Equipping a pastoral property. Warrah.

Equipping a pastoral property.

Warrah, 1861-1875.

By J. R. Robertson.

The primary object envisaged by the founders of the Australian Agricultural Company in 1824 was the grow­ing of fine wool for export to British mills, and to this end the Company obtained large land grants in northern New South Wales. The Company also, however, acquired coal mines at Newcastle in 1829, and for several decades it con­centrated on coal-mining rather than wool-growing. Its Warrah grant, a fine expanse of grazing land on the Liverpool Plains about 130 miles north-west of Newcastle, was therefore neglected until 1861, when the Company finally decided to develop it.


The Warrah grant was a rectangular block of 249,000 acres, measuring thirty miles in a WNW-ESE direction and thirteen miles in a NNE-SSW direction. The southern boundary ran along the northern foothills of the Liverpool Ranges, and its pastures extended northwards into rich plains country. The Great Northern Road crossed the north-east corner of the block; the present railway station of Willow Tree, on the main inland line to the north, now marks what used to be the north-eastern section of the original grant. Warrah was larger than most pastoral properties of the time, and was from the start under the control of a London directorate, and so in these respects was not a typical pastoral property.

But in the equipping of the property the Warrah managers adhered closely to the best current practice, and so a detailed account of the formulation of investment policy, and of the actual construction of physical assets, may help to give a realistic picture of the process of investment which so trans­formed the Australian pastoral industry in the three decades after I860.


The Company's early unhappy history of bad management culminated in 1857 in a "revolution" of the English share­holders and the election of a new Court of Directors. The new Governor, E. H. T. Hamilton, had spent nearly twenty years in New South Wales, for most of that time working- the Collaroy property, and leasing from the Australian Agri­cultural Company the western section of the adjoining War­rah estate. From August 1857 until his death in 1898 Hamil­ton was Governor of the Company. Under his aegis a fresh look was taken at Warrah. Hamilton persuaded his friend, Edward Christopher Merewether, to accept the post of general superintendant of the company. Merewether took  up his duties at his headquarters in Newcastle in October 1861, and in the same month engaged Samuel Craik as Stock Superintendent. Craik had been in the colony for four years, as overseer on the White brothers' Bando Station. Un­like his predecessors, who had been stationed on the Port Stephens grant, Craik made his headquarters on Warrah. With Hamilton encouraging and Merewether guiding, Craik prepared a report on the utilisation of Warrah. At the annual general meeting of July 1862, the sum of £30,000, representing a call of 30s. per share, was voted for the pur­pose of stocking and equipping Warrah.


Warrah was to be a multi-purpose station. It was to breed Merino sheep both for wool and for the fat stock market, it was to purchase store sheep to be fattened on the property for sale as fats, and about one-tenth of the area was to be devoted to the fattening of Durham cattle bred in the Company's herds on its Port Stephens grant. Warrah, as Craik saw it first in 1861, was little changed from its natural state after almost thirty years of nominal occupation by the Company. The buildings at the head station were in a state of disrepair. Scattered over the estate were about twenty sheep stations, the yards old and full of sheep dung, and the huts badly in need of repair. There were only six wells and no dams. Over half of the estate was on lease to neighbours, and on the re­mainder the Company ran 3,300 head of cattle and 5-6,000 recently purchased store wethers.


From 1863, when large scale development began, until that last day of 1875 when they both left the Company's employ, Merewether and Craik directed Warrah's transformation to a well-managed and highly profitable pastoral station. The one a reserved, highly efficient Englishman, the other a rather more volatile Scot, their association marked by some violent explosions, they yet contrived to fashion rich understanding, in a mannor known to men who work in partnership. By 1875 the property was enclosed by eighty-six miles of wire fencing, and was criss-crossed by long lines of internal sub­dividing fence. Out-stations were no longer so much in evi­dence, but in their stead were the boundary riders' huts, more suggestive of civilisation than their primitive precursors. At the head station elegance was yet to come, but respectability was beginning to imprint its brand. Lawns and gardens sur­rounded the substantial head cottage. Even weatherboard, with a coat or two of paint, provided a hint of a settled exist­ence, in contrast to the rough, unpainted slab huts.


