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Grazing the grasslands

Grazing the grasslands

Tracing the expansion of the pastoral industry.

Click on a place to discover some of the key stories and objects that will feature in Landmarks: People and Places across Australia.

Springfield, near Goulburn, New South Wales

King John Cry's breastplate

Free settler William Pitt Faithfull was granted a large tract of well-watered grassland south of Goulburn, on the southern tablelands of New South Wales, in 1827. The Faithfull family prospered and their Springfield property became renowned for its fine merino wool and stud sheep.

Relations between pastoralists and the local Gundungurra were strained before the arrival of the Faithfull family. Tension mounted in 1826 when Gundungurra men killed a stockman. David Reid, a landholder and magistrate reported that more than 1000 Aborigines had gathered near his property. Two military divisions arrived from Sydney to quell the unrest.

Crescent-shaped breastplate inscribed 'King John Cry, Chief of the Duedolgongtule, Argyle', with an image of a man aiming a gun at a small animal.
King John Cry's breastplate.
Photo: Matt Kelso.

King John Cry's breastplate

A delicate combination of negotiation and force enabled pastoralism to proceed in the Goulburn region. David Reid knew the value of maintaining good relations with senior Aboriginal figures. He organised rations for the senior men, and the presentation of a brass breastplate to a man known as Cry. This breastplate belonged to Cry's son, known as King John Cry. It was unearthed near Springfield in 1901.


View a larger image of the breastplate

The Springfield collection

Aboriginal breastplates online feature

Bowen Downs, near Longreach, Queensland

A roadside mailbox. The number on the box is 1862 and the sign above reads 'Bowen Downs'
Mailbox, Bowen Downs station, 2006. Photo: George Main.

Kenya station windmill

Bowen Downs is a pastoral station in central Queensland, in the territory of the Iningai people, northeast of Longreach. William Landsborough and Nat Buchanan privately explored the area in 1860. Landsborough named the region Bowen Downs after the Queensland governor Sir George Bowen. The following year, when the district was opened for settlement, Landsborough and Buchanan applied for a pastoral licence over country alongside of the Thomson River.

To finance their pastoral ambitions, Landsborough and Buchanan formed a partnership with Robert Morehead, manager of the Scottish Australian Investment Company, the company's sub-manager Mathew Young, and Landsborough's friend Edward Cornish. Nat Buchanan became the first manager of Bowen Downs, and he attempted to stock the station with 3000 cattle in 1862. While travelling overland to the station, many cattle died from dingo attack and lack of water.

audio_w15Download 'Never Enough Grass' curator's talk audio (MP3 26mb) duration 57:00

View the Never Enough Grass video, where visitors can explore a diverse range of content and stories from locations that have played a key part in the development and expansion of the Australian pastoral industry.

Kenya station windmill

This Simplex windmill was bought by the Cameron family of Kensington Downs, a pastoral property neighbouring Bowen Downs, in about 1925. It was one of three used to draw water from sub-artesian aquifers.

Landscape image showing two windmills, with a small dam to the left, grazing land at the front, scrub on the horizon and a clear blue sky.
The Simplex windmill, right, as it stood on Kenya station for more than 80 years. Photo: Robin Tait.

Pastoralists who could tap into the Great Artesian Basin obtained water under pressure, but sub-artesian water had to be pumped to the surface. In 1928 the Queensland Government resumed part of Kensington Downs station and offered it for sale.

Claude and Georgina Seccombe acquired the portion of land with this mill, and named it Kenya station. The windmill continued to pump water until 1988, when the Seccombe family sunk a deeper bore into the Great Artesian Basin. They were replacing sheep with cattle, and needed more water than the windmill could draw.

John Seccombe, a great nephew of Claude and Georgina, and his wife, Pamela, donated this mill to the National Museum in 2009. The top section, with a six-metre span, is on show in Landmarks.

Giant of the outback

Third generation grazier John Seccombe outlines the history of the Simplex windmill on his family's Queensland station.

John describes his delight at the windmill's life beyond Kenya station, as part of the National Museum collection, and the process of dismantling the windmill for transport to Canberra.

Never Enough Grass multitouch table

Stories from key places in Australia's pastoral history, including Bowen Downs, feature in Never Enough Grass, a rich multitouch interactive in the Grazing the Grasslands section of the Landmarks gallery.

Catch a glimpse of the gallery and see visitors using the touch table in the video from the National Museum's YouTube website.

Springvale and Elsey, near Katherine, Northern Territory

Jeannie Gunn's writing desk

Elsey armband

In 1879 veteran overlander Alfred Giles established Springvale station on the Katherine River, in the territory of the Jawoyn and Dagoman peoples in the north of what is now the Northern Territory. Giles was acting on behalf of the investor William Browne, who planned to use Springvale as the base for a pastoral empire in the region.

Image of farm homestead, framed by large trees
Springvale homestead, 2006. Photo: George Main.

