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Gibson initially experienced a number of difficulties in the area with a newspaper report in October of that year referring to a blizzard, which overcame one of Gibson’s stockmen and destroyed many cattle.
During the following five years, other graziers, none of whom appear to have established settlements in the area, followed Gibson.
Merritt has speculated that a number of neighbouring property holders including Henry Hall, Joshua John Moore and Robert Campbell (as well as pastoralists from Bolero), probably used the plains.
Terrence Murray established outstations in the high plains, namely the Coolamine Run, in 1838. and was making extensive use of the region by 1839, prompted by major regional drought.
The Currango area is thought to have been settled in 1839 by Thomas O’Rourke who established a seasonal summer grazing camp after receiving information about the area from Gibson and the Faithful family.
O’Rourke appears to have acquired Gibson’s lease and moved his stock between Currango and Bolaro. Bolaro was a selection with homestead of around 32,000 acres. which O’Rourke had acquired near Adaminiby, where his stock were wintered.85 Neither the 1848 nor the 1850 lists contain the names of any runs on the Long Plain or the Currangorambla Plain, but Merritt, concludes that both were almost certainly being used by that time.
86 When O’Rourke took out a lease on the Currangorambla Run of around 35,000 acres in July 1951 it was described in the Government Gazette as:- bounded on the west by the Long Plain stream; on the north by the Long Plain; on the east by the Booggong [sic] Mountains; and southerly by the Murrimbidgee opposite Eccleson’s run; generally undefined and unoccupied country.
Good, 1992: 142 - Hancock, 1972: 132 - Scott, 1988: - Merritt, 2003: 24-25 82 Good, 1992: 142 NPWS Hut Record [c1982] referred to in Scott, 1988: 48 84 Merritt, 2003: 26 85 Taylor, 2001: 37; Scott, 1988: 48; Government Gazette, 1851 86 Merritt, 2003: 24 87 Merritt, 2003: 26
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The Impact of Exotic Animals
From the time that white explorers and settlers came to the high plains, the suite of regional fauna began to change significantly. Dingos were particularly adept hunting dogs and played havoc with sheep herds in the early days.88 Pure bred dingoes survive to this day. The early native dogs may have interbred with the roaming domestic dogs of the mountain stockmen. Some of the miners at Kiandra kept German Shepherd dogs to guard their tents and some of these probably also strayed to breed with the dingoes89 creating the mixed breeds of feral dogs that feature in the mountains today90. Merritt points out that as long as there were sheep in the snow belt wild dogs were and remain a problem.
Brumbies or wild horses, have also been a feature of the Currango Plains and high country since first European settlement. The earliest stock runs were largely unfenced and horses escaped onto the plain. They may later have been purposely released by stockmen abandoning the area, or hoping to improve to the bloodlines of the wild horses. These horses bred and over the years were added to by additional escaped horses. The high plains brumbies are now part of one of the largest populations of wild horses in Australia’s south eastern region.91 Approximately ten or eleven mobs run on the plains about Currango today.92 Other animals that were brought into the High Plains, or followed the stockmen in the early years of settlement, included pigs and rats.
88 NPWS (NSW), 1991: 2 89 Merritt, 2003: 35 90 Hill, 1997: 114 91 Michelle Walker PHD Thesis [in review] 92 Taylor, 2001: 43 Figure 2.10 A group of Snowy mountains brumbies on the Currango Plain.
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2.8 The O’Rourke Family and the First Currango Homestead(1839 – 1873) O’Rourke had established the first homestead at Currango, a small slab hut, by 1850.93 The hut/homestead building was of vertical slab construction with a bark roof that featured:-
A large slab fireplace dominating one end of the building An interior subdivided by a slab partition wall, which extended to the height of the top plates. Vertical slabs located by chiselled grooves in the top and bottom plates. Windows constructed of split boards and operated on a wire hinge.94 Scott95 describes this building as being ‘removed’ in 1915. It is possible that it was relocated within the Currango Group of properties. It was formerly located adjacent to the southwest corner of the later homestead.
Many early settlers in the High Plains, carefully located building sites with a view to:
Shelter from the prevailing winds Closeness to timber and water A view over a flat or grassy plain96
The reason for siting the first permanent buildings in the current location has however been questioned by Scott.97 Scott has suggested that prior to the current plantings reaching maturity the site was a very exposed and cold location, set in an area where better, more sheltered alternative locations were available. However, Merritt points out that the Lobbs Hole route to the Victorian diggings could be accessed via the Port Phillip Trail, which ran through O’Rourke’s lease.98 The Port Phillip trail was a safe passageway through the otherwise boggy and treacherous plains. By building a hut and stockyards close to the road Merritt believes that O’Rourke was well placed to exploit the gold rush market. He may have been able to sell fresh meat to miners travelling to the diggings, and while there is no record of him doing so, he was well placed to drive stock to Victoria.
Construction about the homestead from the 1850s included a dairy, chicken shed, pig sty and earth closet (toilet) which utilised construction methods and materials similar to the slab hut homestead.99
93 Scott, 1988 94 Tom Taylor in Scott, 1988: 49 95 Scott:1988:69 96 Hueneke, 1982: i 97 pers comm D Scott to Dan Tuck May 2003 98 Merritt, 2003: 30 99 Scott, 1988: 49
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By the time O’Rourke had constructed his hut, the mountains had been encircled by pastoral runs and graziers had began to penetrate the mountains by following the main water courses and stocking the adjoining flats.100 As well as running his own stock, O’Rourke leased parts of Currango to Riverina pastoralists. For example, Samuel McCaughey of Coonong Station near Urana (some 250 miles west of the northern plains) leased part of Currangorambla during ‘a very dry season’ for 10,000 sheep for the duration of the drought.
101 Lack of government control and disputes about land and stock theft were common at this time.102 Cattle theft or ‘duffing’ was a particular problem in the squatting districts in the early 1800s. The activities of the likes of Richard Bentley, who is said to have duffed cattle in Omeo and moved them to the Monaro, were however heavily curtailed by the Kiandra gold rush which decreased the relative isolation of the area.
2.8.1 The Kiandra Gold Rush
The gold rush which started at Kiandra, to the south of the study area, in the late 1850s, was precipitated by a favourable report to the Government by Geologist Reverend W. B. Clarke regarding the potential for gold mining in the Snowy Mountains.103 Clarke’s report mentioned extensive deposits ‘all along the range to Kiandara’ and lead to there being in excess of 15000 prospectors in the Kiandra area within six months of the discovery of payable gold.104
The boom was one of the shortest in Australia’s history and by 1861, after the township of Kiandra had been hastily established, many miners moved on. The ultimate effect of the rush was that many people moved to the area, including a huge number of Chinese immigrants who were involved in either mining or service industries such as food provision.
By contrast, an article in the Monaro Mercury, 21 July, 1868 described diminishing numbers of Aborigines in the district.: “ABORIGINES – The native tribes of the Monaro and Twofold Bay districts are dying away year by year. During the time of the Kiandra Gold Rush, they mustered in Cooma for their annual donation in good number, but now a score will tell them all…”. [See pp37-38 for a discussion of this phenomenon]
When the rush ended, many ex-miners went to other fields or settled in surrounding towns and became stockmen or small landholders.105 Others continued gold mining activity and spread quickly from places like Kiandra to the alluvial gold producing mountain creeks and streams throughout the mountains.106
The 100 Holth, 1992: 155 101 Merritt, 2003: 33-34 102 NPWS (NSW), 1991: 2 103 Good, 1992: 148 104 Good, 1992: 148 - 149 105 Hueneke, 1982:i 106 Lennon, 1992: 149
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Chinese miners and gardeners in particular, spread from Kiandra throughout the district to as far away as Tumut.107 It should be noted that Gold fever never really vanished from the mountains and fossicking for gold and other precious minerals continued sporadically in the mountains until well into the 20th century. Another effect of the rush was that the extraction of gold resulted in the digging up of good alluvial pasture land, and the burning of hillsides for reef deposits. This, and the closer agricultural settlement which followed the rush, decreased the lands available to squatters and graziers and: …forced the graziers to use the high country to save them from disaster in the drought years.108 The squeezing of the squatters and graziers was further amplified by the passing of the Robertson Land Act (1861) which lead to the break up of many large holdings and the arrival of additional free settlers.109 Though many people left the Kiandra area after the gold ran out, a significant number began coming to the region after the goldrush, to experience falling snow. This was effectively the start of snow based tourism in the mountains. The Monaro Mercury recorded in July 1861 that: scores of young people are frequently engaged climbing lofty summits with snow shoes and then sliding down with a velocity that would do credit to our railway trains.110
The effect of the gold rush on settlers and the region is relatively well known, however the impact of the rush on local Aboriginal populations is less understood. It could be assumed that Aboriginal people were both attracted to and repelled by the activity and population explosion that the accompanied the rush. During the rush it is known that district Aborigines visited Cooma to obtain blankets and slop clothing111 and that small groups of Aborigines were reported as camped at Kiandra in the years following the rush. There are also reports of Aborigines liasing with the Chinese and partaking in the opium smoking habits of some members of this community.112
2.8.2 Feral Animals
While wild dogs were an early problem in the region, other introduced animals also thrived on the expansive plains. According to the Alpine Pioneer and the Kiandra Advertiser there were ‘immense herds of wild horses in the region by 1860’.113 A further result of the Kiandra gold rush, and to a lesser extent of rushes elsewhere in the district such as Omeo, was the establishment of feral pig populations in the mountains. Feral pigs had became ‘locals’ in the High Plains by the mid 19th century. Initially pigs were 107 Ted Taylor, pers. comm.. 108 Lennon, 1992: 149 109 Young, 2002: 121; 126 110 Monaro Mercury, July 29, 1861 111 Slop clothing generally included shirts, trousers and jackets discarded by, or surplus to, the needs of the Europeans who had obtained them. Slop clothing for distribution to Aboriginal people was sometimes obtained from private donation but also came from government stores. 112 Gardner, 1992: 93; Monaro Mercury, 21 July, 1868 113 Merritt, 2003: 31
Draft Volume 2 - Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation Management & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 Page 35 not only kept in sties, but were also allowed to graze freely. As with the brumbies, people wishing to improve the feral population occasionally added to the population of pigs who escaped domesticity. During lean economic times capturing and selling brumbies and later trapping rabbits was a means of subsistence survival for unemployed men in the mountains. Not surprisingly pig hunting with rifles and special ‘pig dogs’ became a popular pastime in the mountains prior to the banning of both dogs and firearms.114 Pigs and illegal pig hunters, are still a problem today, with pig population numbers managed by NPWS programs.