Between 1861 and 1875 a sum of £31,585 was spent in equipping Warrah with physical assets (exclusive of stock), of which £18,277 was provided by the funds of shareholders, most of them resident in England, and £13,308 from profits made on Warrah. Expenditure was not even over the period. After considerable initial work in the years 1863-66, there was then a lull of two years when very little was spent on equip­ment; by 1868 work was beginning on two major projects-wire fencing and the washpool—in which the Company was to sink a large sum of money, and between 1868 and 1875 inclusive, annual capital expenditure only once fell below £2,700. Over the whole period, the expenditure of £31,585 was devoted to four main groups of equipment, wire fencing (£14,000) , buildings and stock yards (£7,000) , the wash pool (£4,000) and water supply (£2,000) . In addition, an ex­penditure of some £4,000 on capital account, principally wages and rations, was not charged specifically to one or other of the four groups of equipment. Buildings and stock yards. the basic equipment on the property, were the first to receive attention after 1861, and are the first to be described in the four sections that follow.


A considerable amount of the building material required for the development of Warrah was supplied from the natural resources of the estate itself. The forests of Warrah, although not particularly extensive, were sufficient to supply the Com­pany with most of the smaller timber sections required during these years. Practically all the fencing timber was sawn from trees growing on Warrah. Starting in 1868, the steam engine which worked the washpool pump at shearing time was used to drive a circular saw during the remainder of the year, and this considerably reduced the cost of building construc­tion on Warrah. When the engine first used at the wash-pool was replaced by a more powerful one it was removed in 1873 to a location on West Warrah where it was used solely for sawing timber. These timber milling operations were quite extensive: at the end of December 1875 there was seventy thousand feet of sawn timber, valued at £420, stored on the property. Most of this was cypress pine, and included flooring, lining and weatherboards, slab, joists, roofing and fencing battens, and shingles.


The decision to stock Warrah resulted in the establish­ment of administrative and supervisory centres at three levels. At the apex of the hierarchy, in common with all pastoral properties, was the head station. The exceptionally large size of Warrah led to the establishment of two subordinate administrative centres, on the eastern and the western portions of the property. Thirdly, as with other sheep runs, outstations were built for tending the sheep. With the exception of the sheep drafting yards at Jack's Creek, all tin yards and buildings erected on Warrah during these years can be accounted for in terms of these three supervisory levels.  

The site for the head station had to be close to a good water supply and yet safe from flooding. A central position would possess the obvious advantage of affording equally convenient communication with all corners of the property, but a site towards the north-east corner had the advantage ol being close to the route of the postal service and of acting as a screen to protect the run from trespassers. After much debate the latter site was chosen and the head station built on a ridge rising gradually to the eastward from the black-soil plains, due north of and on the opposite side of Warrah Creek — which here (lowed in a north-westerly direction—from the then existing dilapidated head station.


The building and yards at the head station cost £2,656, the most expensive being the woolshed and its attached store­rooms and yards/' It was hoped that this key item of station equipment would be completed for the 1863 shearing, but an unusually wet season, troublesome contractors and other difficulties delayed its completion until the 1864 shearing. Craik was responsible for designing the woolshed, first making a close scrutiny of sheds already existing and seeking advice from neighbouring flockmasters. The superintendent's cot­tage, costing £400, was in the form of two rectangular sec­tions, living quarters for Craik and his visitors, and a storeroom and office in one, the kitchen and servant's quarters in the other, connected by a covered way. The cottage was utilitarian if inelegant, it asserted no proud past, nor did it lay claim to an assured future. Grouped around the cottage were the store, the storekeeper's hm (comprising two semi detached dwellings for married employees and their families) and the shearers hut. All of these buildings had shingled roofs, slabbed walls and pine-board floors. Two-rail and three-rail timber fencing for two head-station paddocks, a killing yard and a milking bail completed the head station equipment at the end of 1865. During the next ten years the several new buildings added to the head station included a new butchery, a hut for the engineer, a shed for storing tal­low, and a large general purpose shed which was used as a stable, tool shed, and cart shed. The woolshed was extended in 1874, while Craik's marriage necessitated extensive addi­tions to his collage in 1872, after which he could write that "the place is now pretty complete and comfortable. There has been nothing ornamental done, but everything is strong, permanent and substantial, at least as much so as wood will make it".