Two years later, Elsey station was established on the Roper River, about 100 kilometres south-east of Springvale. It was stocked, in part, by 1500 head of cattle driven overland from Bowen Downs in Queensland. Within 15 years, both Browne and Giles had abandoned Springvale, defeated by attacks by Aboriginal people and by tropical insects, diseases, floods and heat.

Elsey survived, however, because it was located in country better suited to cattle grazing and employed the local Mangarrayi and Yangman peoples to work on the property. In 1928, Giles' son Harold became station manager.

Today, Elsey belongs to the country's traditional owners and is operated as a successful cattle enterprise by the Mangarrayi Aboriginal Land Trust.

Jeannie Gunn's writing desk

Landmarks includes a writing desk which belonged to Jeannie Gunn. It was made low to specification, allowing Gunn to sit on her favourite cane chair. An inkwell rested in the square hole at the top and ink stains on the desk record years of passionate writing. Gunn's We of the Never-Never, her account of life at Elsey station was published in 1908. By 1945, about 320,000 copies had been sold.

Elsey armband

A glass beaded armband with the Elsey cattle brand 'HTT' in red and a red diamond at both ends.
The glass beaded Elsey armband, which bears the cattle brand 'HTT'.
Photo: Lannon Harley.

Harold Giles, Alfred and Mary's son, worked as manager of Elsey station, south of Springvale, from 1928 until 1954.

His wife Doris trained Mangarrayi woman Amy Dirngayg to work in the homestead as a cook. Amy gave Harold a glass beaded armband with the Elsey cattle brand 'HTT', in exchange for flour and tobacco.

The armband records the shared understanding of the significance of pastoralism at Elsey.

As an object made for boys to wear during initiation ceremonies, the armband also signifies the survival and adaptation of Mangarrayi culture.

Derby, Western Australia

Shorthorn steer

Emanuel Brothers document stamp

Derby is a small town in Nyikina country in the west Kimberley region of Western Australia. The settlement sits at the tip of a scrubby peninsula, a wedge of dry land surrounded by the great mud flats of King Sound. Striking out across the flats is a bitumen road, once also a tramway and cattle race, a narrow channel used to move livestock. Extending into the water to meet ships is the Derby wharf, a piece of infrastructure that for generations bound the west Kimberley to the world.

Derby jetty, with a ship docked at right and machinery on the jetty at left
The Derby jetty in 2006. Photo: George Main.

Alexander Forrest explored the Kimberley region and beyond in 1879. The vast area, he claimed, was especially suitable for pastoralism.  

Sheep and cattle graziers arrived soon after and in 1883 the Western Australian government selected the present site of Derby as the first town and port for the region. 

The first Derby jetty was built in 1885. The timber structure remained in use until 1965, when workers completed a much larger concrete and steel jetty.

Emanuel Brothers' document stamp

Brothers Isadore and Sydney Emanuel established a chain of pastoral stations along the Fitzroy valley, southwest of Derby. In the 1890s they expanded their shorthorn cattle herd and began to ship bullocks south to Fremantle markets. Demand for meat soared at the end of the 19th century as gold rushes boosted the population of Western Australia.

Emanuel Brothers' document stamp
The Emanuel Brothers' document stamp. Photo: Lannon Harley.

Emanuel Brothers, operating from Perth, prospered as a pastoral and live cattle trading company.

This document stamp belonged to the firm, which competed fiercely with Connor, Doherty and Durack, a company exporting east Kimberley cattle to Fremantle.

Controversy regarding the extent to which the Emanuels controlled the meat market sparked a royal commission in 1908. The commission resolved that the widespread criticism of Emanuel Brothers was unfounded.

Shorthorn steer

In the late 1880s, with wool prices falling and disease striking their sheep, the Emanuel brothers decided to expand their herd of several hundred Shorthorn cattle. They bought new stock from the Durack family, who had originally overlanded the cattle from Queensland to the east Kimberley. The Emanuels developed large herds to take advantage of the burgeoning live cattle trade between Derby and Fremantle. By 1910 one Emanuel station alone carried 30,000 cattle.

The Emanuel brothers bred a 'rangy' type of Shorthorn. Slender and with long legs, these cattle could endure long walks to pasture and water, and they maintained their condition when walked to Derby for shipping to the Fremantle markets. These cattle had short, cherryred coats that helped them cope with the extreme heat and humidity of the Kimberley and protected them from the harsh tropical sun.

In 1984 the Emanuel family sold their west Kimberley properties and moved south to Pinjarra, near Perth. They took a breeding herd of their Shorthorn cattle, which today numbers about 4000.

A taxidermied steer specimen on show in Landmarks was born at Pinjarra in 2007. Bred to be sold for meat at around one year old, it was identified for exhibit in the National Museum and remained on the property until 2009. The specimen displays many of the characteristics bred by the Emanuel family into their Shorthorn herd during the century they spent in the west Kimberley.