2.8.3 David O’Rourke, Leopold De Salis & William Barber
,b>In 1866, Thomas O’Rourke’s son David acquired the Coolamine Run (to the north of Currango) and by the 1870s the O’Rourke’s collectively were depasturing stock over a total of 31000 acres, on both the Currango and Coolamine Plains.115 At around this time, the O’Rourkes planted a number of Radiata Pines as windbreaks around Currango.116 From the very dry summer of 1868-1869 the number of sheep in the mountains began to rival cattle in absolute terms. This change was in response to the ‘long boom’ from 1860 to 1890 that was initiated by gold then carried on by wool.117 The growth of the wool industry in NSW led directly to the increased use of the snow belt. There was always a dry area somewhere in the colony and the flocks would be sent out on the ‘Long Paddock’ and to the snow belt.118 While mustering cattle on the Coolamine Plain in the spring of 1870, the O’Rourke’s discovered the charred remains of a body at Caves Creek, believed to be the body of a horse trader.119 In the following year, Thomas O’Rourke himself vanished between Bolaro and Cooma, believed drowned in the floodwaters of the Murrumbidgee River in the vicinity of Bolaro. In 1873 however, a man named Glover confessed to the murder of O’Rourke and lead Police to the burnt remains of his body. Glover was hanged soon after for the axe murder of an Aboriginal man, and consequently links between the two local murders were not thoroughly investigated.120
Following the death of Thomas O’Rourke, Peter O’Rourke, one of Thomas’ sons took over the Currangorambla lease on October 31st 1874. Merritt suggests however that the O’Rourke boys ultimately lost interest in the area.121 David, sold his lease on the Cooleman Plain to Leopold Fane de Salis who also owned the Cuppacumbalong Station. De Salis obtained Terrence Murray’s Coolamine Run in the same year.122 De Salis subsequently sold the 15000 acre Currango Run to William Barber in 1879.
114 Hill, 1997: 115 115 Scott, 1988: 49 116 Tom Taylor in Scott, 1988: 49 117 Merritt, 2003:37 118 Merritt, 2003: 39 119 Sydney Morning Herald, 3 August, 1870; Taylor, 2001: 37 120 Gregors, 1979 121 Merritt, 2003: 37 122 Hueneke, 1982: 208
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Peter sold the Currangorabla lease in December 1875 to Francis Rawdon Hume Jnr who at the time was running Frankfield Station near Gunning. Hume was a nephew of Hamilton Hume the explorer and came from a large family with many family and social connections. In January 1878, his younger brother Frederick William Hume who held the Tarengo property near Boorowa acquired a pastoral lease on the Long Plain. Around 6000 acres in size, the lease was called Currango West. Frederick shared the ownership with a relative R H Kennedy. In January 1879, Francis who was only 36 years old committed suicide.
Three months later William Barber who had a property at Boambolo on the Murrumbidgee River near Taemas Crossing leased the southern portion of the Currango lease. Called South Currango, the new lease was approximately 5,000 acres.
On December 31st 1879, Barber acquired the rest of the Currango lease. In between these two purchases he had also purchased De Salis’ Cooleman lease. 123 123 Merritt, 2003: 37 Figure 2.12 Map showing the various properties that made up the Currango area.[drawn by Sheppard, based on Merritt, 2003: Map 4 p42]
Draft Volume 2 - Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation Management & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 Page 37 Figure 2.13 A c.1891 pastoral map of the southern districts. [Courtesy of the Mitchell Library ML SLNSW Z M3 814.1gpb/1891/1 2/2]
Approximate location of Currango - Draft Volume 2 - Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation M Page 38 anagement & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 2.8.4 The Impact of the Railways Figure 2.14 A 1903 Parish Map showing South Currango with Snow Lease No.76 to the east and a resumed area to the north. [Map courtesy of the Mitchell Library, ( Parish of Currangorambla : Z1903)]. Approximate location of Currango Homestead
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2.8.4 The Impact of the Railways
The rail freighting of sheep further boosted snow belt use from the mid to late 19th century. Trunk lines with numerous spur lines offered coverage of most of NSW by the late 1800s. By 1882 a rail line from Sydney through Goulburn and Gundagai to Hay had been established and by 1884, the line had reached Jerilderie. A northern line serviced Bourke in 1885, and by 1910 there was also a western trunk line in operation. Goulburn was connected to Cooma in 1889 and an additional line from Gundagai reached Tumut in 1903, providing two major entrances to the snow belt. Sheep on the road (in the Long Paddock) under the Pastures Protection Act of 1902 were obliged to travel 6 miles a day on designated stock routes and rail travel became an attractive option for travel to very distant areas and in very dry years.124
2.9 Aborigines in the mid to late 1800s - Aborigines continued to occupy the mountains and surrounding areas into the 1840s and beyond. Aborigines were witnessed throughout the region in the first half of the 19th century and some of their regular camping sites were recorded. Snowden noted in relation to local Aboriginal camping places: A favoured camping place of the natives was about the junction of the Tumut and Goobragandra Rivers. The surrounding areas provided good hunting grounds, fish and plant foods.125 With regards to the Aboriginal people at the time, generally those from the Monaro were perceived by settlers to be ‘amiable’ while those from elsewhere, including those in Victoria and to the north at Yass were believed to be ‘troublesome’.126 George Augustus Robertson, Protector of Aborigines, noted in his journal in 1844: Monday 9 September 1844 Cosgrove said the Maneroo blacks were fine, well behaved blacks, never troublesome,
The Yass Aborigines on the other hand were described as: …dreadful, the settlers used to shoot them when ever they met them. Parties went out purposefully and shot, men women and children. Fine day, showery.127 Closer to the study area, Snowden noted in his book on the history of Tumut: …the tribes of the Tumut River and those tribes who visited Yallowin each summer for corroborees or to feast on the Bogon[g] Moths were generally friendly, but they were treated with caution.128 124 Merritt, 2003: 39 125 Snowden, 1967: 25 126 Young, 2000: 182 127 Robertson quoted in Young, 2000: 159 128 Snowden, 1967: 25
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While the Aborigines of the region did not pose a threat to the white settlers, and they employed some, the Aborigines still suffered directly and indirectly by the presence of white people. Particularly destructive was the accumulated effects of exposure to European disease and the malevolence of some stockmen towards Aboriginal women.
Robertson noted in 1844 that: - Many of the natives are strongly marked by the smallpox and numbers are suffering from syphilis among whom there are some bad cases. Ophthalmia of a virulent description was prevalent. Three natives I accidentally met had each lost an eye and several others partially blind were observed. This monoculus tribe however was well disposed and intelligent and afforded me much useful information.130
Much of the disease which affected the Aboriginal population was socially and sexually transmitted and resulted from unscrupulous settlers taking advantage of Aboriginal women. Snowden in his ‘History of Tumut’ noted:
In some districts types of stockmen, some of who were on ticket of leave or assigned servants, cohabited with willing young gins and some who were unwilling.131 Governor Bourke had outlawed the forced detention of Aboriginal women by whites in 1837.132 This however did not stop the activity occurring. The results of such forced inter-racial unions were plain to see and included the birth of half-caste children (such as those witnessed at Eden by Robertson in 1844)133 and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases throughout the Aboriginal community. A summary of the problem was presented in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1856: I do not think above four or five of the original inhabitants of Monaroo are now living. About 12 years ago (1844), a virulent disease similar to the scurvy caused deaths in great number of them. Some say the disease was occasioned by their becoming friendly with the sea coast blacks, and thereby eating great number of fish. Others are of the opinion that their vicious intercourse with unprincipled whites had a decided tendency in this work of the almost entire extinction of the Aborigines of the district”.134 129 John Lambie (1845) quoted in Young, 2000: 160; Sydney Morning Herald, September 27, 1856 130 Mackaness, 1978: 28 131 Snowden, 1967: 24 132 Broome, 1982 in Young, 2000: 120 133 Robertson in Young, 2000: 151 134 Sydney Morning Herald, September 27, 1856
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Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation Management & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 Page 41 Disease clearly affected the population numbers of Aborigines and was compounded by older community members dying and the death rate exceeding the birth rate. Other factors which influenced population numbers included some mountain Aborigines moving to the coast where they became engaged in the whaling trade at ports such as Eden, and others moving with graziers into Gippsland.135 Furthermore the negative effect of grazing on Aboriginal populations was also becoming apparent. In a letter from the Surveyor-General to the Colonial Secretary in 1849, Mitchell wrote: The intrusion of the cattle of the stranger materially interferes with the natives’ means of existence. They drink up the waterholes, scare and banish the kangaroo and emu, and in a great degree break up his social enjoyments. The consequence is that the natives disappear….136 Towards the end of the 19th century it was clear that the mountain Aboriginal population was well in decline, with some limited, isolated and artificial spikes in population numbers attributable to corroborees and social gatherings. Corroborees witnessed in the region in c1850, which brought Aborigines to the area from as far away as Twofold Bay, included a corroboree witnessed on Rocky Plain by Bernard O’Rourke and another involving 500 people witnessed by Mr Thomas Wilkinson who lived on Yallowin Station. There were Bora Rings associated with the latter ceremony, which were located on the range that fronted Talbingo House.137 Corroborees continued to occur in the Snowy Mountains continued into the 1860s but had ceased by 1878.138
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2.10 Whitty & the Expansion of Currango (1893 – 1945) Henry Tarleton Whitty together with his father had owned properties in the Tumut area and knew the northern plains well. Whitty owned Tarramia Station near Corowa and another station in western NSW. In 1882, Whitty made four conditional purchaces at Currango, with three in the central area of the run and the fourth to the north. These purchases were:
500 acres on the Currangorambla Creek,
300 acres joining the south west corner of the 500 acre run,
320 acres with the Murrumbidgee as its southern border, and
500 acres on the northern boundary of Currango.
141 Les French, pers. comm.. Figure 2.15 Whitty’s conditional purchases and the 1885 divisions. [Reproduced courtesy of John Merritt, Currango Summers, 2003:Map 4 p42]
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In 1884 Whitty purchased another 400 acres close to the northern boundary of Currango, opting to pay ¼ of the total purchase price and agreeing to pay interest on the balance of these considerable amounts.
Merrit describes Whitty’s purchase as being in response to the 1875 Amendments to the 1861 Crown Lands Alienation Act. He seems to have wanted to secure areas of good freehold land to facilitate access to the northern plain.142
The 1884 land Act attempted to end the conflict between selectors and pastoralists. All pastoral lessees were obliged to divide their leases with half being made available for selection. On expiry, lessees could apply to have their leases renewed. Three new occupational tenures were created.