The previous head station, at Old Warrah, became the headquarters of Craik's immediate subordinate on East War­rah. The Company did little repair work at Old VVarrah be­fore 1866, as the buildings were in such an advanced state of decay thai it was wisely decided to extract a little more use from them and then completely rebuild. In the years after 1866, as the huts became uninhabitable and the fences fell down, new horse and bullock yards were built, and the overseer's cottage and blacksmith's hut were torn down and replaced. As was the case with the head station, different ideas were held on the matter of the most suitable site for the im­mediately subordinate centre on West Warrah. Whereas in the former instance the choice made was much in accord with Hamilton's wishes, in this case Merewether eventually decided against the Governor's favoured Philips Creek, and chose Windy Point. The site was in the north-west corner of the properly, being about five miles south of the northern boundary and five miles east of the western boundary, on a ridge overlooking the plains to the north-west. The Conadilly or Mooki River ran through these plains, about a mile from Windy. This centre was twenty-two miles distant from the head station. Up to 1866 £600 was spent on buildings at the West Warrah head station. At the termination of the initial phase of construction activity the tiniest of settlements was grouped around an overseer's cottage about half the size of the dwelling inhabited by the manager at East Warrah. There was a store, a shingled shepherds hut and a separate kitchen which also housed one sleeping room. Almost as much was spent on the homestead paddocks and drafting yards as on dwellings for the men stationed there. Craik, en­sconced in his comparative comfort, felt for his fellows at Windy, "The luxuries at Windy at present consist of mut­ton, dampers, pints, quarts and deal boards, as for crockery, that has never yet been thought of".


By 1875 the appearance of the administrative centres at East Warrah and Windy had not altered drastically from the plans laid by the Company in the early 'sixties. By way of contrast, there had been a complete change at the third of the supervisory levels, for the system of stock management employed on Warrah in 1863 had virtually disappeared by 1875. In choosing the sites for the outlying sheep stations Craik found no reason to alter the location of those already established at the time of his arrival, although in most cases he replaced the existing yards with new ones. Some buildings were erected at completely new sites. The equipment at these centres consisted of permanent yards for the sheep and rough living quarters for the shepherds and hut-keepers. Craik en­thused over two American type zig-zag log yards erected at different localities, but generally the yards were constructed according to the most simple design and with the most readily accessible materials. The dwellings for the men employed at these out-stations were miserable; the bark huts built at four of the out-stations were the height of luxury compared with the more usual gunyahs.


It is interesting to note that whereas the head station and two subordinate stations were built by contractors, the huts and yards of the out-stations were built, by on-station labour or by lessees. At the beginning of the 'sixties one or two small sections on the outer perimeter of East Warrah as well as West Warrah were leased to neighbouring squatters for varying periods, and while the property was being stocked this leasing policy was continued and to some extent ex­panded; the lessees being required to erect huts and yards in return for the use of the grazing areas. In one case a lessee was also required to sink a well. In this way three out-centres were added to the station's complement of equipment. How­ever, the Court did not approve of these contracts and soon placed a veto on them.



The first stage in the enclosure and subdivision of Warrah with wire fencing occupied more than a decade, and required careful planning so as to secure a return on expenditure as soon as possible, and at the same time lay a satisfactory basis for later subdivision. As early as September 1862 the Court remarked on the "great deal of iron wire fencing" in exist-due in the colony and urged Merewetlier to consider fencing Warrah, but thc latter was not enthusiastic. Craik, fully occupied as he was, agreed with Merewther that fencing could well wail. There thus arose the unusual situation of colonial management hesitating when being advised by the Court to spend money on Warrah. Merewether's skeptical attitude 10 fencing was long-lived, and but lor the persistent pressure of the Court it is possible that Warrah might have remained unfenced longer than it did. Merewether was curiously be­hind the times in his ideas about fencing, for he was not at all certain that a post-and-rail or a log fence would not be more suitable than wire. It was not until May 1867 that Merewether acceded to the Court's repeated request that he pay a visit of inspection to Victoria. There he saw "a greal variety of wire, sione, long and brush fences and obtained all necessary information with respect to the construction and cost of each". A few weeks spent conversing with the well-established squatters of the Western District of Victoria caused a change in attitude on Merewether's part which some years of prompting from the Court had failed to induce. His newly found enthusiasm was unbounded: "Everyone tells me that fencing a run adds 50% of its carrying capacity. Fancy Warrah with 150,000 sheep on it".


