History of Warrah and district.

A Brief History of the Warrah Subdivision.

From the Book “1912 Warrah Subdivision”, a closer settlement success story.

Excerpts from Chapters 1, 2 & 3 written by Dr John Atchison in 1996.

The Warrah lands were initially part of the domain of the Kamilaroi peoples from whom they take their name. Henry Dangar (1796-1861), surveyor, was the first colonist to gauge the land use potential of Warrah. Dangar knew well the enclosed valley north of Mt Gregson and fed by Warrah, Borambil and Chilcotts creeks. Five journeys of exploration, survey and evaluation, centred on squatter Parnell's stock station, gave him an unrivalled knowledge of the interior. However, major use of the Liverpool Plains Estate as a fattening station did not occur until the 1861-1888 period during which phase Warrah emerged as Australia's finest pastoral property, a reputation retained until the 1920s.

The Australian Agricultural Company, aided by Dangar's shrewd judgement, chose Liverpool Plains as one of its alternate grants. A large rectangular block (30 miles x 13 miles; 249,600 ac) of well grassed, dark rich soils, fed by eleven creeks flowing out of the Liverpool Range to a confluence near Kickerbell with the Mooki River, played a significant role in corporate pastoralism as the AA Company evolved during the 1833-1969 period.

The Company began occupation of the gentle rise of forest land above Thomas Parnell's hut in 1833. Parnell was not the only squatter on the plains. The unprecedented movement beyond the twenty counties of 1829-30 had been pioneered, according to David Denholm, by the Baldwin family with their vanguard station of "Yarramanbah", west of Warrah Ridge. When a Government Order first proclaimed limits of settlement in 1826, Baldwin's stock already grazed within sight of Mount Parry. The rapid occupation of seven stations between Warrah and Phillips Creek encountered strong resistance from the Kamilaroi.

Closer settlement of Liverpool Plains, and the associated Peel Valley and Gwydir districts, came in the early twentieth century. It was facilitated by strong legislation, new wheat types and changing technologies of transport and communications. Restructuring of the banking system, legislation on industrial relations, discontent in the country towns and powerful ideology about the rural countryside, as well as evolving policies on immigration, were fostering an environment advocating change and social mobility. Families in the Hunter Valley and in locations as distant as Victoria discussed chancing their fortunes, for the betterment of their children, on the newly proclaimed settlement purchase area on the sunny side of the Liverpool Range.

Another surveyor, Frederick Poate (1855-1935), played a major role in Crown acquisition of the first substantial subdivision of the estate. Poate judged the south-east corner of the Liverpool Plains Estate would be most suitable for a closer settlement scheme. A large section of 45006 ac was excised in 1909 from the historic grant, when the government proclaimed the Warrah Settlement Purchase Area, and made available to a new class of settlers. Dairy farming and barley growing would replace broad acres pastoralism. The Australian Agricultural Company regrouped its operations on the remainder of the grant. James Henry, General Superintendent (1919-1932) stated it grazed not a head of cattle nor flock of sheep less than before the setting up of New South Wales most successful closer settlement scheme.

However, for the Australian Agricultural Company the new generation of eager-faced farmers, discussing around kitchen hearths their chances in the ballot for the pastoral land awaiting the disc plough, was unfortunate. Its enterprises on "Warrah" had involved expensive outlays and slow returns. Hard experience in adapting cultural baggage from the British heritage to a distinctive, if harsh, Australian landscape, fostered an understandable reluctance to yield to new pressures and new times.

In 1875 Richard Hudson, overseer at “West Warrah” since 1861, replaced Craik while Jesse Gregson assumed office from Merrewether. Hudson engineered removal of 40,000 sheep to Glen Morrison and Ingelba on the headwaters of the Macdonald (Namoi) river to offset severe drought in 1877-78. George Fairbairn, Hudson's successor (1880-1910) followed suit in 1883 as severe drought again tested the permanence of previous achievements. The combination of Gregson and Fairbairn brought "Warrah" to its peak of national achievement.

When Frederick Livingstone-Learmonth succeeded Gregson in 1905 he was able to rely on the proven capacity of George Fairbairn. At the beginning of the century "Warrah" ran 177,088 sheep. "Warrah" and "Gloucester" grazed 17,290 cattle. A policy of reserving "Warrah" for pastoral purposes and not selling any land on the Liverpool Plains had been instituted. Artificial feeding had enabled the Company to survive reasonably unscathed from the extreme conditions of the prolonged drought which marked the turn of the century. This drought, and the rabbit plague, which reduced the national flock from 106,400,000 in 1891 to 53,400,000 in 1902 left the Company secure and planning for future operations. The sale of the semi-coastal lands (206,000 ac) to the Gloucester Estates Syndicate simplified management tasks. The completion by the end of 1901 of a modern new wool shed at "Windy" positioned activities for the full recovery which came with the good rains of 1903. From then until the year of unexampled prosperity in 1908 activities were routine except for intensifying of wire netting to deal with the rabbit menace.