1. An occupation licence that allowed pastoralists a one year lease of all or part of the resumed area of their run.
2. An annual lease for land available by auction or tender of no more than 1920 acres;
3. The scrub lease for land wholly or partly covered by scrub or ‘other noxious undergrowth’. They could be up to 10240 acres and for up to 15 years with rent increasing each 5 years. The Act also created land boards and districts. Currango was in the land district of Cooma, ultimately under the direction of the Goulburn Land Board.143 The 1884 Act proved to be only the beginning of land law reform. Within the snow belt demand for greater access grew as the big men of the wool industry consolidated their hold over the snow belt lands.144
2.10.1 The Division of Leases
Currango was divided according to the 1884 Act but not evenly. The leasehold area was nearly 12,000 acres with the area resumed only accounting for 6020 acres. The disparity was probably the result of Whitty’s aforementioned conditional purchases. [See Figure 2.12]
The divisions required under the Act came into force in July 1885. Hume and Kennedy immediately sold Currango West to Joseph Travers Jones. A few days later, on September 8th 1885, Barber (who may have been having financial difficulties), sold the Currango pastoral lease to Whitty. Whitty had built up a holding of some 13,000 acres. Barber’s licence for Currango South was transferred to the Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney.145 The five year Currango and Currango West pastoral leases expired on July 31 1890, with the Currango South lease expiring on September 8th of the same year. Whitty was the only owner to make additional conditional purchases. In 1891 Whitty bought 240 acres adjoining his 1884 purchase, and 140 acres adjoining his 1882 purchase, taking out a total of three conditional leases. One of the leases of 895 acres linked his two southern conditional purchases of 640 and 420 acres respectively. 142 Merritt, 2003: 38 143 Merritt, 2003:41 144 Merritt, 2003: 43 145 Merritt, 2003: 43
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By December 1892, Whitty held 4355 acres of Currango’s best treeless plain and had frontages on both Currangorambla Creek and the Murrumbidgee River.146
Whitty’s land did not include the original O’Rourke hut homestead site, which was acquired by C H Barber, who was another Yass pastoralist whose home station was in the same district as G W Barber. C H Barber took up the homestead site on a conditional purchase of 400 acres of the resumed area of the 1884 division. He also took up a conditional lease of 800 acres on the southern boundary of his conditional purchase.147 [See Figure 2.15 Merritt’s Map 5 p 48]
Whitty further consolidated his land by acquiring Snow Lease 74, which was 5,400 acres in the middle of Currango, directly below his northern conditional purchase. The lease was to run from February 21, 1893 to February 20th 1900.
The fall in wool prices caused the wool industry to be in crisis by the summer of 1892 and many pastoralists lost their money and/or their land. Merritt says that at the beginning of 1893 only Whitty and CH Barber owned or leased land on Currango.148 When wool prices finally improved in 1895 the jubilation of wool producers was only short lived as seven years of drought followed. Snow leases in the late 1800s are believed to have been generally too costly for the average pastoralist, with three charges including rent, the cost of surveying and the cost of improvements imposed on lease holders.149 Not surprisingly, few leases were actually taken up in the later part of the 19th century due to these high lease fees and consequently illegal grazing continued in the high country for many years. 146 Merritt, 2003: 46-47 147 Merritt, 2003: 47 148 Merritt, 2003: 47 149 Quote from Hancock in Merritt, 2003: 49 Barber Whitty Whitty Whitty Whitty Figure 2.16 The conditional purchases and the scrub leases made by Whitty and Barber within the larger Currango area. [Reproduced courtesy of John Merritt, Currango Summers, 2003, Map 5 p48]
Draft Volume 2 Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation Management & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 Page 45 Draft Volume 2 Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation Management & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 Page 45 Figure 2.17 Frost’s Pastoral Map of the southern districts c.1898 [Map courtesy of the Mitchell Library (ML SLNSW Z M3 814.1gpb/1898/1) Draft Volume 2 Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation M Page 46 anagement & Interpretation Plan, July 2003
2.11 Arthur Triggs (1893 – 1913) Arthur Triggs was born in London in 1868 and arrived in Australia in 1887 at 19 years of age. He joined the Bank of New South Wales and worked as an accountant at the Yass branch. Triggs was in New South Wales during the financial crisis of the 1890s and appears to have spent time studying the pastoral industry. In July 1896 he took six months off to try his hand at buying and selling stock. Eleven years later, in November 1907, the Pastoralists Review referred to Triggs as owning twelve stations in southern and western New South Wales. The Review also claimed that he ‘was one of the first to appreciate the value of the Kiandra country’.150 His success certainly publicised the potential of area. Triggs was referred to as the ‘Kidman of the wool industry’, Kidman being a contemporary of Triggs and a large scale operator in the cattle industry. Like Triggs, Kidman utilised a chain of stations (in northern and central Australia) to move stock, but principally cattle, to take advantage of local conditions.151 While many pastoralists used versions of the chain of stations strategy, the scale of the Kidman and Triggs operations were on the whole, exceptional.152 It was also unusual that Triggs vast pastoral empire was run from his home town of Yass rather than from any station. The sheep that Triggs moved about his various holdings were purchased rather than bred, with Triggs shearing the flocks prior to sale.153 2.11.1 The Growth of Currango under Arthur Triggs In August 1902, Arthur Bryant Triggs persuaded the Goulburn Land Board to amalgamate portions of three unsold snow leases on the Long Plain (lease numbers 65, 66 and 70) and to sell them to him as consolidated scrub lease 145 of 16990 acres. In April of the following year, he purchased the additional 150 Merrittt, 2003: 55 151 Merrittt, 2003: 56 152 Merrittt, 2003: 56 153 Merrittt, 2003: 56 Figure 2.18 Arthur Bryant Triggs portrait carried in the Pastoralists’ Review 15 July 1911,p493 [Reproduced courtesy of John Merritt Currango Summers, 2003]
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Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation Management & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 Page 47 scrub lease 167 of 9710 acres. Collectively, these new leases gave Triggs a strip of land around twelve kilometres long and five wide. At the end of 1903 Triggs purchased a third scrub lease 183 which comprised Whitty’s snow lease 75 and G W Barber’s snow lease 76, a total of 13160 acres. In 1904 he purchased scrub lease 190 which adjoined scrub lease 167 and comprised 2450 acres on the eastern bank of the Murrumbidgee.154. During these scrub lease transactions, Triggs acquired C H Barber’s conditional purchases that had been briefly owned by Abraham Wade of Cavan. He then purchased scrub lease 183 from Whitty and G W Barber.155 The nett result of Triggs dealings was that in a little over two years, he had acquired 42,800 acres of Scrub Leases in the Long Plain/Currango area156 and another 1200 acres, presumably of conditional purchase. 2.11.2 Development at Currango By the 1880s, the settlement pattern in the High Plains had changed from mostly summer focused depasturing to permanent Plains settlement centred around homestead complexes dotting the stock route from Monaro/Canberra to the Riverina.157 These homesteads became established as the routes became more fixed, and the landscape and weather patterns became better understood. Stockmen began to bring wives and children to the area necessitating the construction of larger buildings. From the mid to late 1800s, homesteads began to replace huts (usually adjacent to the original hut which was converted to a kitchen facility). These homesteads were generally of weatherboard construction with timber floors, verandahs and shingle/iron roofs.158 Often, the homestead became the centre of a homestead complex, which
included outbuildings, workshops, stables, gardens and sheds which served to accommodate a community of stockmen supervised by a manager and overseer.159 Homesteads were usually sited along the tree-lines in positions where protection against the prevailing westerly wind was afforded. Water was generally provided to the homesteads by means of simple raceways which gravity fed water from nearby creeklines to small feed ‘wells’ (sumps) near the main buildings.160 154 Soon after each purchase, Triggs had the leases extended to 28 years 155 Merritt, 2003: 53-54 156 Merritt, 2003: 54 157 Scott, 1988: 34 158 Scott, 1988: 6 159 Scott, 1988: 6 160 Scott, 1988: 1, 11 Figure 2.19 GW Barber and his wife Ellen [nee Brassil] on their wedding daqy June 21, 1899 [The photograph is from the Brassil family records reproduced courtesy of John Merritt, Currango Summers 2003]
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When Arthur Bryant Triggs purchased the Currango Property from William Barber in 1893, he instigated a major building program, overseen by Barber who remained on the property as station manager.161 Merrit describes Triggs as being known as a very honest trader who employed ‘the best’ and paid ‘the best wages’. Triggs also appears to have adopted the same ‘only the best’ approach to the buildings he had constructed at Currango. The new homestead was the largest residence ever built on the northern plains and its construction suggests a carpenter/builder rather than a bush worker. O’Rourke’s hut became the external kitchen.163 In addition to the weatherboard homestead, woolshed, stables and sheds, fences and a 10 000 sheep yard complex were also constructed.164
G W Barber supervised the construction of the homestead and stayed on as Trigg’s manager, living in the large homestead with his family. A number of other High Plains homestead complexes were constructed in the later part of the 19th century with many, like Currango, preceded by smaller huts. Such homesteads included:
2.11.3 Bill Stanfield’s Hut
Bill Stansfield’s hut was a structure consisting of two rooms with an open verandah erected at the northern end of the Currango complex in the late 19th century. The hut was originally painted brick red in keeping with the other buildings on the property. The hut featured a large open fire at the end of the living room (south end).166 Possibly constructed by Triggs or his Overseer, little is known about the exact construction date, or the reason for the construction of this building. The hut appears to have gained it’s name from its principle resident in turn of the century, Currango regular Bill Stanfield. 161 Taylor, 2001: 37 162 NPWS Hut Record [c1982] referred to in Scott, 1988; Tom Taylor in Scott, 1988: 50 163 Merrittt, 2003: 56-57 164 NPWS Hut Record [c1982] referred to in Scott, 1988; Tom Taylor in Scott, 1988: 50 165 Hueneke, 1982: i 166 Extract in letter from Trevor Thatcher to Klaus Hueneke, 18 April, 1985 Figure 2.20 Cooleman Homestead in 1908. It was owned by De Salis, Murray and the Campbell families. Photograph courtesy of the National Library of Australia, reproduced from p181 Cultural Heritage of the Australian Alps – 1991 Symposium Proceedings.
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Bill Stansfield has been described as ‘a stumpy little fellow’ who would: …appear regularly without warning and take up residence in a small hut some distance from the main ‘shearer’ hut (Pine Lodge). It was of course always referred to as Bill Stansfield's hut, even though he had no ownership rights of it. His occupation was similar to that of most of the other itinerants who came to the station. That is he lived off the land (rabbit trapping, or the fur trade) during the suitable season…
Bill was a very good cook, and a very kind and thoughtful man into the bargain. Once when my mother was ill in bed with either a cold or a sprained ankle, he made a special dish from a hare he had caught. After preparing it in his own special way in a billy can he brought it to our house for dinner. It was a most delicious bit of home cooked game I had ever eaten. Bill was of distant chinese descent and had no doubt acquired some of his ancestors cooking abilities….167
Trixie Clugston (Bridle), who worked for the Reids, remembered Bill as ‘doing a few odd jobs around the place’. Bill was also known as a good person to borrow butter from as he loved to cook and entertain and bought his butter in bulk (56 pounds at a time). It was however best to borrow when Bill had just replenished his supply as he was without icebox or refrigerator in the hut and the butter could get dodgy when the butter box was below the halfway mark.168
2.11.4 The Scrub Leases
At the turn of the century, Triggs acquired the Long Plain scrub leases (including a homestead) to the northwest and west of Currango. E J (Ted) Brassil was employed as overseer. In May 1909, Triggs bought out Whitty acquiring snow lease 74 and ten conditional purchases. Some time between May 1912 and December 1914, Triggs also acquired O’Brien’s two Currango scrub leases, 235 and 239.169 With the acquisition of scrub lease 219 of 6200 acres, formerly owned by Arthur Pether, Triggs was in control of nearly 69,000 acres on the Long Plain/Currango area.