Merewether originally considered a fencing project of a piecemeal nature, but this was speedily incorporated into a comprehensive scheme.  Long before he was convinced of the wisdom of fencing that portion of the property which was devoted to sheep grazing, Merewether had agreed with the Court that the cattle run could not long remain unfenced. If for no other reason, prompt action was desirable to assist in  thwarting cattle  rustlers  whose  depredations  had  been costing the Australian Agricultural Company a considerable amount of money. It was decided that all of Warrah, except two small areas of rough country in the north-east and south­east corners, should be enclosed. Work started in 1868 and in April 1869 the herd was turned into the large cattle paddock of 29,800 acres, as yet undivided. Thereafter, it was a story of paddock after paddock being fenced. The fencing of East Warrah was completed during 1873, and when the western boundary fence was finished in 1874 virtually all of Warrah was enclosed. A few months before his departure Craik let contracts for the last six paddocks, on the southern boundary of West Warrah. This work was completed during  1877. The fence line on Warrah included a few short internal sub­division fences, such as those at the washpool and those erected to facilitate the management of the stud flock, not provided for in Merewether's original plan, as well as the enclosure of the mountainous south-east corner of the estate.   The Com­pany had entered into an arrangement whereby the lessee of the north-east corner fenced its boundary, so that the whole of Warrah  was enclosed except for a  few acres of rugged country at the head of the Pages River.


There were various types of fencing contracts. In some cases one contract covered the entire job, in others, different contracts were let for the splitting of the timber, its carriage 10 the line of fence, the post-hole sinking, and so forth. In almost all cases the surveying and some of the preliminary work was performed by the Company. Craik's last fencing contract, for example, bound the Company to deliver the wire and battens at two named assembly points, the contract price to be paid in respect of "clearing line, getting, draw­ing, and erecting wood work of fence, and straining wire". Difficulties of no small nuisance value marked the carrying out of this work. At the outset there was a delay as a result of a labour shortage accentuated by extensions to the Great Northern Railway. Merewether insisted that workmen should provide their own tools, but at that time independent labourers were in so satisfactory a position that they refused to offer for employment on these terms. It was only when Craik had persuaded Merewether to alter the contract to include a "tools found" provision that men came forward to accept work. Then it became evident that the Court had blundered badly in despatching from England a type of wire different from that suggested by Merewether. Infuriated workmen wasted hours in splicing together strands which had broken during straining. One unscrupulous contractor, taking advantage of loose wording in the contract, success­fully sued the Company, another, a "talking swell", ab­sconded, leaving his workmen unpaid and a £40 account at the Warrah Store. Also, the fencing contractors frequently complained thai the Company's survey lines were inaccurate. The expenditure on fencing, which greatly exceeded Mere-wether's original estimate, was as follows:














Expenditure totalled £17,472. an average cost of £45/5/10 a mile for fences of all types.


in order to assess the advantages of paddocking sheep over the old system of shepherding, Craik adopted the simple method of selecting two flocks of the same type and age, and grazing one under the new and the other under the old system, duly comparing  their progress.   By  November 1871 he was able to give a reasonably definite verdict:


"There can be no doubt of the improvement in paddock-led sheep as compared to shepherded sheep. They are larger in carcase and in better condition. The wool is better grown, more mellow to the touch, cleaner, and therefore very much more easily and quickly washed."


To some extent, these improvements were not necessarily dependent upon fencing. By 1870 it had been shown that some of the advantages of the freer system of grazing could be achieved without wire fencing. Early in the 'sixties Craik introduced the first of a series of changes in traditional shep­herding procedures. Gradually, more modifications were made, so that within a decade there had been a complete departure from the system of sheep-tending as it existed on Warrah at the beginning of the 'sixties.


Under the old system the sheep were yarded at night at a permanent out-station, and were escorted to a different grazing place each day.   The herding of a large number of sheep into the same small area night after night caused foot-rot and other wastage. Craik observed that footrot was great­est at stations where the yards were old and "very full of dung". Certain remedial measures were soon applied. In 1862 some flocks were spared the hardship of the nightly yarding in the  permanent stations. Instead hurdles were placed out on the plains and the sheep camped there every second night. Success attended this innovation and the procedure was continued and developed further in   sub­sequent years. The sheep were permitted to graze freely, and the shepherd's duties were reduced to riding out two or three times a day to keep an eye on them. In time, the yards con­structed of movable hurdles ceased to be a part of the grazing system, and by May 1871 all  the sheep on the run were camped out. The sheep fared "far better than could have been reasonably expected" during a lengthy period of very wet weather, which Craik attributed to the abandonment of the  old  mode of shepherding and yarding. The swampy plains and dirty and boggy yards are avoided, and the sheep are lo be seen snuggly camped at night on the mountain sides, and on the ridge tops.

