By Cass Selwood
One of the last sounds you’d probably expect to hear as you wander down a quiet road in the reaches of Hindmarsh Valley is a chorus of excited voices speaking loudly in Mandarin.
But thanks to one of the Fleurieu Peninsula’s newest tourism ventures, there’s a good chance that that’s exactly what you will hear down one particular road.
Softfoot Alpacas, run by the Retallick family, is an innovative, multifaceted enterprise that’s attracting attention in China for its wool, the alpacas themselves, and its range of boutique farm tour experiences.
If you spend any time with the Retallicks, you’ll soon discover that they don’t do things by halves. Once they develop an interest in something, they have a tendency to dive headlong into it (quite literally in some cases).
“If you’re going to do something, you may as well do it properly,” says Clancy Retallick.
Unlike sheep or cattle, alpacas have soft feet (hence the farm name), meaning they have a minimal impact on their habitat.
For this reason, soon after buying the property Sandy and daughter Clancy decided to buy an alpaca off their neighbour.
The purchase sparked an interest and almost before they knew it, they found themselves in the Peruvian Andes, assisting local villagers in a traditional muster of prospective breeding stock.
Today Softfoot is recognised as a producer of some of the world’s finest alpaca fibre and breeding lines.
A visit to the farm’s trophy room is overwhelming for the sheer number of prizes and awards that the Retallicks’ animals have won.
“I think of it in terms of wine,” Clancy says. “When people think of premium wine, they think of Penfolds. We like to think of Softfoot wool as the Grange Hermitage of alpaca wool.”
But while they are justifiably proud of this achievement, it is only part of their story.
After a number of visits to the farm by Chinese business partners, the Retallicks realised that they had more to offer than just their fibre; they were able to give their visitors a unique, authentic Australian experience, which has proved immensely popular.
A chance meeting in Victor Harbor led Clancy to Sophie Xie, a Shanghai native who had recently moved to Australia.
Clancy quickly recognised that the combination of Sophie’s cultural background and expertise in marketing represented a valuable opportunity, and Sophie is now a key member of the Softfoot team, in the role of tourism manager.
“We’re so lucky to have found Sophie,” says Clancy.
“She’s uniquely qualified for the role and she’s been such a valuable addition to our team.”
Their ongoing success has also enabled the family to explore, with typical Retallick energy, their shared passion for conservation.
The farm is home to the Softfoot Sanctuary, a sophisticated, self-funded operation designed to safeguard and ensure the genetic diversity of a number of threatened marsupial species, and contribute to re-wilding areas where populations have been decimated by non-native predators like foxes and cats.
Header photo is Softfoot Alpacas tourism manager Sophie Xie.
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