167 Extract in letter from Trevor Thatcher to Klaus Hueneke, 18 April, 1985: 7
168 Trixie Clugston (Bridle) and Harry Hill, 1997: 39
169 Merritt, 2003: 59 Figure 2.21 Ted Brassil at Stansfield’s Hut. [Brassil Collection reproduced in Hill, 1997:40]
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2.11.5 Scrub Lease Requirements
As a leaseholder with vast holdings, Triggs was obliged to carry out a number of ‘improvements’. Such improvements included the creation of fencing172 and the execution of scub clearing. Specific conditions of the scrub leases included:
Clearance of scrub including Ribbon Gum (Eucalyptus viminalis), Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) and Messmate (Eucalyoptus macrorhyncha). However, the (High Plains leaseholders were not obliged to clear Snow Gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora) but neither were there restrictions placed on its removal);.
Clearing could not take place within fifty yards of the banks of the Murrumbidgee and ‘good shade trees’ and ‘sound straight trees suitable for fencing or rough buildings’ had to be preserved;
Overstocking was prohibited, (but there were no penalties for doing so); and Wallabies, wild dogs, dingoes, wild pigs and other ‘noxious animals’ had to be destroyed.
Fencing was also required and generally helped to prevent stock losses to the marauding dingoes that inhabited the area. At one point, Triggs enclosed his vast holdings with a 5 ft dingo proof fence of bitumen coated wire and vertical traces. Fencing requirements were on the whole fairly onerous. For example within two years of the commencement of the lease for Scrub Lease 145, Triggs had to install a perimeter fence of thirteen strands of wire over a distance of some 30 kilometres at a cost of around £60 a kilometre for wire alone.173 Merritt has estimated that Triggs spent about £4,000 on the construction of the Currango buildings and scrub lease requirements.174
Despite the costs involved in their maintenance, the value that the Currango holdings had for Triggs, was considerable. Merritt quotes W A McClure-Smith, who said that the snow belt scrub leases were Trigg’s ‘standby’ in times of drought and ‘saved him from serious losses from time to time’. They also ‘brought in large income from agistment’ on those occasions when there was grass to spare describing them as ‘among his most valuable possessions’.175
2.11.6 Expansion & Trouble
Although Triggs operated with a considerable debt to the bank and pastoral finance companies, due to his high construction and lease maintenance costs, he continued to expand his pastoral empire. He seems to have appreciated that his greatest opportunities were in times of drought and hardship for the industry.
The revival of the pastoral industry just prior to WWI was his undoing.
170 Tom Taylor in Scott, 1988: 50
171 Tom Taylor in Scott, 1988: 50
172Merritt, 2003: 57
173 Merritt, 2003: 58 174 Merritt 2003; 60
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In order to continue to expand, during the time of prosperity Triggs increased his borrowings. Then in the period 1913-1915, Triggs gambled on a statewide drought breaking and when the dry lingered he had severe stockfeed problems and no buyers for his flocks.176 The following temporary price decline at the beginning of the WWI was caused by a wool glut. It left Triggs exposed at a time when his debt was enormous. He was ultimately declared bankrupt, owing around £1,500,000, and his estate of about forty properties was assigned to trustees.178
Currango, then consisting of scrub lease numbers 183, 239 and 235, snow lease number 74 and Whitty and C H Barbers former freehold and conditional purchases was sold to the Australian Estate and Mortgage Company (AEMC) in September 1915 for £18,250.179 Arthur Triggs was later to make a financial comeback, however, his significant association with Currango was broken. 2.12 The Australian Estate (& Mortgage) Company (c1913 – 1946)
The Australian Estate Mortgage Company (AEM Co.) was a subsidiary of Union Mortgage, a finance company that funded pastoral property in Australia.184 Effectively a stock and station agency, Union Mortgage managed the Australian properties and mortgages with injections of British capital. The company changed its name to Australian Estates (AE) In 1936.185 N C Clapperton, the manager of the company’s Brookong station is believed to have initially urged AE to buy Currango. His experiences running Brookong convinced him that the company had to have a drought relief strategy that freed it from the uncertain costs and access rights to land owned by snow belt speculators. The former owner Henry T Whitty assured McClure Smith (an AE company director), that Currango had ‘never been known to fail as relief country’. In addition, AE management were made aware of the many apparent advantages of the Currango area. The Cooma to Sydney railway line, for example, provided quick access to the Sydney market for surplus stock and had potential to allow for agistment during summer and in droughts. Clapperton estimated the carrying capacity during the summer months at 40,000 sheep, believing also that a breeding herd of 150 to 200 cows, and a mob of 40 to 50 mares would be able to survive the winter.186
176 Merritt 2003; 60-61 177 Merritt 2003; 61 178 Merritt 2003; 61 179 NPWS Hut Record [c1982] referred to in Scott, 1988; 7 Merritt, 2003 61 180 Merritt 2003: 60 181 Extract in letter from Trevor Thatcher to Klaus Hueneke, 18 April, 1985 182 Extract in letter from Trevor Thatcher to Klaus Hueneke, 18 April, 1985: 7 183 Trixie Clugston (Bridle) and Harry Hill, 1997: 39 184 See Meritt 2003:63 for more details 185 Merrit, 2003: 64 186 Merritt, 2003: 69-70 Draft Volume 2 Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation M Page 52 anagement & Interpretation Plan, July 2003
2.12.1 AE Management
The AE stations were run as separate business entities but operated within a company framework. The stations traded stock between themselves, particularly in bad seasons, when they worked together to form a modified version of Triggs’ chain of stations. Currango’s first AE flock was the 14,000 sheep that survived the trip from the Queensland station Terrick Terrick some 70 kilometres, southwest of Blackall. The sheep travelled by road and rail with some being sold to another AE station Boolcarrol on the way. The flock arrived at Currango in the spring of 1915.187
In 1913, the Crown Lands Consolidation Act amended the previously unattractive snow lease conditions allowing for £2, 14 year tenures of 4150 hectares. These lease conditions were attractive to graziers and by 1920, most of the alpine and subalpine areas of the mountains had been leased under these conditions.188 As well as the 15000 acres of freehold land the Company purchased they also took control of additional crown land which they leased under those conditions.189
Currango underwent a phase of rapid expansion between 1914 and 1919 when the Australian Estate & Mortgage Company (AEM Co) first took over the running of the property. G W Barber stayed on to manage Currango for the bank of New South Wales after Triggs bankruptcy, then worked for AEM Co. However, he was worried about his children’s education and moved to Yass in 1916. AE M Co then appointed
Ted Brassil as acting manager. He had formerly worked for Triggs and lived in Old Currango for a time. Brassil employed six men in 1916 and for most of the 1920s he utilised the services of around ten permanent stockmen.192 At the pinnacle of company operations, AEM Co. were in control of 900,000 acres.193 Company employees Edward Brassil (station manager) and Jack Leonard (Overseer), oversaw much of the redevelopment of Currango which included the construction of:-
A new kitchen and the removal of the old kitchen (O’Rourke’s original homestead hut). 187 Merritt, 2003: 68 188 Good, 1992: 142-143 189 Taylor, 2001: 38 190 Good, 1992: 142-143 191 Taylor, 2001: 38 192 Merritt, 2003: 70 193 FOC, 2000: 5 Figure 2.22 The railway was very important to the cooperation between Currango and other Currango Group stations. This photograph shows sheep being loaded at the railway trucks at Cooma. [ Reproduced courtesy of John Merritt, Currango Summers 2003 from the Brassil family records] Draft Volume 2 Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation Management & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 Page 53 the overseers and workmen’s cottages (later referred to as Daffodil Cottage and the Pines or Pine Lodge) the station office Numerous sheds shearing shed, with pens and sheep dip hayshed with chaff cutter and steam engine to power it. With the building works completed, work commenced on local landscaping which involved: the planting of additional Pinus Radiata trees as wind breaks the establishment of gardens at the homestead and cottages the construction of a tennis court to the north of the homestead the damming of the creek to the immediate southwest of the homestead with fallen logs and earth fill to create a usable supply catchment (and decorative duck pond). 2.12.2 Stock Hands and their Work
Station hands in the employ of the Company at the time included Mark Thomas, Jack Thatcher, Milton Archer, Herb Mann and Norman Buchannan.194 As a young man, Tom Taylor, who later managed Currango, did fencing work for Edward Brassil during this time.195 Merritt lists other employees, Walter Ware who was overseer for some years, Bert Cavanagh and Joe Tapp, (horse breakers), Syd Crow and Cecil Piper (stockmen and drovers), and Bill and Percy Harris (drovers).196
The stockmen’s most important task was looking after the AE flocks during summer. That involved maintaining fences, monitoring and treating fly blown sheep, providing salt licks and hunting wild dogs that threatened the sheep. The cattle that stayed on the property over winter sometimes had to be hand fed and moved to avoid the deeper snow, and the horses, which by the 1920s numbered well over 100, required daily monitoring and ongoing care.197 In spring and summer, casual workers augmented the permanent hands. Casual hands occasionally carried out ring barking but, more frequently, were required to destroy new ‘suckering’ shoots and carry out general scrubbing and the destruction of understorey. Ted Brassil does not mention the use of fire in any of his official reports, but it is possible that he may have used fire as part of a vegetation clearance regime and to promote green pick.198 194 NPWS Hut Record [c1982] referred to in Scott, 1988 195 Taylor, 2001: 5 196 Merritt, 2003: 70 197 Merritt, 2003: :70-71 198 Merritt, 2003: :71
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2.12.3 The 1920s
Seven year snow leases were the norm for areas above 1300 feet by the 1920s, with year round grazing on permissive occupancies in the lower areas.199 Within the High Plains, the 1910s and 1920s were decades characterised by considerable construction throughout the mountains which included the construction of numerous highland huts such as Daveys, Long Plain, Oldfields and Wheelers.200 The AEM Co. built many other buildings aside from their additions at Currango, including during the 1920s, Circuits Hut (located 5km from the Tantangara Dam wall on the edge of the Gulf Plain), and Pockets Hut north of the Currango Plains. 202 At around the same time, two telegraph lines were constructed. One line connected The Ranch to the Currango homestead via Kiandra, and the other ran from the homestead to a hut on Cooleman Plain. Sheep yards were erected at Pockets Hut in 1928 and a road was built from there to Currango. At Currango, a generator was installed in the homestead in 1929 and a meat shed was built in the same year.203
One of the more significant regional constructions of the period was the Rules Point Hotel, built in 1910 by Bobby Joyce, and operated by George Harris and his wife and a Mrs Cook(e).204 This hotel became something of a High Plain social and business hub, serving as a central point for social gatherings and local carnivals and the place where all manner of goods for the district were dropped off. Fencing for the snow leases and the local mail were all dropped at the hotel prior to distribution.205 The Parks Service removed Rules Point Hotel in the late 1960s for management and safety reasons.206
2.12.4 Staffing at Currango in the 1920s
During the 1920s, Sheep generally came into the mountains after being shorn and there was little shearing at Currango (until the late 1930s). It was often necessary however to bring in shearers for a late summer or early autumn crutching. Stockmen, dingo trappers, rabbiters and building contractors were employed as required. For most of the 1920s Currango had a bookkeeper and a cook-laundress, who augmented her earnings with her own line of rabbit traps. In the peak summer months there were upwards of 20 people at Currango, while in winter only the permanent employees remained.207
199 NPWS (NSW), 1991: 3
200 Hueneke, 1982: xiv
201 Hueneke, 1982: 202. Circuits was also known as Doosies & Fells
202 Hueneke, 1982: 202. Circuits was also known as Doosies & Fells
203 Merritt, 2003:83
204 Taylor, 2001: 3
205 Taylor, 2001: 3
206 Taylor, 2001: 4
207 Merritt, 2003: 72
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Figure 2.23 Huts in the Kosciuszko National Park most of which were typically formerly stock workers shelters. [Dept of Conservation & Land Management publication. Date unknown]
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2.12.5 Currango as Distribution Centre
From the early 1920s, Currango commenced the role it would have over the following decades as a significant and valuable sheep distribution centre for the AEM Co’s flocks that required relief grazing. The distribution centre role was precipitated by the overstocking of Currango in late 1918 so that when Brassil had to deal with incoming stock he arranged agistment for them with neighbouring landholders. The principle role of Currango as a distribution centre was the assessment and re-distribution of sheep to the most appropriate rented areas.208 Some of the sheep that came to Currango prior to being redistributed came from as far away as Bourke. Merrit describes the 1920s as ‘the high point of the AEM Co’s involvement with the snow belt’:
After its 1919 purchases its total acreage on the northern plains was never less than 80,000 acres and for much of the period exceeded 82,000 acres. On three occasions, the 1919-20 and 1922-23 droughts and from January to March 1928, it increased its acreage by further renting land from other mountain leaseholders. No other pastoral company used anything like the same amount of land and nor did any individual pastoralist. In dry summers when the AEs flocks flowed into the northern plains from both the Cooma and Tumut ends, they did so for weeks. When they returned to their home stations they formed another endless procession. In those summers when there was little demand for relief grazing there were always some AE sheep moving to or from Wambrook or to Cooma or to Tumut. Each winter, regardless of what happened in the preceding summer, there were AE cattle on the plains.209
As the quote above indicates, the AE companies success was facilitated by a combination of land renting and purchase after 1918. The Northern Plains properties purchased by AE directors were Cooleman Plains, The Ranch, Russells, and the long established
Cooleman Plains - adjoined the northern end of Currango and comprised 15,241 acres.210
The Ranch - located north east of Kiandra on the Long Plain and comprising 23,293 acres.211
Russells - located south of Currango, 70 kilometres from Cooma and comprising 3856 acres.212
At 1000-1300 metres above sea level, Russells could carry sheep all year round.
