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Sheep and Cattle on the Monaro
Manaro, throughout the whole of its history, from the time when the first settlers drove their herds on to it, up to the present, has been essentially a pastoral district. It has from time to time indulged in intermittent attacks of mining fever, but its growth and development, and the position it holds in the State, have been almost entirely determined by the number of the cattle and sheep grown and raised within its boundaries, and by the quantity of wool shorn and disposed of from year to year. It is true that an attempt was made to establish a dairying industry, but though there was a factory at Bolairo. another at Jindabyne, and yet another at Nimmitabel, the results were not such as to warrant the efforts being persisted in. Certainly the industry never became permanent, and to-day it is impossible to find a butter factory in the district discussed in this booklet.
The early settlers almost invariably stocked their runs with cattle. These had enormous areas of unfenced, beautifully grassed lands, upon which to roam It was no easy matter to keep them within bounds, and their owners had in those days practically no market, and they could protect themselves reasonably well from dingoes, and were mustered at only infrequent intervals, the result was that they increased with almost remarkable rapidity. Some of the pioneers, such as Dr. Reid, the Brooks, Cosgroves, Crisp, Commissary Ryrie, Beard and Rolfe of Ironmungie, William and David Kiss and William Bradley had very large herds. The musters always meant that a very large number of stock was brought in; some of these were branded, but frequently the bulls, and a large proportion of the calves were destroyed, Bullocks were sometimes kept till they were seven or eight years old, and as they were not always of the quietest, it can be imagined that the old time musters were quite often crowded full of incident. Except for boiling down the carcases, cattle had no value in the olden times, and the Crisp family had a record of a draft of stock being taken to Sydney and realising 17/6 per head for tallow.
In 1853 Mr. Richard Brooks had established a boiling down works, and received a letter dated 27th August of that year from his solicitor, Mr. G. R. Nickol, advising him as to the necessity for taking out a license. The tallow of cattle that were killed and boiled down on the runs, would very often be taken to market in casks made out of their own hides.
In the early forties Ben Boyd was a man who, foreseeing the possibilities of Manaro, acquired large interests there, and owned, either individually or in conjunction with the Syndicate he represented, probably the major portion of the cattle on Southern Manaro. He established, amongst other things, a huge boiling down works at Twofold Bay, and opened up a direct business relationship between the tableland and the coast.
Trial shipments of cattle were made to New Zealand by Mr. Alexander Montague and Mr. Amos Crisp, but these did not prove profitable. Eventually the Gippsland market was opened up, and proved an outlet for the large number of stock on Manaro.
Much discussion has centred round the date of the introduction of sheep on Manaro. Many who are competent to offer an opinion state that it was not until after 1862, when much of the land comprised in the old time runs was being selected under the provisions of the Crown Lands Act, with the consequent limitation of area for large stock and the additional liability to an action for trespass, that the squatter turned his attention to sheep. In 1823 sheep to the number of 7,000, property of Robert Campbell, were grazed in the neighbourhood of Canberra. It is definitely the case that in 1834, Mr. Caldwell, the then owner of what is now Michelago Station, was using that run as a sheep grazing proposition. It is also certain that for some time prior to 1843, wool-growing as an industry was carried on to some considerable extent on Manaro, for in "The Sydney Morning Herald" of 22nd December, 1843, there is an advertisement by the -Boyd Town Store, Twofold Bay, stating: "The Settlers of Maneroo can be supplied with stores of every description at Sydney prices. Wool, sheepskins and hides taken in exchange.
The same issue of this paper also has another advertisement,
"Wool will be conveyed from Boyd Town to Sydney during the season by regular packets at one shilling per cwt.; persons wishing to avail themselves of this conveyance are to apply to Adam Bogue, Boyd Town Store, Two fold Bay. No charge is made for storage."
Both these advertisements offer definite proof that at the period named, Manaro was a woolgrowing district.
In 1842 Lieutenant Irving had a sheep station on Maneroo.
