Offcuts: Standing the test of time
22 November 2019
‘THEY don’t make ’em like they used to’.
For some, this is a throwaway catchphrase used to bemoan a bygone era.
For others, it’s a light-hearted jibe declaring their generation or ‘vintage’ to be the best, or toughest.
But when it comes to the grand old shearing sheds handcrafted during the golden age of Australia’s wool industry (or before in some cases), it’s an adage that rings true.
And there’s no greater example than the Talia Station woolshed, situated 37 kilometres north of the town of Elliston on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula (EP), which is still seeing shearing action 160-plus years after its construction in the mid-19th century.
This historic shed was projected into our conscience again this month when it was hired by EP-based Quality Wool clients for their annual shearing.
What unfolded was a wonderful contrast between the industry’s technological progress circa 2019 and the raw, steadfast and unyielding structures that have stood for well over a century and survived the ravages of time.
Renowned as a historic head station of the great pastoral era, Talia was originally owned by J.T. Symes in 1856 but was named by John Harris Browne who acquired the property shortly afterward.
Archibald Graham Thompson and his brother William acquired Talia Station from Browne around 1880, and it has been in the family ever since.
It’s interesting to observe that in an industry attempting to adapt to technological change and innovation (such as AWI’s recent ‘blueprint’ for a modern shearing shed optimising efficiency, worker safety and animal welfare), growers are still willing to entrust their livelihood in the antiquated but rock-solid structures upon which Australia’s wool industry was built.
With that in mind, here’s a sample of some of Australia’s other iconic woodsheds still standing as monuments to the age of golden fleece.
Cordillo Downs Station
Imagine a shed housing 120 shearing stands shearing 85,000 sheep seasonally and you have the juggernaut that was Cordillo Downs Station in the 1880s.
Perched 116 kilometres north of the tiny township of Innamincka in South Australia’s north-east, Cordillo Downs once occupied an area of 7,800 square kilometres and was regarded as Australia’s largest sheep station.
Now listed on the South Australian Heritage Register, the Cordillo woolshed was built with stone and a curved tin roof due to a lack of timber in the area at the time of construction in 1883.
The shed was badly damaged in 2017 by a violent storm which ripped off part of the roof, however with the help of an online fundraising campaign which amounted to $15,000, it was eventually restored with the help of Scottish stonemasons (https://ab.co/2D4m9qK) and the work completed in July this year.
You only need to trek less than 25 kilometres out of Mount Gambier to find this historic woolshed, virtually unchanged invirtually unchanged in almost 160 years almost 160 years.
Originally from Tasmania, brothers Edward and Robert Leake made the trip across the Bass Strait to establish Glencoe in 1844 as a sheep shearing station, bringing with them the Saxon Merino sheep.
They later built the Glencoe Woolshed in 1863 as a thirty-six stand shearing shed, and it was unique in that fact that it was never converted to mechanised shearing.
As the Stock Journal described on the shed’s 150th anniversary in 2013, Glencoe had “many uses in its long life, from hosting the shearing of hundreds of thousands of sheep to sheltering travelling swagmen during the depression of the 1930s, and even storing potatoes”.
The shed has now been turned into a museum of original and historic blade shearing and wool handling processes, remaining an enduring symbol of the wealth of SA pastoralists in the mid-19th century.
North Tuppal Woolshed
Purchased by Merino industry heavyweights F.S. Falkiner & Sons in 1891 for a reputed 392,000 pounds ($784,000), the new 72-stand, completely mechanised woolshed subsequently built on North Tuppal Station was noted by a journalist at the time as ‘the finest in Australia’.
The acquisition of the 40,000 hectare property added 124,000 head of sheep to the growing Falkiner empire and over a 21-year period up until 1911, a total of 3 million sheep were shorn on the property.
Following the Great War, the Tuppal property was broken up with land resumed by both the NSW Lands department and the Soldier Settlement Scheme.
The Tuppal woolshed was chosen as the site for the 2010 re-enactment of Tom Robert’s iconic 1890 painting ‘Shearing the rams’, where 15,000 people descended on the property over two days and 6000 sheep were shorn.
Located in central Queensland and celebrating 160 years in 2019, the Jondaryan Woolshed is believed to be the oldest and largest still operational shearing shed in the whole world.
The original shearing shed built on the station in 1847 was burnt down in 1849 by striking shearers, angry at the harsh working conditions, treatment and refusal for fair wages.
It was replaced in 1850 by a second smaller shed before the construction of the current woolshed in 1859/60.
As time went on sheep from other stations were sent to be sheared at Jondaryan, 24,000 sheep shorn from other properties in the 1873 season alone.
In 1891 machine shearing was brought in at Jondaryan and the number of stands reduced to 36.
Jondaryan Woolshed was listed on the Queensland Heritage Register on October 21, 1992.