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The largest building on the whole establishment is the woolshed, where the sheep are shorn, and the wool stowed, during the short time it remains upon the station, previously to its being sent to Sydney ; it is usually placed at some little distance from the owner's residence, and is also constructed of wooden slabs, with a roof of bark, but is much higher and longer than the other buildings, and somewhat resembles a barn or out-house ; it is floored with narrow slabs of wood, to protect the fleeces from dirt, whilst the sheep are shorn, for which purpose they are always placed on the ground. The door of the wool-shed opens upon several low yards, used at shearing time to separate the sheep, while a higher fence encloses a larger space beyond, which is used as a stackyard for wheat and hay; a wool-press, and a table on which the fleeces are folded, constitute the only furniture of the interior.
Still further off, an open space is occupied by the stockyard, for the reception of the numerous herds of cattle and horses ; and nearer the house is another yard of similar construction, but much smaller, in which the cows are milked, working oxen yoked, saddle horses driven when they are wanted, and cattle slaughtered for home consumption; for this latter purpose it is furnished with what is usually known as a gallows, which is simply formed by two saplings, about twenty feet high, forked at the top, on which is laid a strong cross piece, to which the carcase of the animal is pulled up by means of a windlass, fixed outside the yard, and thus it is suspended to cool during the night. The abodes of the working men, which are merely slab huts of the rudest description, each containing two roonis or divisions, are scattered here and there, usually in the back ground, and complete the picture of the head station.
Bush, or slab huts, are built wholly of wood, in the following manner : four posts are sunk in the ground to a depth varying with the height and size of the building, and form the four corners : these support long beams, or wall-plates, grooved on the under side, and immediately beneath these again wooden sleepers are laid in the ground, a little below the surface, which are grooved similarly to the wall-plates, and are, in fact, the main foundations of the building; the sides, or wooden walls, are formed of slabs, the ends of which are respectively fitted into bark,"
these grooved plates, and the sides are smoothed off with the adze to make them fit close together. On the wall-plates a simple roof is fixed in the usual manner, the covering of which consists either of shingles, or of the long wiry grass of the country, or of the bark of trees, usually of the “stringy
or of the box-tree. The bark is stripped from the trunk in sheets of about six feet by three, and is fastened to the roof by means of a wooden frame, so constructed as to press some part of every sheet, and thus to keep down the whole. The chimneys, which are placed outside at either end, are also built of wood, and are fortified on the inside with stone, which is carried up sufficiently high to prevent the flames from reaching the outer slabs.
In the course of a few years, when the stock-owner finds that the station he originally occupied is becoming too small to support the increased numbers of his flocks and herds, (as will be the case if he has met with average success,) he is compelled, in order to prevent his "run" from being too heavily stocked, either to sell off his superfluity, or find new pasturage elsewhere. On this point he uses his own judgment, but as it frequently happens both that the state of the market is unfavourable for effecting sales, and that no unoccupied land is to be procured in the vicinity, even for money, at the time, he has no alternative but to push off with his extra stock in quest of some new country, and there to form a branch, or out-station. Here he erects huts, paddocks, and other “ improvements,” sufficient for the number of men he purposes leaving in charge of his stock; and hither he makes periodical journeys, more or less frequently, as circumstances render necessary. The requisite supplies are sent by means of bullock teams, which, if the station be a distant one, take at each trip sufficient for six or twelve months, or when the roads are so bad as to be impassable for drays, pack. bullocks are used, which will carry about two hundredweight each.
When the stock at one of these out-stations consists of sheep, it is usual to have them brought in to the head station at shearing time; and when of horses or cattle, the owner travels out to visit thein several times during the year, generally in spring, or towards the end of summer, for the purpose of collecting them, branding the young stock, and sending to market any that are fit for sale. There are few more lonely spots than the majority of these out-stations ; they are seldom occupied by more than two or three men—the stock-keeper, who has charge of the herd, and another man, whose business it is to cook, fetch water, grind and bake, and, in short, keep house. The head station, or owner's residence, is distant perhaps 100 miles and upwards, and the nearest habitation of any sort is probably some solitary bush hut, similarly occupied by a herdsman or shepherd, and his helpmate. The settler, though accustomed to the loss of society, is, in truth, seldom fond of visiting these places more often than is absolutely necessary for the welfare of his property; and on returning to his head station, so strong is the contrast, that he feels as if he were restored again to the centre of civilization.