"The benefits resulting from this new technique had so attracted Craik that he viewed the destruc­tion by floods of some permanent sheep yards as a circum­stance not much to be regretted".

This innovation was re­garded by the Company as a passing phase on the way to the paddocking of all sheep. While this open range system of grazing had obvious advantages over earlier procedures, it also had disadvantages which fencing could eliminate. There was an increase in the number of losses through stealing and straying, and there were many more inconvenient "boxing matches", that is. the unwanted intermingling of two flocks of sheep.


Enclosure brought some new problems in its train. The art of managing stock on a paddocked station took some time to learn, and cattle stealing continued. Once the shepherd and the hut-keeper departed, dingos became such a menace that the sheep were removed from the paddock at the top of Warrah Creek, which remained unoccupied for months on end. The dingos became more audacious and penetrated the plains country, a stockman killing one at the washpool. A further difliculty of paddocking was that a shepherd no longer kept the sheep from bunching together, so that favourite patches of each paddock were eaten bare, while other patches were left untouched. Though horsemen might ride through a flock and scatter the sheep to the four corners of the pad­dock, they always drifted together again in a few days. Also, butchers and dealers declared that paddocked sheep were "wild" and so more troublesome on the way to market, and more liable to lose condition than shepherded sheep. Since a corollary of (his argument was that dealers offered less for paddocked sheep it was regarded by Merewether with a great deal of suspicion. However, for some years lip service was paid to the reasoning underlying this attitude, and Craik arranged for the shepherding of formerly paddocked sheep during the weeks prior to their delivery to a buyer, in order to "steady them for the road".


Further difficulties arose directly as a result of the large size of the paddocks. The original plan for a huge cattle pad­dock of thirty thousand acres was soon modified and the run was divided into six paddocks ranging from 3,350 to 7,000 acres. These areas were probably quite convenient for the management of cattle, but the sheep paddocks, which should have been smaller, were actually larger. On East Warrah 82,600 acres were divided into thirteen sheep pad­docks of about 6,300 acres each. All of West Warrah's 137,200 acres was devoted to sheep grazing, being divided into twenty paddocks ranging from 4,400 to 9,700 acres, eleven of them being between 5,300 and 6,600 acres. Under this system flock sizes were inconveniently large, and recourse had to be made to the vexatious expedient of mixing different ages within the one flock.


Fencing enabled the Company to institute a new lambing procedure. Under the old method lambing ewes were placed in hurdles, with sufficient men in attendance to give each ewe individual attention; but in 1872 Craik introduced the ex­periment of turning the ewes into paddocks where they were left to fend for themselves, with only a few men available to help any ewe obviously in difficulties." From the outset Craik regarded "free lambing in paddocks" with considerable mis­givings. The first trial of the new procedure seemed to con­firm his worst fears, for the percentage of lambs cut was significantly below that recorded at previous lambings, although the wages bill was also much lower. In 1873 the ewes were divided into thirteen flocks, of which seven, con­taining 17,265 sheep, were lambed down in paddocks, and six, containing 6,947 sheep, were accorded closer attendance. The ratio of lambs cut was 96 per cent for the former flocks and 90 per cent for the latter. Both hard lambing and free lambing procedures were employed in subsequent years, but (he returns soon persuaded Merewether to have all but. the stud ewes lambed down free in paddocks.


This change in lambing procedures was only one way in which fencing reduced labour costs. Before fencing, the average size of the flocks on Warrah was about two thousand, each flock requiring a shepherd and a hut-keeper. Larger Hocks were possible, indeed a matter of inconvenient necessity, once pens had been erected; one boundary rider, with the assistance of a boy, now supervised two paddocks. Supposing that there were 100,000 sheep on Warrah, divided into flocks of two thousand, with a shepherd and a hut-keeper for each flock, then one hundred men would be required for their supervision. On the other hand, free grazing in the thirty-three sheep paddocks of Warrah would, theoretically, require only seventeen men. As Merewether explained in 1870: "When Warrah is enclosed between thirty and forty men will be all that we shall employ for 120,000 sheep". It will be noticed that fencing did away with the close relationship be­tween the number of sheep grazing on the property at any one time and the amount of labour required. The property's demand lor labour now depended less on the number of sheep grazing on its pastures and more on the miles of fencing stretching across it.