Wambook Station - located 25 kilometres west of Cooma, and comprising 7334 acres of freehold conditional purchases or conditional leases. 213 AE called the five properties the Currango Group and these properties accounted for nearly 50,000 acres (with more than 40,000 acres of land relief grazing country). 208 Merritt, 2003: 72-3 209 Merritt, 2003: 84 210 6500 acres scrub lease, 3000 acres freehold plus other small leases and tenancies 211 22,000 acres of scrub lease, 440 acres of freehold and 2 annual leases of 400+ acres each 212 3140 scrub lease, a conditional purchase and a conditional lease 213 Merritt, 2003: 73-74
Draft Volume 2 Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation Management & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 Page 57 Figure 2.24 A map showing Australian Estates Mortgage Company’s holdings during the 1920s. [Map reproduced courtesy of John Merritt, from p75 Currango Summers, 2003] Draft Volume 2 Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation M Page 58 anagement & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 In total the company had over 80,000 acres on the northern plains, nearly 60,000 of which were scrub leases. Brassil was to manage all the properties with the assistance of two boundary riders (at Russells) and a book keeper.214 In 1919-20 flocks came from as far away as Bourke and Currango was fully stocked by January 1920. Clapperton reported that’ the results could hardly have been more satisfactory’.215 During the year 1922, AE agisted more than 100,000 sheep, and 4500 head of cattle, on their snow belt properties.216 . Despite the major successes of the AE’s ventures in the High Plains, the 1920s was not all smooth sailing. In 1922, for the first time, Brassil had to report the effects of drought. Diseases such as Liver Fluke and Black disease also effected stock numbers in the early 1920s.217 By 1928 however, a drench for Liver Fluke and a vaccine for Black Disease were being used and the introduction of these stock maintenance and management measures improved sheep losses dramatically. 214 Merritt, 2003: 74 215 ibid, 2003: 74 216 There was never more than 62,000 sheep at any one time on AE land at any one time. 217 ibid:76 Figure 2.25 A view of the Currango Homestead from the March, 1929 Australian Estates Staff Journal. [Reproduced courtesy of John Merritt, Currango Summers, 2003] Draft Volume 2
Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation Management & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 Page 59 2.12.6 The 1930s By the commencement of the 1930s, numerous cosmetic and functional alterations to the Currango homestead complex had been undertaken. Among the alterations was the establishment of a reliable lighting system. A lean-to had been added to the eastern side of the station office (c1928) to house an electrical generator, which powered lead acid batteries and produced a 32 volt (DC) supply. This set up powered electric lighting in the homestead and overseers cottage. Overhead cables connected the supply to the two buildings. Prior to the establishment of this system, carbide lights provided artificial lighting.218
A snapshot of the homestead at the time would show a tennis court well maintained and often used, with a the main yard around the house surrounded by a six foot high wooden fence. The fence posts around the yard were made of tree trunks with the intermediate posts trimmed and tapered at the top. The top of the corner posts were sawn, adzed, and chiselled, producing a facetted head shape often referred to as a ‘Turks head’.219
Edward Brassil managed Currango for the AEM Co. well into the 1930s. Brassil’s description of the station and the running of it in the early 1900s is presented as Appendix A. During the 1930s, sheep numbers agisted at and out of Currango fluctuated depending on the nature of the season and the agistment requirements of pastoralists. Generally, the relative importance of sheep declined during the 1930s, and by the late 1930s, cattle were far more important to Currango’s annual balance sheet. In 1938, for example, there were 1200 cattle on the property between February and May and there were seldom less than 600 in winter.221 Brassil also did more ringbarking for example in 1934 they ringbarked and scrubbed 700 acres. Most of the work was to meet the conditions of the permissive occupancies.
Merritt described the situation at Currango in the 1930s as follows:
While the good seasons of the 1930s reduced AE relief grazing considerably, Currango was worked harder than ever before as Brassil did all he could to compensate for the decline in agistment revenue. Leasing to outsiders became regular practice. Upwards of 11,000 sheep were involved in 1933 and 1934 and over 16,000 in 1935. The latter figure was only exceeded once in the 1930s by AEs own sheep.222 218 Tom Taylor in Scott, 1988: 51 219 Extract from letter from Trevor Thatcher to Klaus Hueneke, 18 April, 1985; Ted Taylor, pers. comm. 220 Merritt, 2003:93 221 ibid:94 222 ibid:94 Draft Volume 2 Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation M Page 60 anagement & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 2.12.7 Contraction From the 1930s, pressure on the Government from the local landholders resulted in the breaking up of leaseholds and restrictions to areas to 5000 acres. Although AE had been able to avoid or negotiate impact in the past it was impacted by these changes. This significantly reduced the long term value of the AE Company’s operation at Currango.225 The ongoing effects of the depression of the late 1920s and 1930s compounded the effect of this reduction in scale. In addition, improved technology (like the liver fluke drench), and better pastoral management practices meant that the need for very large properties had considerably diminished. Many Riverina based pastoralists found that they no longer needed large snow belt scrub or improvement leases.
All AEs scrub leases on the northern plains were officially surrendered from June 10th 1930 including scrub lease 183, surrendered a year before it was to fall due. The land map created by Triggs disappeared. The Currango Group lost 67,365 acres, made up principally of the two former O’Brien leases, 235 and 239, the 22,000 acre snow lease on The Ranch, and snow lease 74. Cooleman Plains lost an annual lease and three permissive occupancies.226 The net loss was 39,725 acres. Currango itself was reduced to 33,275 acres, with only some 9000 acres being secured land. This was 6000 acres less than when AE bought the property and its smaller size significantly diminished its capacity to accommodate huge flock numbers.227 Currango remained at around 33,000 acres throughout the remainder of the 1930s.228 Despite Currango’s diminution, Brassil was constantly searching for ways to make the property pay and he left a flock of Merino wethers on the property over winter in 1938 and to feed them he grew hay and oats after applying super phosphate to thirteen acres close to Currango homestead. The 1431 Merino wethers ‘wintered satisfactorily’ and over 2700 were wintered in 1939.231 Brassil saw great possibilities for Currango to become self supporting with the application of super phosphate, the sowing of perennial rye grass and planting of oats.
Brassil ultimately left Currango and went to live at Wambrook around 1933. H Stapleton, a 25 year old who had previously worked for AE as a jackeroo, took over Currango.232 223 Merritt, 2003:85 224 ibid:94 225 FOC, 2000: 5 226 Merritt, 2003: 90 227 Merritt, 2003: 91 228 Merritt, 2003: 92 229 Merritt, 2003: 91 230 Merritt, 2003: 92 231 Merritt, 2003: 94 232 Merritt, 2003:95
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2.12.8 The Depression
Like the rest of greater New South Wales, the residents of Currango and in the High Plains were affected by the depression years of the 1920s and 30s. However, resilience and versatility appear to have been character traits of those who continued to work in the mountains during the lean years, and the work could be found in the area for those who sought it.
Walter Ware took over as Overseer at Currango in the late 1920s. Under Ware, the station hands and shearers were generally employed over the summer months, and during winter either moved elsewhere or sought income via other means. The trapping of foxes, dingos and rabbits and the sale of their pelts provided many with much needed income during the lean months. Rabbits were a winter mainstay and were caught in traps, skinned when cold to get maximum membrane, and packed at night to retain moisture (and therefore weight). Rabbits also put extra pressure on Currango’s pastures at a time when they were being worked hard. In the early 1930s Brassil employed a professional trapper and when the rabbit numbers increased in 1937 he employed two trappers. Every time there was a mild winter they became a problem and in 1939 they were ’numerous’.233 Station hands variously employed at the Currango station around this time included Sid Crowe, Earl Archer, Percy Thomas, Jim White, Ted Culgan, Wally Hook, Lac Maxwell and Thomas Thatcher.234 There is no evidence of women employees in this period, the hands were male particularly when the absolute numbers at Currango were low. The only women known to be on the AE properties were the wives generally of the of the older and long term overseers/managers.
