For decades a small animal farm in Albion Park has brought joy across generations and attracted visitors from the local area and around the world, but now the community is mourning the end of an era as the Harrison family says goodbye to their last remaining animal, an emu named Eemy.
Bob Harrison grew up in Goulburn surrounded by animals, so after he moved to the Illawarra it was no surprise that there was always a cat, dog or bird that found its way into the family home.
And it didn’t take long until he began to branch out beyond your average household pets.
“I started off showing chooks, I went and bought some bantam fowls, we were living at Warilla at the time and I thought I’d like to have a bit more,” he said.
Bob and his wife Ann dedicated years of their lives to the local community. Bob served as the State Member for Kiama, was a long-time Shellharbour Councillor and twice Mayor. Ann was the first woman elected to what was known as the Shellharbour Municipal Council and served two stints. Sadly Ann died in July, aged 80.
The couple moved from Warilla to a Calderwood Rd property 43 years ago with their two daughters Jane and Lynda. With the new-found space, the Harrisons’ animal collection began to grow.
“We came with two dogs, one cat, two horses, a few chooks and then we brought a goat with us on the way in,” Jane said.
And it just kept growing until their backyard was home to everything from kangaroos, emus and goats to alpacas, dingoes and deer.
“It just sort of happened a bit at a time,” Bob said “I think the most was over at 100 at once.”
As word got out about the Harrisons’ pack, even more eclectic creatures started to show up on their doorstep or were even just thrown over the fence.
“Dad rescued a lot of animals,” Jane said. “He had every single thing named and if anything new got dumped over the fence he always knew there was a ring in.”
“People used to pick up young kangaroos and ask if they could leave them here,” Bob said. “I ended up with so many of them.”
And from Hysti Hen, the chicken that had a hysterectomy and Horrible Chooky, the one that bit his grandson, to Genevieve the donkey and Tex the dog, every animal was part of the Harrison family, each with their own identity, story and best friend.
“They all buddied up in weird ways,” Jane said.
“The horse and the emu were best friends, and the deer used to think the dog was its mother,” Lynda said.
It wasn’t long until the community realised they had something rare and special right on their doorstep and decided to have a peek over the fence.
“I liked to see people there feeding them with their kids, I enjoyed seeing them there and if they waved at me I waved back but I didn’t go and talk all the time,” Bob said.
“It was a nice hobby. A couple of people even came and offered me money and I said no, no it’s just our hobby Ann and I.”
And it quickly became a major attraction for both locals and visitors.
“People brought their relatives in from overseas,” Jane said. “If they were out from England or wherever no one had seen a kangaroo or an emu before so everyone had to come see them and the little kids would sing out ‘there’s old McDonald!”
“We had a few preschools ask if they could come in,” Lynda said. “They’d bring the kids in and have a visit.”
There were even some unexpected and uninvited visitors who thought it was a public space.
“This goose that we had, he loved Ann and he didn’t like men very much and this bloke came in and is just sitting there smoking a cigarette,” Bob said. “He got a bit close to Ann and he said the goose hit him from behind.”
But over the years as the animals passed, the collection began the dwindle until the emu named Eemy was the last of them.
“A bloke picked one up along the road, a chick, and it grew up here for 31 years, its whole life was here,” Bob said.
“It would come to the fence and meet everyone, he was beautiful.”
Earlier this month, the family was devastated to announce the loss of its final animal.
But they didn’t expect the outpouring from the community that came their way.
A social media post has received more than 600 reactions, with people sharing their own stories about the farm.
Jessica Murphy said visiting the farm was something she was always excited to do from a young age.
“So many memories of walks to feed the animals,” she said. “From when I was little, then taking my own kids there.”
She only wished her children could have taken their own kids as well.
Kathy East said the farm was a regular stop when she was a child and that they’d always drive by to see what animals were around.
“We used to always feed leftover bread to the animals when we were kids 30 years ago.”
But Eemy was a particular favourite, going by many names like Edward, Emmie, Ernie, Eddie and Shaun.
Kim Luck Varlow responded to the post, saying: “I have literally hundreds of pictures of my children feeding the animals through the fence as we picnicked. Mr Emu as we called him loved nutri grain and broccoli! Very sad to hear this news.”
Luke Vella also commented that “he brought a smile to so many faces and families in our community”.
“Thanks for the memories and also your family’s generosity in sharing him with the rest of us and allowing us all to fall in love with him.”
“It had a huge following, that Emu,” Lynda said.
“We’re just in awe of how much the community loved the animals and loved coming here and generation after generation just enjoyed it,” Jane added.
But while weekends spent at the Harrisons’ animal farm are now a thing of the past, Bob’s old habits of connecting with creatures don’t seem to be going anywhere.
“We’ve now got a magpie that hangs around, Dad feeds it,” Lynda said.
“It comes and eats out of your hand,” Bob said. “So we buy mince every week, some for the cat, some for the magpie.”