The Company's figures show that fencing reduced labour costs. During the latter half of the 'sixties the average cost per head of the sheep establishment on Warrah had tended to rise slightly, but this trend was reversed in the early 'seventies. Merewether, when comparing the relevant figure of Is. 4 and one quarter d. for sheep management in 1872 with Is. 7 and three eighths d. in the previous year, concluded that the reduction was "entirely due to the saving effected in wages and rations by grazing the sheep at large in enclosures". A further fall occurred in 1873. Although the cattle establishment appears to have been subject to rising costs which the sheep estab­lishment escaped, a reduction in the average cost per head of supervising the herd from 4s. 3 and one quarter d. in 1869 to 3s. 6 and one quarter d. in 1870 probably could be attributed to the enclosing of the cattle paddock. A further indication of the trend towards lower costs is provided by a comparison between the wages bill of the Company's stock department of £4,052 in 1868 when the Company ran 65,000 sheep and 9,000 head of cattle, and the bill of £1,951 in 1875 when it ran 108,000 sheep and  13,000 head of cattle."

If fencing represented a triumph of careful long-term plan­ning, the provision of a water supply called for a serious modi­fication of initial schemes. The station lacked a permanent surface water supply. The watercourses which crossed the estate could be raging torrents liable to flood large areas of the surrounding plains, or they might be stretches of sand occasionally interrupted by shallow pools inadequate to water thousands of sheep and cattle. To provide a permanent water supply the Company could either sink wells or construct dams, that is, earthern retaining walls thrown across the watercourses at strategic locations. One of the few improvements carried out at Warrah in the years immediately prior to 1862 had been the sinking of a number of wells, but in the initial phase of the re-stocking of Warrah emphasis was placed upon the construction of dams.


From 1862 to 1865 inclusive five dams were built on Warrah at a cost of £750; three of them were completed be­fore the winter rain of 1863. and the remaining two a few months later. Earthern wings, faced with timber, were thrown out from the extremities of the retaining walls of the dams, which had to survive floods as well as retain water during dry spells. Post and rail fences prevented stock from damaging the walls, and couch grass was planted on the slopes and crests. All five dams stood firm throughout the "strong and repeated floods" of 1863, while "almost all the other dams of Liverpool Plains" failed to withstand the onslaught. A year later Craik was still of the opinion that these dams were "a great success", but during the summer of 1865-6 the water failed rapidly in all of them. It became obvious that other means of watering the stock would also be required.


During these years the Company sank three new wells and re-timbering the old wells and deepened them a few feet. But at the end of 1868 only two more wells had been added to the nine on Warrah in 1862. At the beginning of the 'sixties only a small number of wells had been provided with a horse-drawn whim, device whereby water was brought to the surface through the agency of a horse driven on a circular track around the well. In the majority of cases the water was hauled up by a man employing a windlass. Between 1867 and 1874 six wells were fitted with whims. In addition, further money was allocated to the well sinking programme. The fencing of Warrah into over thirty paddocks necessitated the provision of many more watering points. This was met by sinking new wells, and by constructing a second type of dam, often referred to as a waterhole. The construction of such dams simply involved scooping of a storage reservoir out of the ground at some natural depression where the run-off from the surrounding country would accumulate. Ten such dams were of sufficient importance to warrant specific mention in Craik's monthly reports, and many smaller ones were dug.


By 1875 the brunt of the task of supplying the stock on Warrah with water was borne by the wells. Little reliance was placed upon the earthern retaining walls thrown across the watercourses, upon which so much money, time and trouble had been expended during the early 'sixties. In the period prior to 1869 over nine times as much was spent, on the earthern retaining walls as upon wells; after 1869 there was no expenditure on these walls, water supply expenditure being almost equally divided between wells and waterholes. By 1875 there was water for the 105.000 sheep and 2,700 head of cattle which Warrah grazed in that year—provided that the season was not outrageously unkind. The wells, darns and waterholes offered no insurance against the dangers of a bad drought; during the 1877-78 season, for example, thousands of stock had to be moved from the property.



