The delightfully named Cuppangabalong Station (station is a term used in Australia to refer to a large farm) began life as a squatters settlement, established by James Wright in early 1840s. In 1855 it was bought by a 39 year old Italian count – Count Leopold Fabius Dietegen Fane De Salis – who developed it into a very successful wool business and stud farm.
While De Salis fell victim of the 1890s depression and went bankrupt in 1894 the station’s new owners turned the business around and the station prospered in the early 20th century when it literally ‘rode on the sheep’s back’, as did the total Australian economy with wool being the country’s biggest single export and employer of labour.
In the 1920s the Snow family acquired the 7,700 acre (3117 hectare) station and wool from the station’s flock of 7,000 Merino sheep remained the mainstay of the business.
Shearing the station’s sheep (and those of other neighbouring properties) was a big job and employed many shearers working in the station’s woolshed, depicted in the attached images. While many of these old shearing sheds can be found around Australia this is one of the largest and best preserved I have come across. I am not sure whether or not, or for what if anything, it is used for today. As it is private property I did not venture in but rather was happy to admire the wonderful building and yards from the roadside.
The writing and reciting of poetry was a favourite pastime of people working in the outback in the late 1800s and it thus comes as no surprise that a poem should have been written about the life of a shearer at Cuppacumbalong Station. This anonymous poem was published in the Queanbeyan Age on 9 January 1873.
The Shearing at Cuppacumbalong
Before I tells my story, if you asks me who I are,
I’m the shearer from the Billybong who never called for tar:
And on this first occasion I came out very strong,
Stripping off the fleeces at Cuppacumbalong.
Good shearing there, you bet; no man might tomahawk;
For if he did, he got the sack, and from the shed might walk;
Indeed a few poor fellows, their hearts it well nigh broke,
When they found they could not slash along the Murrumbidgee stroke.
Now I’m a steady hand, and do not try to go too fast,
And proved that careful shearing pays better at the last;
For when well nigh a month is lost, by reason of the rain,
It surely must be worth the while our rations free to gain.
And so it proved: for while the two great ringers got the sack
I shore all through, and in return a decent cheque got back.
And as I settled with the boss, he said, almost in tears,
“My bully boy, your tucker’s free, and you may take your shears.”
There’s one remark I’d wish to make for which I have good reasons —
And that’s to make more roomy sheds in case of rainy seasons;
For many a man I think would go more easy to his bed,
If he knew his next day’s sheep were safe and drily in the shed.
I never seed such rain before, my word, what work we had:
To finish before Christmas day we wired in like mad;
We rose with dawn at four o’clock, and freshened with our sleep,
We thronged the pens like eaglehawks to dart upon the sheep.
You know the price we got this year; ‘t was three and six the score;
The same they got at Tuggranong : and though we tried for more,
The boss held out, and in a tone that seemed by half too knowing,
He said that shearers might be scarce but rather guessed it blowing.
“And how about the grub ?” I knew you’d ask that vital question,
For none can work ten hours a day, upon a a bad digestion;
‘T was mainly good, the beef was fat, we’d doughboys pretty often,
And now and then a good plum duff, our labours helped to soften.
Well now we’ve done; on Christmas-eve we finished the last cobblers,
And galloped off to Queanbeyan, to take some social nobblers;
I stay at Land’s: so join me, mate, I’m scarcely ever out;
The shearer from the Billybong is always free to shout.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on Tharwa. I suggest you continue with my next entry – St Edmunds Anglican Church – or to start this loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – The Australian Capital Territory’s Oldest Village.