The nationwide economic depression hit hard in the early 1930s. At the height of the depression, many itinerants passed through Currango and were accommodated in the workers cottages. These itinerants contrived a modest living from the land through trapping and fossicking around the creeklines for precious metals such as gold. Overseer Walter Ware’s brother Clarrie was one such fossicker and something of a character to boot. Clarrie was known to sleep through the day and then ride overland at night searching for radium (used in clock hands and faces) which he believed could be found in glowing surface deposits about Currango and Coolamine.235 On occasion, stock in the district were driven down to Victoria when prices were better there than in NSW. During such drives, stockmen such as Les French, Noel Pendergast and ‘Bung’ Harris used to move through the High Plains as they drove cattle through Jindabyne and Jacobs Ladder to the Snowy River, then down to Suggan Buggan and Victoria. Station hand Thomas Thatcher, a relative of Edward Brassil, worked at Currango for most of the year and when there was no station work, he did contract work in the district, including fencing, scrubbing, ring barking and clearing.236 Like most hands, Thatcher made a living during the winter months selling pelts. 233 Merritt, 2003:95 234 Trevor Thatcher in Scott, 1988:55; NPWS Hut record [c.1982] referred to in Scott, 1988. 235 Trevor thatcher in Scott,1988: 56 236 Trevor Thatcher in Scott, 1988: 51
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During the depression skins fetched up to twelve pence each.237 In addition, Thatcher gained a small income acting as a guide for trout fisherman in the district. Trevor Thatcher, son of Thomas, was a young boy during the depression, but remembered that although conditions were primitive by modern standards, he perceived that those at Currango were much better off during the depression than were those in the city and other parts of the country.238 During the 1930s Currango remained very intensively used and they held around 100 horses, 5000 cattle and 10 000 head of sheep on the station and employed an average of twenty people during the summer months.239 By the end of the depression, people working in the plains and escaping the depression had built numerous huts in the high country (eg: Boltons, Boobee, Pretty Plain and Harris’).240 In the early 1930s, a Bill Russell from Tallangatta replaced Walter Ware as overseer at Currango. 2.12.9 The 1940s
Brassil had sold most of Currango’s sheep by the early 1940s, reducing the flock to less than 2000 possibly because of the uncertainties associated with the expiry of the Company’s permissive occupancies. Three permissive occupancies expired in June 30th 1941. Two of these were then renewed but B4, the largest, was not. Some weeks earlier the Goulburn Land Board’s ‘rabbit inspector’ had found so many rabbits on Currango that he had classified AE as an unsatisfactory tenant. The size of Currango was reduced from around 35,000 acres to 28,242 acres. However, with the AE policy of intensive use, by November there were 14,000 AE sheep on the property (with a further 3,000 outsiders sheep on agistment added in January and February 1942). In June 1942 AE lost the two remaining permissive occupancies, but picked up two others totalling 2600 acres. The following year an application to renew the snow lease was rejected and AE lost the two permissive occupancies it had acquired in June.242 As of 1 July 1943 Currango consisted of two separate parcels of secured land totalling only 8,892 acres.243 Favourable conditions in the following years saw little demand for High Plains pasture agistment and Brassil reduced the stations flock from 1700 to 600 and then to 68 in December 1943. Cattle again replaced the sheep and the herd grew to nearly 1300. The AE company management in the meantime, sought to obtain another snow lease while it retained Currango. By January 1945 Currango was running just 708 cattle and agisting 2,200 Burra Burra ewes. At this stage Brassil, who was nearly 68 and no doubt disheartened from witnessing the gradual disintegration of Currango around him, wanted to retire. Merritt described the condition of the Currango :- 237 Hueneke, 1982: 204 238 Extract in letter from Trevor Thatcher to Klaus Hueneke, 18 April, 1985: 4 239 Taylor, 2001: 38-39 240 Hueneke, 1982: xiv 241 Merritt, 2003: 98 242 Merritt, 2003: 99 243 Merritt, 2003100
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The homestead needed painting, the cattle yards had to be replaced and the greater part of the boundary fences required attention.244 From March 1945 Bruce Reid lived on Currango as its overseer/caretaker. Reid resigned in January 1946 and Herb Sef(ph)ton was hired to replace him. Herb remained at the homestead until after WWII when the NSW Lands Department purchased Currango from Australian Estates for £3.10 per acre.245 Currango was now, barely large enough to service AEs other large stations that had traditionally used Currango in bad years. For a number of years Brassil had urged AE management to try and arrange a land swap to create a consolidated property. AE eventually approached the Lands Department. The Department made an offer to buy the property for inclusion in a state park within the snow belt, and AE enthusiastically agreed and accepted an offer of 24,000 pounds.246 Merritt has suggested that although the break up of Currango and its eventual inclusion in the state park was linked to closer settlement it was also linked to other issues such as growing concern about soil erosion in the catchment areas of the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers. The AEM Co. operated Currango from 1913 to 1946. For further details about the operation of Currango during this period the reader is directed to the following: Merritt, J. 2003. Currango Summers – A snow belt pastoral property 1851-1946, Turalla Press, Bungendore. Australian National University – Archive of Business & Labour Australian Estates & Mortgage Company Ltd: Annual Reports of Currangorambla Station 1915-1947, & Abstract of Company History Additional information about this period at Currango is contained in the recollections of Trevor Thatcher which are appended in the Currango Homestead Conservation Study (prepared by D Scott, 1988). An oral history project that interviews people associated with Currango’s history of occupation and use, is currently being carried out by Stephen Gapps for NPWS. 244 Merritt, 2003:102 245 Molly Taylor in Scott, 1988: 56 246 Merritt, 2003: 03
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2.13 Early 20th Century Tourism
2.13.1 Mountain Trout Fishing
The Murrumbidgee, which rises to the north of Tantangara, and its many creeks and tributaries are within easy reach of Currango and provide plenty of ‘good trout water’. The creeks and rivers near Currango hold both self sustaining stocks of wild (mostly brown) trout, as well as introduced trout that were released as fry and fingerlings by locals for many years.247 The mountain trout feed on a variety of insects, rising to hatches of small mayflies, caddis and stoneflies, with terrestrial insects such as grass hoppers, and small fish such a gudgeons, being particularly important in the trout diet in the summer months. Spawning takes place in May. From about the 1920s, wealthy doctors (principally Collins Street and Macquarie Street specialists) and their associates, began to visit the Currango area to fish the creeks for trout in the open season, which traditionally runs from early October to mid June.248 These fishermen sought trout in the area by using a variety of techniques including sight casting dry flies and nymphs to feeding and rising trout in the shallow creeks about Currango. The best fishing was generally had from October to Christmas when the daytime fly hatches occur. Men, like Thatcher were employed to act as fishing guides and took the doctors on horseback to the many small creeks and streams that fed Gurrangorambla (Currango) Creek and the Murrumbidgee River.249 The homestead benefited from the visits of the doctors as management provided the doctors with meals and lodgings and employed a small service staff to meet the needs of the visitors. The Doctors also patronised the Rules Point Hotel.250 Some of the better known early fishing tourists to the area included Dr Holmes-A’ Court, Dr Linderman, Dr Martin and Colonel Himler-Smith. Fishing continues to be a tourism drawcard in the Snowy Mountains, particularly now that the lakes and dams created by the Snowy Mountains Scheme provide year round fishing. Many people, such as the Friends of Currango, use Currango as a fly fishing base while others come into the area from nearby towns such as Adaminiby, with dedicated guides. 247 Taylor, 2001: 9 248 Ted Taylor, pers. comm.. 249 Thomas Thatcher in Scott, 1988: 55-56 250 FOC, 2000: 6 Figure 2.26 Rules Point Hotel c.1929 [Reproduced from Taylor, 2001:11]
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2.14 Aborigines in the late 1800s/early 1900s By 1883 a Board for the Protection of Aborigines (BPA) had been established by the State Premier and the Colonial Secretary to ‘manage’ Aboriginal Affairs.253 The board, made up of officials and ‘gentlemen who had taken an interest in the Blacks’, aimed to provide asylum for the aged and sick and train and educate the young so that they would fit into the rest of society.254 Part of the boards responsibility, through subsidisation and police representation, was the management of the Aboriginal Reserves and Mission Stations. Land had been set aside for Aboriginal reserves from the 1830s and by 1891 there were 78 reserves in NSW covering some 22000 hectares. Approximately 2000 Aborigines, often ‘refugees’ from a variety of different tribal groups, lived on these reserves at that time.255 As the years went by, there was a common belief that: …the blacks either died out or went into the reservations the government provided for them, but occasionally we would come across a camp of them.256 It is said that most Monaro Aborigines were living on the Delegate Reserve by the early part of the 20th century.257 However, other reserves in the region included Buckleys Crossing (Dalgety), Cooma, & Nimmitabel with many people probably moving (or being moved) to the two reserves set up at Brungle (near Tumut). The Brungle reserves consisted of three acres, gazetted in 1890 for mission management, and 142 acres gazetted in 1909 and generally thought to be the area of the “old mission’.258 The mission appears to have been located on the site of what had been an Aboriginal camping place at Brungle since at least the 1840s. On the mission, the BPA built a weatherboard building as a school and designed the complex to be largely self supporting with vegetable gardens, accommodation and so on. Although the Board had a policy of concentration for manageability and sought to get Aborigines who were ‘living on stock routes and alongside towns’ on to reserves, there were numerous absconders. Many men went to work as rabbiters and gold prospectors in the late 1890s, and families moved to other areas such as the NSW south coast and Gippsland.259 During some periods, the reserves operated merely as camps or bases from which people moved to work or commune elsewhere. Aboriginal elder Vince Bulger grew up at Yass and later moved to Brungle, working a variety of jobs throughout the region. As a child in the depression, he went rabbiting in the Yass region and the High Plains to get enough money for picture shows.260 251 Taylor, 2001: 9 252 Ted Taylor, pers. comm. 253 Col. Sec. Copies of Minutes and Memorandums received, 1883. SRNSW 1/2542 254 Archives Authority of NSW, 1998: 63 255 Young, 2000: 66-67 256 H. P. Wellings for the Bombala Times, July 1, 1932. 257 Young, 2000: 335 258 The old mission was the government run reserve which operated until 1955. 259 Young, 2002: 233, 246, 306; Kabaila, 1995: 75-77 260 Vice Bulger, pers. comm.