Probably no problem of pastoral management, during the 1860s was so productive of mental anguish as that involving the method of getting up the wool. The Court decreed that unless there were "special reasons to the contrary" the clip was to be sold in London, and not in the colony. But in what form was it to be offered to the London wool-buyers? The clip could be sold in the grease; the sheep could be washed before shearing, or the fleece could be scoured after shearing. This latter operation could be carried out on the property, or at some suitable locality distant from Warrah but under Company supervision, or it could be entrusted to one of the commercial scouring plants being established throughout the colony. Had the only factors to be weighed been the external ones of buyers' preferences and freight charges the Company almost certainly would have provided Warrah at an early stage with the plant either to wash the sheep before shearing or else to scour the shorn fleece. But there was considerable doubt as to whether Warrah had a sufficient water supply, and also whether the Liverpool Plains water was suitable for washing. Craik was convinced that these obstacles were in­surmountable, and Merewether, following the fiasco of 1864 when temporary arrangements were made for the washing of the sheep in Warrah Creek, was by no means sure that Craik was wrong. So apprehensive was he of the risks involved that he turned away from the alluring prospect of having the entire process of preparing the clip for market carried out on Warrah and devoted considerable attention to the other alter­natives. For years. Merewether struggled to find a solution to the dilemma, now favouring one course, now another. Most of the New South Wales clips of 1865, 1866 and 1867 were scoured at Haigh's establishment in Sydney or at Wright's in Muswellbrook, but freight charges were heavy and the quality of the work not very satisfactory. An experimental shipment of a small lot of wool from the Warrah clip of 1866 was sold in London in the grease, but the proceeds were so discouraging as to dissuade the Court from repeating the venture. The Court could offer little guidance, for it altered its opinion even more frequently than Merewether.


Merewether examined Warrah's water resources anew and in 1867 decided to prepare the clip completely at Warrah. This decision still left open the question of washing the wool on the sheep's back or scouring after shearing. Hamilton favoured scouring, while Merewether would have preferred washing, but recognised that scouring required less water. The final choice was made suddenly, in strange contrast to the earlier protracted cerebrations of Merewether, Craik and the Court, An outsider, unaware of the complexities of the choice of scouring or washing, probably precipitated the decision. A. K, Smith, a Melbourne engineer who happened to be engaged on a contract at Newcastle, had constructed several sheep-washing plants in Victoria and, when approached by Merewether, suggested certain alterations in his plans for the Warrah scouring plant. He visited Warrah in September 1867, took one look at Warrah Creek, in "semi-flood" as Craik scornfully remarked, and declared that it pro­vided ample water for washing. Merewether immediately offered Smith the task of constructing the wash pool plant.


Several mishaps marked the commencement of work on the washpool. The Court did not have complete confidence in the changes in the plans adopted by Merewether on the advice of Smith; considerable difficulty was experienced in shipping the 16 H.P. engine from Melbourne, and when it finally arrived at the railhead at Singleton the Hunter River team­sters "got frightened" and it was some time before Smith could find a driver willing to haul it to Warrah.


About three miles west-north-west of the head station Warrah Creek meandered uncertainly along a barely defined water­course. To the east stretched a low lying plain, swampland in the wet season, and broken by several gullies. West of the creek the ground rose gradually, affording a site for the wash-pool plant reasonably safe from flooding. There, early one September afternoon, before the anxious eyes of Merewether and Craik, the first sheep were thrown into the warm soapy water of the soak tank. They remained there a few minutes, and then scrambled along the swim to a platform, where they were seized and held for a couple of minutes under the jets of water from the spouting cistern, and then allowed to stag­ger along a race to the drying yards. When washing ended for the day, three hundred and fifty sheep stood for inspection. Alas for Craik's prophecy of sheep "rolling out . . . fast and furious snow white". The tips of the fleeces were well washed, but the fibres nearest the skin were scarcely cleaned at all; "in most instances". Craik ruefully reported, "the dirt seemed set in a harsh gluey and clingy form at the roots of the wool from which it could not be removed".


Merewether and Craik experimented with the strength of the scour, the temperature of the water in the soak, the length of time spent in the soak and under the spout; all possible combinations were tried but without success. When work came to an end on 4 December only 37,000 of the 67,000 sheep shorn had been washed. The shearing of 1868 had been a severe disappointment to Merewether: it had been "a mess all through owing to the washing going wrong". "We are", lamented Craik, "simply the laughing stock of the country as regards sheep-washing". The sales results were even worse than had been expected, for the London wool market in 1869 was very much in buyer's Favour. The pro­ceeds of the 1868 clip were the lowest for three years, and the average price fell to Is. l and three quarter d. per Ib. Merewether thought the dismal Failure was due to the hardness of the water and the character of the wool. He obtained a chemist's report on the water and decided to use caustic soda for the 1869 wash­ing, even though there was some controversy as to whether its use was entirely beneficial. Nothing could be done, how­ever, about the character of the wool of the Liverpool Plains sheep.