In 1848 the claimants for Leases of Runs from the Crown, in the particulars given elsewhere, deal with the carrying capacity of the lands, in many instances in terms of sheep.
In 1848 also, when Ryrie and Wallace held Coolringdon, sheep were depastured there, for some of the brief sketches of the pioneers elsewhere, indicate that in the drought which prevailed at the end of the forties, they were engaged in the work of opening up springs to water the sheep.
Perhaps the first sheep brought to the district were those of Dr. Reid, who in 1830 was at Reid's Flat (Bunyan) and introduced some breeding sheep from Camden Park, grazing them on what is now Rosebrook.
In 1856 the industry had sufficiently advanced to justify official recognition and control, for on 31st October in that year, Richard Popham, who was Inspector of Sheep for the District of Maneroo, summoned Mr. Weir, Superintendent of the Twofold Bay Pastoral Association, for travelling unbranded sheep, and on November 10th Mr. Weir was convicted by the Cooma Bench and fined 3d. per head on 1,000 sheep.
In April, 1857, Mr. Alexander Montague sold to Messrs. John, Alexander, and David Ryrie, 7,712 sheep at 12/- per head.
In the days that are now being written of, the care of sheep was an entirely different matter to that of to-day. Now there are paddocks with sheep proof fences, then the sheep had to be tended by shepherds; they were placed in yards formed by hurdles, and after two or three days the hurdles were moved and the sheep taken on to fresh, clean ground. Alongside the yards stood a watch-box in which someone would stay to protect the sheep against the attacks of dingoes. To-day, when the economic and industrial world is struggling with wages awards, rural conditions, and hours of working, we wonder at the conditions which enabled the shepherd to bring up a family on a wage of 120 per annum, or how the hut-keeper and watchman managed with an annual wage of 18 pounds to provide for those dependent upon him.
A contrast in values and sheep is obtainable from a letter written in 1867 by Mr. Theo. Buckland to Mr. Alexander Montague, in which, after sympathising with the latter about -the result of his New Zealand cattle ventures, he advises him to turn his attention to sheep, saying: "You can calculate on the long fine wool always maintaining its value. Coarse wool is, and will be, affected by the Cape and S. American wool, but 1/3d in Sydney for your coarse wool ought to pay, because you can, in good feeding seasons, calculate on 3lbs of wool."
In 1869 Mr. Amos Crisp realised 10 1/2d. per lb. for the whole of his clip, totalling eight bales.
That Manaro wool, as early as 1887, had attained a definite position for itself, is gathered from the "Sydney Morning Herald" of 1st July of that year:- Mr. Henry Austin, reviewing the previous year's clip for the whole colony, says: "Some of the Southern and Manaro wools were probably never better, being light, well grown, free, and sound, deficient skirting being their only, as unfortunately it is, their normal fault."
In 1893, at the January sales, it is noted that the wool from Mr. Robert Evans' "Kiah Lake" Station topped the market, realising 7 1/2d. per lb., unskirted. Contrast this with the prices realised within the last few years, when Manaro wool brought as much as 42d. per lb.
Such is briefly the history of the early pastoral and grazing days.
As settlement and selection walked hand in hand, the large cattle runs were gradually transformed into the fenced sheep station. Control became much easier, and this in its turn tended very effectively to assist those who sought to improve the sheep industry. Men like Messrs. James Litchfield and his sons - A. J., E. H., and 0. C. Litchfield, J. J. Devereux, Ryrie, W. Harkness, W. Jardine, and Ryall, will for all time have their names indelibly associated with that development which not only raised high-class sheep, but has caused Manaro to be regarded as a district producing high quality wool; whilst the Executors of the Estate of the late Hon. Alexander Ryrie, Mr. W. A. Lang, Mr. W. W. Hedges, and The Australian Estates, Ltd., have imported cattle of the best strains, with a view to having Manaro recognised as a district capable of raising cattle equal to anything Australia can produce.
Transcribed from "BACK TO COOMA" Felix Mitchell 1926 pp32-34, by Pattrick Mould 2003