Sunday, May 27, 2012

Thurloo Downs. Pt 2. The buildings

Shearers quarters.

Last post I spoke of the people of Thurloo Downs, and their pivotal role in its pastoral history. However, everywhere you look lies evidence of an older people- Aboriginal heritage- spear heads, rock knives. You walk over it -unaware. But they still exist, in the landscape, in the colour of the soil, in trees and grasses. We, as Australians need to embrace it. This soul this place has. One cannot exist without the other.

Original Building. Circa 1880-Plummer Cotter and family would have known this home.

The buildings we as "white fellas" put in place for me are comforting. From one of the first dwellings, to the managers hut, the shearers quarters, the shearing shed and finally the grand old home. Total functional statements of achievement and pure hard work. Irish men and women blending and bending with the terrain, to form a unique bond. A bond even I could feel. If you read this and have Irish heritage in Australia- chances are you have dark blood in your veins too. Be proud.

Overseers Hut.

I wondered about, and felt the history in every sense. From the start- those aboriginal men and women, the "development' ( do we really "develop" anything?), right through to today. The shearing shed was built in 1928. Every beam numbered to a corresponding beam. Every joint bolted and riveted. A testament to British engineering. This shed could be pulled down and rebuilt exactly as it should anywhere on the property.

Managers Hut.

Being a working station the shed is full of wool, lanolin, and the grease of the men who worked there- turn on the lights and its ready to go for next season.

The shearers quarters not so- Its hard to get men to work now, and harder to maintain the the old buildings.. and they require a lot of it.

I wandered past the old tennis court- I could hear the "thwak" of a tennis ball on cat gut, I wandered past the tack shed, and the remains of a veggie patch. I thought of the Chinese gardener.

Donkey Heater ( email me for details!)

You see, this is a place where the machinery of man come second to the well being of the stock. We need to get back to this grass roots approach. Where a stockman can sleep in the sand and stare at the stars, knowing the stock will be ok because he is there. Where the cattle dog knows his place and will work to the end fearlessly, because thats what you want. Where the poetry of the "clever man"* and the poetry of Henry Lawson intertwine as part of the landscape.

This is not a land for us or them. We dont own it, it owns us. It will embrace you, or kill you. There is no choice. I walked on and in my short time there saw much.

(* Clever man is an aboriginal elder who was the medicine man and the keeper of stories.)

Part three next week- the homestead and shearing shed.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Australian Cattle and Sheep Stations Pt 1

On my way to Wanaaring, n/west NSW.

The statistics are humbling- 1.3 million acres, (the largest privately owned land holding in Australia), 30,000 head of sheep, 6000 head of cattle. The boundary fences are approximately 80kmx80km. It takes 3 days simply to drive around the property and is situated north west of Wanaaring towards the Hamilton gate on the NSW/QLD border.

To put it in perspective- It's the size of the Sydney basin. The owner, Peter is 75, his only help comes from his son, Mick, a couple of employees, a team of dogs and a few motorbikes. His partner, Wendy, maintains the house, cooks for the men and looks after the residential gardens, shopping. Hard workers are difficult to find now.

The day begins on sun up and ends on sundown, except for Wendy, who works late into the evening. Her work is vital and she does not stop.. Peter himself has worked on Thurloo since he was 13, and will be buried there. A big man, tall, strong and capable of out working any of his staff. He moves with the ease of a man who has spent years in the saddle. (For my American readers- John Wayne comes to mind.) He defies his age.
After 12 hours of driving a cold beer at Wanaaring pub was most welcome.

Two Irish backpackers came to work at Thurloo, they arrived, burst into tears and hitched back after one day. It's not easy and it's not for everyone. I wondered even more how the men and women coped with the massive change arriving from England and Ireland all those years ago. I guess the tears from the two backpackers says enough.

The end of a day is celebrated with 2 beers at the bar, and the evening meal with a glass of wine or a scotch. Its "Old School", and marvelous. Peter sits at the head of the table, and, as I was taught, I waited until he was served before I started. At the end of the meal a pot of tea, and a chat. The table is re-set for the following day.
Who needs a map when you have a road sign like this?

The simple courtesies that are so important in a harsh environment.Its my view that Thurloo is in the top 5% of finishing stations in Australia. By that I mean to put weight and shine on a beast its 75% the property and 25% the owner or manager. Thurloos cattle are in superb condition as too are the sheep. Quote " Some blokes are into the plant and equipment to run their place. I'm not. I work for the animals they are my priority".

Peters attitude is clearly on display. Even a mob of horses are in excellent shape. I think Peter is a little humble when he credits himself with only 25% of the result.In asking him how he manages to do all of this, he replied "Oh well, there is a ton of other work that has to be done, but you just have to put it on the back burner because you cannot get staff and so you have to do most of everything yourself". "The greatest help in the last 50 years has been the motorbike, the UHF radio and poly pipe."
I asked Peter what he enjoyed most- " Showing the young blokes what hard work is". And he does. In the peak of the season Gyro copters are used to assist in mustering. I guess the mining boom has taken the staff away.You will never see men work as overseer for much of their life on one property as Jim Cotter did on Boorara. Now they come and go.
Thurloo Downs "driveway"

Wendy took me out to the mailbox- 100kph across the terrain where there is bearly any indication of a track. Like Peter she was born to it. The groceries are delivered by mail and there is a load swap..on the side of the red road, a road thats as wide as a 4 lane highway.As I said- It is a harsh place but there is an incredible softness too.

The Berrawinia creek is home to water rats, fish, and the bird life is fabulous. Yet only a few hundred yards away from this is the read sand and soil. The colours- this contrast the rich blue of the sky, the red of the soil the yellow of the grasses and the variety of greens are a rich backdrop to this beautiful place.

To be continued...

Friday, May 11, 2012

I'm Off!

 My last trip to the corner country. Crossing a salt pan.

I  am  excited to say  that I  have received the phone call from  the owners of Thurloo Downs and will head out early  next  week to visit. At 1.3 million acres its the largest privately  owned land holding in Australia, and features in our Australian history  and specifically  in my  family  history.

The road surface in the "Corner Country" rocks as large as house bricks in some spots.

It was 2006 since I was last  out in that part of the country. It  has always held a fascination for me long before I  realized my  close family links to  the area. The Bartons, Dunks, Kennedys, Howchitts and the Goodes all are linked to us.

Flocks of Budgies make a beautiful sight!

I  am  not sure what I will  feel wandering through a historic home and property where the ghosts of family  past  still linger. All I  know is- it will be amazing.

Its about a 12 hour drive on some rough roads and with  all the floods it should be interesting. The bird life should be good too!