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Below Brungle Mission- Reserve Housing Area [Kabaila, 1995:79] Draft Volume 2 Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation Management & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 Page 67 The Board was instrumental in removing children from their families and putting them into care and education. By 1915, under the Aborigines Protection Amending Act 1915 (NO.2), the Board had gained the legal right to ‘assure full custody and control over the child of any Aboriginal person’ if was deemed to be in the ‘interest of the moral or physical welfare of the child’.261 By the mid 1920s, the plight of the Aborigines in the Monaro was still widely perceived as doomed. Felix Mitchell described the general feeling in c1926: Throughout Australia, contact with the white man has involved the extinction of the Aboriginal and unfortunately the tribes of the Monaro seem to have been no exception to this rule. Years ago hundreds of them would come in and about the towns to share in the annual distribution of blankets. To-day, and for a number of years past, one might search Monaro, and fail to find a full-blooded native….262 By 1932, the board had gained even greater powers and had control over ‘the lives and future of every Aboriginal person in New South Wales’ under the Aborigines Protection (Amendment) Act 1936 (No.32).263 Not surprisingly, the powers of the Aborigines Protection Board were widely feared by Aborigines throughout Australia. Aboriginal children were encouraged by their parents to never answer the front door for fear that it might be the APB coming to the house to remove them. As a means of protection and to lessen discrimination against them, some Aborigines denied their Aboriginality, at least to the white community. Not surprisingly, measures of self preservation contributed to the apparent disappearance of Aborigines from the historical record. During the 1930s, those Aborigines not on the reserves (or periodically absent from them) were employed about the region on a variety of jobs such as stockmen, sleeper cutters, timber mill hands, marsupial hunters and ‘usefuls’. During the depression however, many Aborigines lost work, probably in part because whites were preferentially employed but also because the Australian Worker’s Union Constitution excluded Aborigines.264 There was a marked increase in the number of Aborigines on reserves during the depression years (as noted in a 1932 APB Annual Report). Despite being relegated to reserves and missions, some Aborigines, like their ancestors before them, travelled huge distances. Monaro Aborigine Jimmy Hammond (also Munz & King Billy) for example, was known to have travelled from the reserve at Lake Tyers, to Monaro and Bega and as far a field Framlingham in south western Victoria.265 261 Archives Authority of NSW, 1998: 63 262 Mitchell, F. 1926. 263 Archives Authority of NSW, 1998: 63 264 Young, 2002: 231-2 265 Munday in Young, 2000: 315
Draft Volume 2 Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation M Page 68 anagement & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 After 1943, and an amendment to the Aboriginal Protection Act, the Board was allowed to buy houses for Aborigines outside the reserves and in some cases to manage properties as they strove to assimilate the Aborigines into wider society.266 2.15 Currango from 1946 - 1969 The notion that grazing and burning off had a detrimental effect on the fragile snow belt ecology was first aired in the 1890s. However, it was not until the 1930s that Scientists and concerned environmentalists began to clash openly about the future of the High Country. The McKell, Labour government elected in 1941, arrived during what became known as ‘the battle for the mountains’. It attempted to arrest soil erosion, while still fulfilling its commitment to the small graziers. This approach brought pastoralists into conflict with scientists and conservationists and provided both groups with claims for the legitimacy of their respective positions.267 With the passing of the Kosiusko State Park Act on June 5th 1944, the NSW Lands Department became responsible for the control of grazing leases within the High Plains and almost the entire snow belt. The nett effect of the Act was that the NSW Lands Department effectively annexed the High Plains and their properties within the the Kosciusko State Park. The Kosciusko State Park featured 5000sq km of land centred on Mt Kosciusko, which was protected from 1944, with all grazing excluded from the Mt Kosciuszko area. Adjoining land was added to the park thereafter. While originally there had been no intention of removing grazing from the mountains, attitudes hardened in the 1950s and the Trust banned grazing in the Park in areas over 1476 metres.268 Permanent occupation of the High Plain homesteads ceased in the late 1940s with only minimal summer grazing continuing under a revised leasehold system.269 There was some occupational change in the 1940s, as the wooden homesteads decayed and the seasonal stockmen moved from the use of mountain timbers, to the use of corrugated iron for hut construction. In 1946, the Lands Department acquired Currango and installed the Taylor Family as caretakers. Tom Taylor was a district local and was already employed by the Department as a Ranger monitoring stock leases within the Park.270 Tom (and a Dave Mackay) were responsible for overseeing leases from Tumut right through to the Murray River.271 By 1958, there were no grazing leases at all above 1370 metres. Ten years later, the National Parks & Wildlife Service had been established (1967) and a Government enquiry had recommended the abolition 266 Kabaila, 1995: 78 267 Merritt, 2003:107 268 Merritt, 2003: 111 269 FOC, 2001: 6 270 Tom & Molly Taylor in Scott, 1988: 58 271 Taylor, 2001: 17
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Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation Management & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 Page 69 of all grazing, largely to ongoing concerns about environmental degradation. The results of the pioneering scientific research into the detrimental effects of grazing on the mountains conducted by Alec Costin (1949-1959) also influenced the governments decision to remove grazing from the mountains.272 By 1972 all leases in the park were terminated.273 272 Good, 1992. 273 Gare, 1992: 323; Fitzherbert et al, 1998: 23 Figure 2.28 Sheep movements in the Kosciusko State Park [1954/55 [NPWS (NSW)< 1991:8]
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Draft Volume 2 Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation Management & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 Page 71 2.15.1 The Taylors at Currango Tom and Molly Taylor and family moved into the homestead at Currango in January 1947 after Herb Sefton had finalised the removal of the Australian Estate and Mortgage Company possessions and equipment.274 At the same time, Harold Walsh a former Australian Estate and Mortgage Company stockman and then High Plains park ranger, was living in Pine Lodge at Currango with his family. The Walsh family made several alterations to this building during their residency which lasted until 1951. Alterations to Pine Lodge included: The addition of new doorways allowing internal access to every room The enclosure of the western verandah to form a bathroom The installation of a new range over the old baking oven275 Both Tom and Harold managed their dual roles as grazing rangers and property managers. One of the first tasks the pair conducted at Currango was the demolition of the shearing shed and hayshed. Harold Walsh left Pine Lodge in 1951 and this cottage remained empty until Tom’s son Don Taylor and family spent a short time there in 1960 while waiting for construction work on the family home in Tumut to be completed.276 The Taylors installed a new stove in Pine Lodge during their stay there as well as a refrigerator, light fittings and generator (later removed). From the 1960s, numerous buildings including Pine Lodge and Daffodil Cottage began to fall into disrepair and the Taylor family took it upon themselves to lock the cottages (which had been previously left open for the public) and maintain them. The homestead remained largely unchanged from the time that Tom Taylor arrived in 1946 until refurbishment work in the 1990s. Tom and family were responsible for the maintenance of the electrical lighting system, water supply and reticulation system. Tom also conducted repair work such as the replacement of decayed boards. In addition to the general maintenance of the property, Tom also constructed a number of new outbuildings including, a meat shed and a toilet shed.277 274 Tom & Molly Taylor in Scott, 1988: 59 275 Tom & Molly Taylor in Scott, 1988: 59 276 Tom & Molly Taylor in Scott, 1988: 60 277 Ted Taylor has suggested this was a temporary construction to shelter sheep while shearing Figure 2.30 Tom & Mollie Taylor, 1935 [reproduced courtesy of John Merritt, from Currango Summers - from the Taylor family Records.]
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The Taylors kept a number of animals on the property including up to 60 sheep, twelve cows, horses, chickens and two sheep dogs. The livestock was pastured in the paddock west of the homestead and the slaughter shed was utilised as a milking shed. The chickens were cooped to the southeast of the kitchen.278 278 Scott, 1988: 60 Figure 2.32 Land holdings in the Currango area in 1955 [Map reproduced courtesy of John Merritt Currango Summers 2003:100 Source Snow Leases & Permissive Occupancies 1955, Land & Propery Information, Panorama Avenue Bathurst 2795]
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Tom Taylor retired from his position as ranger when all gazing leases in the High Plains were terminated by the Lands Department in 1969. Currango was subsumed into the Kosciusko National Park, however the Taylors obtained a special lease to remain on the property in perpetuity and rent out the cottages and lodges on condition that they maintain them.279 The area leased to the Taylors was defined as part of blocks Z7, Y2 and CII in the Kosciusko National Park, parish of Currangora, County of Cowley. Winter habitation at Currango ceased in 1969 and from then on the Taylors spent only the warmer months (October to April) at the Homestead, wintering at their house in Adaminaby or with relatives in Tumut.280 The Taylors livestock was removed to Yaouk where the family leased a property called Heatherbray. Tom and Molly Taylor remained at Currango as caretakers, managers, and hosts until 1988. 2.15.2 Social Life During the period of the Taylors’ management of Currango, the homestead was something of a social hub. Get togethers with the likes of the French family from Old Currango were common and involved much card playing.281 Betty French recalled that often after playing cards for several hours, ‘just one more game’ became ‘this will be the very last game’, until the small hours of the morning when the cards were finally put away.282 2.15.3 The Mail Run and the Party Line The mail run was another important component in the maintenance of communication and social intercourse. The mail was dropped at Rules Point and delivered twice a week. There was a female postie for a time283 and for a period Harcourt Reid, who lived at Old Currango (1930s & 40s), had the mail contract for the area. Harcourt’s son Jack and nephew Mike Sutton became sub-contractors. The nature of the mail route and its importance in the maintenance of the social and communication network of the area is highlighted by regular Currango visitor and local historian Harry Hill: Making a start at 9 am, they’d (Mike and Jack) set out with the empty mailbag for Rules Point. It was there that they collected the mailbags, loose mail and any parcels that had to be delivered, but before they left the first invitation to have a cup of tea was accepted. The first delivery point was Currango Homestead – it was also the second cup of tea point. From there they rode back across the plain to Old Currango in time for lunch - and another cup of tea. Then it was on to Harris’ Blue Waterhole House (cup of tea No.4), Coolamine Homestead (cup of tea No.5), 279 Copy of Deed of Lease – NPWS (NSW) File F/295 I 280 Tom & Molly Taylor in Scott, 1988: 61 281 Betty French (Kelly) and Harry Hill in Hill, 1997: 75 282 Betty French (Kelly) and Harry Hill in Hill, 1997: 76 283 See S Gapps – Oral History project 2003
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Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation Management & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 Page 75 over Skains Hill to Cooinbil (cup of tea No.6) and back to Old Currango; in time for another cup of tea before the evening meal. A mail delivery consisted of a 60km ride and at least seven cups of tea.284 The arrival of the mailman at any homestead was ‘an important event’ as the mailman brought with him not only the mail, but also local and regional gossip, comic books and magazine subscriptions and the correspondence school lessons for the school aged children on the homesteads.285 Until 1978 a ‘Party line’ linked Currango, Kiandra and the Yarrangobilly exchange. This open line facilitated social interaction - The telephone was also used to relay flood and fire warnings to relatively isolated low lying homesteads.286 The old telephone line was replaced by a radio telephone in 1978.287 2.15.4 Snowy Mountain Scheme Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme established in 1949 and ‘…in a few short years the mountains were transformed by engineering works access roads, publicity and swelling public visitation’.288 Amongst other things, the location of the scheme promoted a Winter sport boom across Australia in the late 1950s.289
A large number of locals worked on the Snowy Scheme in the 1950s including Ted Taylor who worked initially with Snowy Mountains Authority head surveyor Major Clews on the preliminary survey work and later on the construction side.290 Ted recalled: …it was a great experience working on the scheme…It taught you to get along with people from all walks of life to work with them and live with them and to form mateships which would last for years…its great to look back on the Snowy Scheme and to know I was part of it. It was a marvelous feat really.291 While carrying out an investigative survey for the Tantangara dam site, Kon Martynow, a post-war European migrant and surveyors assistant to Major Clews, stayed at Currango in the Pines with a team of surveyors (at the insistence of Tom Taylor) in the 1950s,.292 The Snowy scheme lead to a significant demise in grazing (prior to its abolition) as the requirement for a clean, continual water supply was threatened by grazing and erosion within the dam catchments.293 284 Mike Sutton & Harry Hill in Hill, 1997: 33 285 Dorothy Constance (Reid) and Harry Hill in Hill, 1997: 36 286 Hill, 1997: 37 287 Scott, Nd: 2 288 Gare, 1992: 323 289 Gare, 1992: 323 290 Taylor, 2001: 24-25 291 Taylor, 2001: 24 292 Kon Martynow and Harry Hill in Hill, 1997: 93 293 Good, 1992: 145
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Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation M Page 76 anagement & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 Tantangara Reservoir, built as part of the scheme, resulted in the inundation of a good part of the Currango Plain to the south west of the Currango Homestead.294 The Tantangara dam is the highest part of the Snowy Mountain Scheme and diverts water from the Murrumbidgee and Goodrabidgee Rivers into Lake Eucumbene.