The Company continued to spend substantial sums on the washpool. The dam required constant attention, sluicing out debris and silt brought down by the floods or lengthening and strengthening the wall. More drying yards were built, and better accommodation was provided for the washers. Merewether regretted that he had not followed Hamilton's advice and installed a 20 H.P. engine, and in 1870 a new pump and engine were shipped from England. For three weeks the engine remained at Willow Tree, four miles from Warrah, while Craik waited for the black soil bogs to dry. Then casting caution to the winds, he had it hurried across dubious tracks and safely stowed away at Warrah. He looked the new arrival over and commented: "I should have liked better to have seen the price of it in the Company's coffers, but I suppose this is no business of mine". The pump was a different matter. Craik installed it that winter, along with a new eight-spout cistern, and wrote in glowing terms of the "gushing beauty". It was found that the original engine, in association with the new pump, could easily keep the cistern full and eight spouts in operation. The 20 H.P. engine stayed in its packing cases during three seasons. The wash pool underwent even more extensive remodelling prior to the 1873 washing. The 20 H.P. engine, along with boilers and hot water pipes, was encased in a "compact and complete" brick­work construction. This was a far cry from the primitive arrangements of the 1864 season.


These expensive additions to the plant improved the quality of the washing. The 1869 washing was distinctly bet­ter, and when the first flocks left the washpool in 1870, Craik was overjoyed to see that their fleeces were "really beautiful". By the mid-seventies Warrah's washing was "simply perfec­tion", a happy change from the gloomy days of 1868.


Washing continued to be employed on Warrah for a decade after Craik's departure in 1872. Early in the 'eighties. as woollen manufacturers made increasing use of the yolk which was removed during washing, the advantages of wash­ing as compared with shearing in the grease lessened. During the 1884 season several types of flocks were involved in trials to compare shearing washed sheep and shearing in the grease. The results showed that washing gave a worse result by 0.7I d. per sheep. Merewether's successor, Gregson, was surprised at the result, but decided to discontinue washing as soon as the existing stocks of soda and soap had been used. A commence­ment was made at the washpool in August 1885, but seasonal factors intervened and as soon as the first flock was finished the men were paid off and the washing of sheep ended at Warrah. Gregson consoled himself with the thought that the plant, which had cost £6,198 from start to finish, had "probably repaid its cost".


Two general principles had guided the Company in the equipping of Warrah. The first was that Warrah was to be provided with the best. The Court did pass through phases of financial caution, but their economy-minded spasms never went to the extent of decreeing that second rate equipment-should be purchased for the sake of saving a few pounds. The second was that the Company should draw upon the accumulated knowledge of the flockmasters of Australia. The property was to be provided with the best, and the experience of others was to determine what was the best. Craik planned the woolshed after studying those on neighbouring properties. Merewether investigated the effects of fencing in the Western District of Victoria before committing the Court to the heavy expense of enclosing Warrah. During these years the Com­pany was not an innovator; it derived great benefit from the experience of others, but contributed little or nothing in re­turn to the common pool of technological knowledge.


To those who footed the bill for the equipment of the property the most impressive return was the contribution which Warrah made to the Company's dividends. The live­stock operations carried out on the property increased the annual trading surplus of the Stock Department from a little under £3,400 in 1861 to a peak exceeding £42.000 in 1874.'" The Colliery Department, which had been the Com­pany's major money earner in the first half of the 'sixties, was outstripped by the Stock Department from 1866 until 1872, although thereafter it reasserted its former supremacy. Warrah's record had shown that most satisfactory results could flow from the careful application of the knowledge which the Australian pastoral industry had accumulated by the 1860s. Meticulous attention to detail, backed by strong financial resources and aided by good seasons, had resulted in a most impressive achievement."

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25.09 | 09:36

Absolutely delighted to come across a part of my direct ancestors history about which I knew very little and shall endeavour to find out more
Thank you Prof. A.

23.09 | 22:23

Very interesting Kelaher family history. Impressive number of trained nursing sisters. Jack lent the Copelands a cream horse, Playboy, in 1950's, ridden by Kate

09.09 | 17:58

Wonderfully informative. Thank goodness for Jane and John Atchison's work

06.09 | 14:33

I am Jack Kelaher and I am proud of my pop, dad and ancestors.

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