible.
...we were starting this with less than zero capital, we had nothing to invest in it.Amee Dennis
"It came from the drought as well, we were starting this with less than zero capital, we had nothing to invest in it," Mrs Dennis said
"We had no capital to start with, we [said], how can we do this kind of step by step, and how can we do this in a way that's sustainable for us, how can we do it without having to have an initial investment and how can we do it in a way that matches our skillset...
"As people came through the door and as we sold more things online, it meant 'now we can get the builder in to fix the framing and to help us put the gallery in', or now we can do the floor, now we can do something else.
"It's all been that one step after another, and it's been really lovely the support we've had from people."
In her speech accepting the award presented online, Mrs Dennis thanked the AusMumpreneur crew, her husband and family, their "amazing team" and "of course the 125 alpacas who are the main attraction and the product supplier of everything we do here, as well as all of the people who choose to support us".
In the wake of the win, Mrs Dennis told the Daily Liberal it was "hard to find the right words to describe what this award means" to her and to them.
"I am so thrilled to win this award, for the hard work and perseverance and dedication and endurance to be recognised," she said.
"Bush women and bush women in business are doing some really amazing things and I'm hoping that by winning this award it will encourage other rural and remote women to put themselves out there, or to take the leap and start what they have been thinking about.
"I am really humbled to now be an Ausmum ambassador and am looking forward to the opportunities which that may bring over the coming year, and look forward to collaborating and celebrating with the other fabulous women and businesses as our world starts to open up again."
Quentin Park Alpacas and Studio Gallery has more to look forward to, named a finalist in the outstanding start-up category of the Western NSW Business Awards, to be announced in the coming weeks.
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