2.15.5 Access Roads
Access roads established during the Snowy Mountain scheme (and later fire trails established by the NPWS) largely followed access tracks established by settlers and stockmen which inturn followed tracks probably pioneered by the Aboriginal people moving through the area. The road from Jindabyne to Thredbo to Khancoban, for example, followed the Thredbo River valley and is believed to have been a route followed by Aborigines to the Bogong moth feasting areas in the high country.295 294 FOC, 2000: 6 295 Good, 1992: 152 Figure 2.33 Location plan of the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme [Good, 1912:52]
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2.15.6 Aborigines Aboriginal visitation to the High Plains continued into the 1950s. People from the old mission came to the area holidaying from Brungle or chasing brumbies. Many Aboriginal stockmen were excellent riders and brumby chasers.296 2.16 Currango in the 1970s During the 1970s at Currango, Tom and Molly Taylor accommodated a variety of guests including bushwalkers, fishermen, extended family and friends who were attracted to the area by its natural beauty and resources and the welcome and warmth provided by Tom and Molly. For a short period they also accommodated a group of research scientists. 2.16.1 The Howard Florey Institute In the three summers between 1971 and 1974, research scientists from the Howard Florey Institute in association with the CSIRO stayed at Currango were they had received permission to conduct research into causes of cancer. The Institute members were accommodated at Daffodil Cottage where they installed a 240 volt electrical generator to supply fluorescent lighting and power equipment. In addition to Daffodil Cottage, the scientists also made use of the former slaughter/milking shed and built a prefabricated shed nearby to house chemicals used in their experiments.297 The experiments into cancer causing agents was conducted on rabbits housed in special garden plots around Currango. When the research was concluded in the summer of 1973/4 the Institute dismantled the electrical plant but failed to remove the chemical store which remained locked on the property still housing drugs related to the experiments. The shed was later broken into by members of the public after which time Tom Taylor removed the contents of the shed to the Main Storage Shed.298 2.16.2 The Currango Club & the KHA Most of the guests at Currango until 1975 were friends of the Taylors accommodated in the homestead building and catered for by the Taylor family. In 1975 a group of guests banded together to from the Currango Club. The aims of the club were to provide support and financial assistance in order to help cover maintenance and running costs, and allow the conversion of the cottages so guests could be self contained (therefore reducing the burden on the Taylors).
296 Vince Bulger, pers. comm.. 297 Molly Taylor in Scott, 1988: 61 298 Molly Taylor in Scott, 1988: 62
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The club was formed principally of bushwalkers and anglers, professional people from Melbourne and Sydney. Members paid a yearly subscription to the club which was passed on to the Taylors annually. Founding members included David Dyson, Ian Dunn and Andrew Mossman.299 The club was incorporated in 1988, becoming the Friends of Currango Inc. The club continues to be actively involved in the management of the place, the raising of funds and the lobbying of the various government bodies responsible for the preservation and continuation of the place.300 The club produces regular newsletters which feature low key promotion of the place, inform members about goings on, and generally provide a valuable service for those with an interest in Currango.
Another group consisting of cross country skiers, bushwalkers and fishermen formed the Kosciusko Huts Association (KHA) in 1970 to ensure the preservation of the mountains huts of Kosciusko National Park.301 The group maintains many of the huts in the park and compiles information on the various huts as well as maintaining a register of huts in the High Country. It doesn’t have an active role at Currango, but the Friends of Currango are members of the KHA.. 2.16.3 Droving in the 1970s
Although all stock leases in the Park were terminated in 1972, the Plan of Management allowed a ‘Route for Travelling Stock’. As a result limited movement of stock through the Plains has continued. Mick Russell from Tumut was a drover in the 1975/76 period and took stock from Tumut into the Plains area. Droving involved moving stock along the main roads with 4 or 5 other blokes with a support team of one (usually someone’s wife who acted as cook). From the main roads the herd (2000 head) would move into the grazing country. Life on the road involved daily meals of boiled beef, boiled onions, boiled potatoes and warm KB beer.302
While the droving was limited, Aboriginal horsemen were still active in the district in the 1970s and several Aboriginal riders were accomplished endurance competition riders (including one or two champions). Local competitions took place at a number of venues including Adaminaby.303
2.17 Recent History and Management (1980 – 2002)
During the 1980s there was considerable concern about the survival and conservation of the mountain huts and homesteads and the preservation of High Plains history and heritage. Against this backdrop, a number of groups and individuals were actively involved in seeking to preserve Currango and ensure its suitable future management. 299 Scott, 1988: 63 300 FOC, 2000: 7 301 Hueneke, 1982: 238 302 Mick Russell, pers. comm. 303 Mick Russell, pers. comm.
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2.17.1 Conservation & Heritage Studies
The following section presents a sketch of the history of management and conservation work undertaken at the site in the last twenty years or so. In 1982, Gatis Gregors, then of NPWS (NSW) undertook preliminary historical research and site recording work at Currango as a component of a wider study which addressed the built heritage of the wider KNP. In 1987, the Currango club took a more active role in the operation of the homestead, committing to involvement in maintenance work on Pine Lodge. During that year, members of the club: replaced rotten floor boards and joists on the western verandah replaced a missing pier under the north wall304 Circa 1988, the NPWS (NSW) undertook some maintenance work on the main homestead building which involved: replacement of downpipes and guttering replacement of the northwest verandah (damaged by pine tree that fell during a storm in 1982) the installation of a septic tank toilet system305 It was apparent at this time however that major work was required on various buildings and structures about the precinct in order to preserve them and make them safe and to keep exotic plantings in check.306 During the same year David Scott, expanding on the previous work of Gregors, prepared the comprehensive Currango Homestead Conservation Study which included preliminary assessments of significance and included conservation policy and works programme. This document served as the baseline study for all work thereafter. In 1990, Michael Cavanagh NPWS (NSW) prepared a more detailed assessment of the landscape component of Currango and prepared relevant conservation policies. The collective work of Gregors, (1982), Scott (1988) and Cavanagh (1990) was synthesised into two formal NPWS management documents by Alistair Henchman in 1993, namely the Currango Homestead Conservation Plan and the draft Currango Homestead Development Control Plan.307 304 Scott, 1988: 63 305 Scott, 1988: 63 306 Scott, 1988: 63 307 NPWS (NSW), 1993b: 4
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2.17.2 Recent Conservation Work
In the summer of 1990/91 restoration work on Pine Lodge commenced. The work was largely undertaken by the Friends of Currango who operated under the supervision of NPWS (NSW) staff. In the summer of 1992/93 a major conservation effort was undertaken at Currango. The NPWS 1992/93 conservation program occurred with the aid of funding from a Heritage Properties Restoration Grant.308 The program focused on maintenance and reconstruction of existing buildings and cleanup of the landscape and included: reconstruction of the stage and harness sheds, stables and woodshed stabilisation of the office and store, Daffodil Cottage, meatshed, fireplaces and chimneys minor works such as exotic wilding control, stabilisation of the engine shed and slaughter shed, and completion of the reconstruction of Pine Lodge.309 A second season of work was undertaken by the NPWS in the summer of 1993/94. The work concentrated on the homestead building and was undertaken in accordance with the revised Conservation Plan (1993). Works included: work on the reconstruction and repair of the homestead main building and kitchen including restoration of verandahs and select rooms Improvements to services in line with modern health standards. This included the provision of grease traps, PVC drainage lines, new plumbing, and installation of a gas hot water service and an absorption trench.310 An ensuite bathroom was installed in the Homestead in 1998 and in the following year solar lighting was installed in Daffodil Cottage.311 Solar lighting was installed at the Pines in October 2001 and in the June 2002 an additional 50,000 L water tank was installed.312 2.17.3 Ted & Helen Taylor Tom and Molly Taylor left Currango in 1988 and moved to Tumut. Caretakers since the Taylors have included the Cornelsons, the Suttons, Gary Bilton and most recently, Tom and Molly’s son Ted and wife Helen Taylor.313 308 Megan Bowden in FOC Newsletter 1/93 309 NPWS (NSW), 1993b 310 NPWS (NSW), 1994 311 NPWS (NSW) File 01/00630 312 Dieuwer Reynders in FOCus newsletter, May 2002: 3; NPWS (NSW) File 01/00630
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Both Ted and Helen are long time locals, with Ted growing up in the High Plains and living at Coolamine, Spencer, Pockets and Old Currango before moving to Currango. Helen was a McAlister, a pioneering family who arrived in the Tumut area in the 1830s.314 Ted and Helen took over the caretaking of Currango on Monday 18 December 1996, renewing the Taylor family links with Currango.315 Ted, like his mother and father before him, is passionate about the area, and received the prestigious ‘Man from Snowy River’ Award in 2001 for his contribution to the high country. Ted’s recollections about life in the high country and at Currango are contained in the recent publication Ted Taylor – Man of the High Country (2001). 2.18 The Current Situation
The Currango Historic Precinct is an extensive area associated with historic use of the place as a pastoral station homestead complex and the subsequent re-development of the place as a low key tourist day and overnight destination. Currango is listed on the State Heritage Register, the site complex having been gazetted in April 1999 .The heritage and history of Currango and the mountains draw a wide range of people to the area (and many of these people return again and again). The place has significance to those associated with the European history of the area, and to the Aboriginal people who have had a long association with the Mountains. To some in the Aboriginal community, the mountains generally have great spiritual and ceremonial significance, to others, returning to the area is like ‘’coming home’.316 The site continues to be utilised as low key weekend and holiday accommodation and as a point from which tourists can begin to discover the history and heritage of the High Plains. In 1999, NPWS attempted to lease Currango to private operators. However, no viable lessees came forward so the caretaking was put out to contract again.
For the last seven years Currango has been operated by the Taylor family who act as hosts and unofficial guides. Ted often takes guests on interesting rides to various places around the precinct. With careful management, Currango will retain its place as a highland area of significance to the European, Aboriginal and wider community for many years to come. 313 Scott, Nd: 2 314 Taylor, 2001: 26 315 NPWS News Release, December 21, 1996 316 Phyllis Freeman per. Comm.; Vince Bulger, pers. comm.. Draft Volume 2 Currango Historic Precinct, Conservation M Page 82 anagement & Interpretation Plan, July 2003 317 KHA Newsletter No. 80, 1993: 23 318 Wilkinson & Pebesma, 1999: 33