Padding softly into the front room, the alpaca stood quietly by the couch as we watched the TV.
I stifled a laugh.
‘Hello Hephner,’ I grinned.
Our whole family loved Hephner. He was the most mild-mannered alpaca we had at our farm, Fletchers Ark. Nothing fazed him.
In 2016, we’d got Hephner, then 12 months old, from a breeder to add to our farm in Goulburn, NSW, where we lived with 30 alpacas, 10 llamas, and multiple goats, cows, deer and peacocks.
His mother was called Playgirl, so we’d named him Hephner, after Hugh Hefner.
He was such a calm animal with none of the spitting and snorting we found from some other alpacas.
Farm visitors gravitated to Hephner’s gentle nature and adored stroking his fluffy white coat.
Children with additional needs loved leading him around. And he became a favourite when we took animals into disability and nursing homes.
‘His fur is just so soft!’ the kids always said.
He put a smile on everyone’s face who met him.
In 2018, my daughters Laura, then 18, and Hannah, 12, set up an Instagram page called hephner_the_alpaca and a star was born.
It wasn’t long before Hephner started appearing at people’s weddings.
Dressed in a smart white collar he was the perfect guest, posing for photos.
And living up to his name, Hephner was a hit with the ladies, soon fathering lots of little alpacas.
When we went for a visit to Bondi Beach later that year, I took Hephner onto the sand.
The Bondi lifeguards did a double take.
As waves lapped at his feet, Hephner was totally unfazed by the crowds wanting a photo with him.
‘Well he’s not a horse or a dog so I won’t fine you for him being on the beach,’ the ranger laughed.
The lifeguards loved him so much they put the TV cameras on and Hephner appeared on Bondi Rescue.
This April, my youngest daughter Shayla, eight, took him in the Royal Easter Show. She was thrilled to win champion junior handler.
In July, I hit on a bright idea to raise money for mental health charity Beyond Blue, a cause close to my heart ever since a good friend died by suicide in 2017.
‘Why don’t I take Hephner on a pub crawl around New South Wales to raise money?’ I said to my wife Jayne, 53.
‘Brilliant!’ she laughed.
I was thrilled when Atlantic Oil sponsored our travelling expenses.
A few weeks later, I packed Hephner in the back of a truck lined with hay and plastered with signs about our fundraising, and started off on our pub crawl.
We travelled to Newcastle, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour and Byron Bay, stopping at pubs.
As Hephner and I pounded the pavement, people flocked to say hello and have a photo.
When I told them what I was doing, I was blown away by the many stories.
‘I’ve had a friend die by suicide too,’ so many said as they kindly donated money.
It spurred me on, knowing how important it was to raise awareness about mental health.
At tiny Sawtell, I walked up and back down the whole town in just two hours.
The people in the RSL generously donated $800.
We took in a photo op at the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour and drove on up the coast.
In Taylors Arm, despite the hotel’s fame as the Pub With No Beer, there was plenty of beer on tap!
When Hephner strutted in, the landlord laughed.
‘A pint for you, Hephner,’ he grinned setting a schooner down on the bar.
‘He’s a bit of a teetotaller,’ I laughed, drinking it on Hephner’s behalf.
Travelling back through Lightning Ridge and Dubbo, by the time we hit Sydney, Hephner was a superstar.
After taking in the sights on the steps of the Opera House, we then returned to his old stomping ground, at Bondi Beach.
‘He doesn’t like that,’ I laughed to Kochie as Hephner raised his hind leg up, annoyed. It was as angry as Hephner ever got. But he posed for the TV cameras like a pro!
After 4000 kilometres, 50 stops and meeting hundreds of people, we finally headed for home.
I’m thrilled so many people have discovered just what a superstar Hephner is. And even more delighted he’s raised over $4000 for such a great cause.
My adventurous alpaca is changing the world!