Another significant contributor to the economy of the Upper Hunter is the thoroughbred industry, which is largely centred on the Scone area, although expansion has resulted in development throughout much of the Upper Hunter.
Woodlands Stud, located between Denman and Jerry's Plains, is home to racing legend Octagonal and offspring Lonhro and is one of Australia's most successful thoroughbred horse studs. The 6000 acre property, with its combination of sheltered paddocks and irrigable flats, straddles 7 km of the Hunter River making it a perfect place to breed champion equine athletes.
The property was first linked with the thoroughbred horse industry in the 1830s when explorer Gregory Blaxland and his brother, who were both members of the first Sydney Turf Club, were involved with the property. Thoroughbred breeding began in 1870 when HC White of Belltrees owned the property and bred and raced his own horses.
The property was owned for over 20 years by 'chicken kings', the Ingham brothers, and was part of the racing empire they sold in March 2008 for $500 million to Dubai's Crown Prince Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. When the Ingham brothers purchased the original 1750 acre property in 1985, with 40 brood mares of their own, they had the foresight to recruit the services of Peter Flynn to manage the stud.
Peter is the driving force behind the stud and has taken the property from the sad state it was in when the Ingham brothers first took it over, to what is now one of the largest and most successful thoroughbred studs in the world.
Peter's passion for horses started at an early age:
"I learnt to ride before I could walk. My father managed a big grazing property and I used to go to work with him on a cushion on the front of the saddle. I learnt to ride on draught horses. I have spent my whole life with horses."
Peter's passion for horses is matched by his passion for the land and the river that makes their operation viable.
"The river is everything to us... it is our lifeblood. Rural people have a better understanding of how important the river is, city people and town people really don't think about it and how it should be looked after."
Peter has always gone to a lot of trouble to look after the riverbanks and thinks everyone should be doing their bit. In recent years Woodlands Stud have accessed government funding through the CMA to rehabilitate their stretch of Hunter River frontage, removing willows and replacing them with native species.
"I just feel that the more we can do for our river beds, our water supply the better off everyone is."
Peter hopes that with the improved water quality and works to the riverbanks that he will start to see a return of the native fish and the platypus.
Acknowledging that the horse industry has always been and continues to be a big water user, Peter also points out that it is becoming more water-wise thanks to a group of people who are running workshops on how to use water efficiently.
With Woodlands striding ahead, climate change and the expansion of the mining industry are Peter's major concerns.
"If the mining industry continues to expand the resulting social, environmental and water issues will place substantial pressure on the horse industry in the valley. All the proposed new mines are on the water source and without access to a good water source the horse industry will have to move on. It is a reasonably mobile industry as all the money is in the horses, not the infrastructure."
Peter spoke to Phil Ashley-Brown as part of the ABC River Stories program about what the Hunter River means to Woodlands Stud. (interview)