By 1908 the liberal-reform government of Charles Wade had indicated firmly that it intended to acquire sections of Warrah-Liverpool Plains Estate under clauses of the new proclaimed Closer Settlement Act. Learmonth advised a voluntary Willow Tree sub-division (auctioned November 1908) partly to establish the value of the land by private sale. When, on 1 July 1909, government proclaimed the Warrah Settlement Purchase Area, Learmonth protested "distinct breach of faith by a previous arrangement" only to be told of a change of policy and a new bill. There can be little doubt that this compulsory acquisition was the first of a number of factors motivating his resignation and removal to England. To offset the loss of the 45006 ac subdivision Learmonth recommended purchase of "Corona", a sheep station west of Longreach, Queensland belonging to his family's Groongal Pastoral Company. This 1911 purchase presaged a pattern of purchase and lease throughout northern and Western Australia.

By the 1920s the reduction of the estate, begun with the Willow Tree Subdivision (1908), was well under way. The 1969 auction of Warrah Homestead ended a process of withdrawal with the exception of the important, still large (33846ac; 13697ha) Windy Station in the north west corner of the original grant. "Windy" remains today the only New South Wales station of Australia's third largest beef cattle producer. The corporation which facilitated pastoral occupation of northern New South Wales is concentrated today in the Top end.

Balloting for farms took place on and after 8 January 1912. All but four of the 84 farms were taken up during 1912.

Despite predictions of gloom by local community leaders, the area proved very popular, particularly with Hunter River residents who were well aware of the quality of the land available. Many of them had passed through on their way to the shearing sheds of the north west and were only too willing to bring their families to start a new life north of the Liverpool Range. The sceptics were to be proved very wrong as later chapters of our book will show.

The scene, before squatters and the Australian Agricultural CompanyHad any effect on the landscape can best be described by Sir Edward parry, Commissioner for the AA Company on his first trip to the area in 1830.

“It is all (Warrah) a most splendid country - not a single acre on which sheep may not feed. Apple trees (Angophora floribunda) in valleys, box on hills. Rich black deep soils in all the flats, not like our alluvial flats (lower Hunter valley). All the valleys, about 10 or 12 miles long, terminate in the Plains. The points where the forest land projects into the Plains are all exquisitively beautiful, being thinly timbered with box and appletree, covered with verdant grass, and gently sloping down to the Plains.”

The terms of purchase of the 84 Closer Settlement Blocks in the Warrah 1912 Subdivision were:

37 equal annual payments @ 5% of the Farm valuation.

e.g. Farm 79 of 451 acres, valued at £5.14.6 ($11.45) per acre, was worth £2581.19.6 ($5163.95). Each annual instalment was £129.2.0 ($258.20), and the total amount paid for this farm after 37 years was £4776.13.1 ($9553.31), this being an annual interest rate of 2.3%.

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Heather Hile | Reply 08.04.2020 11:33

My family lived an worked on Warrah Station, I spent the first 4 years of my life there. My dad and his family worked there for years as did my grandfather.

Helen Copeland 11.04.2020 11:49

Hello Heather....wondering what your maiden name was...were you Heather Boyd?

KEN SAUNDERS | Reply 28.11.2017 19:33

Thanks Geoff for info on my grandfather
Ken Saunders

Ken Saunders | Reply 27.11.2017 14:49

Is there a list of farm buyers who purchased on 8 January, 1912? My grandfather Frederick Saunders may of been one of them as he lived in that area, Jacks Creek

Geoff Barwick 27.11.2017 22:31

Yes. There is a list in the 1912 Warrah Subdivision book. Fred bought block 57 at Jacks Creek. Now known as "Glendale".

Mike Fibbens | Reply 09.03.2016 17:59

Good stuff! I lived on Windy in 1958 (did couple of weeks "roustabouting" in the shed). Any chance of some references for more reading?
Mike Fibbens

Lisa Knight | Reply 07.01.2014 19:31

I have tons of photographs of my family (Falkiners & Frasers)at Groongal in the mid 1800's. Let me know if they are of any use.

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Latest comments

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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