When about to form one of these out-stations, the settler endeavours previously to obtain as much information respecting the country which he intends to occupy as he can procure
without divulging his intentions, an indiscretion which would perhaps be equivalent to frustrating them altogether, for some of his neighbours also are probably on the look-out for new pasture ; and as the right to a station in a new part of the country beyond the boundaries of the colony belongs, not to the original discoverer, but to him who is the first to occupy it with stock, it behoves hiin to keep the “ whereabouts” of the spot which he has in view as much to himself as possible. But it is always desirable for the stock-owner to visit a new country in person, and form his own opinion as to the quality of its pasture, and other capabilities, previously to taking possession, provided always that he can do so unobserved.
When, however, two parties, having the same object in view, meet on the road, all disguise is at an end, each speedily penetrates the other's object, and the war, with its manoeuvres, commences—first possession, in this case, being every point of the law. Under such circumstances, as these, the energy and ingenuity of both parties are called into action ; and though the strongest stock and best mounted men have a great advantage, yet the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong ; stratagem, and the casualties of the road, frequently turn the scale in favour of the weaker side.
As an instance of this I recollect hearing of the ruse by which
a very fine station, many hundred miles in the interior (where I once passed a night), came originally into its owner's possession. He went out by agreement with two or three others on an exploring expedition, in search of new land for grazing purposes, and, after penetrating some very broken and “scrubby” country, they emerged from the forest upon a fine plain, verdant and well watered. He at once saw that it would suit his purpose, provided that he could get the sole possession of it, but that it would be over-stocked if divided. In a case of this sort, I fear that, according to the code of morality in an infant colony, most artifices are accounted fair ; so accordingly he seemed to take but little notice of the spot, speaking rather disparagingly of its merits, and expressing his opinion that better country would be discovered by going farther on, and, as his judgment had considerable weight with the party, they all proceeded on their journey. On the following day he was taken ill, and, regretting that he was obliged to return, he left his fellow-travellers to prosecute their search. But, after seeing them fairly on their road, he recovered from the illness which had answered his purpose, and, making his way back to his old station, he speedily returned to the place he had fixed on, with stock sufficient to occupy the whole of it, to the exclusion of his disappointed companions, who discovered too late that his illness had only been what the blacks would have called "plenty too much gammon.'
It is upon such occasions as these that the energy which a hush life at no time suffers to stagnate is fully displayed : I remember the instance of a man who was making his way through the country with his stock, drays, &c., for the purpose of cccupying a very desirable station in some newly discovered 66 la nd of promise.” When within a few days of his journey's end he arrived at the foot of a mountain which lay in his road, and which was so steep and difficult of access, that, to a party driving stock, it was considered a good day's journey to accomplish the ascent. Here he was preparing to encamp for the night in the usual way, when he received intelligence that another party, having in view the same object as himself, were halting at a short distance from the top, fully aware of his vicinity, and prepared to start at daybreak on the following morning.
Though all his men were thoroughly wearied by a long day's journey, he was determined to be first at the goal; so, selecting some of the strongest animals from his herds, he set out again directly, and by dint of working all night succeeded in getting his stock to the top of the mountain before dawn of day. Then making a slightly circuitous route, he pushed a-head of his competitors, who, on arriving at the station they were bound for, were astonished to find it already in the possession of those whom they had believed to be a full day's journey in their rear.
The removal of stock from one part of the country to another is attended with no little trouble and labour: previously to setting out, the sheep must be brought in from the several stations, classed, and counted ; the cattle, numbering perhaps upwards of a thousand, have to be driven into the enclosures, and “ draughted," or subdivided ; the drays must be repaired, and loaded with supplies, and everything requisite for a long trip; this occupies several days, to say nothing of minor delays from stray saddle-horses, and the absence of working bullocks (which seem to have a fellow-feeling with the horses, in never being at hand when most wanted), and from the constant insatiable demands on the part of the servants for every sort of saddlery, bullock-gear, and harness of every description ; nor is it the least difficult part of the business to manage the working men at so critical a time, who, thoroughly knowing their own importance on such occasions, are apt, if not treated with great tact, to throw many
obstacles in the way of “the master,” who often finds that the only means of ending them is by giving orders for starting at once, and feels heartily glad, like the mate of a merchantman, that he has been able to get off upon any terms.
Once fairly upon the road, the appearance of the line of march is animated and interesting, and may be compared, without any great stretch of fancy, to some of the migrations of the early patriarchs, Abraham or Lot, journeying in the land of Canaan.
As long as the travellers can calculate on reaching a station at night, their hardships are lessened by the enjoyment of a roof over head, and the use of enclosures for the stock; but as they recede more and more from the habitations of men, these advantages cease, and the flocks and herds must be watched during the night, a process which, with cattle, is very tiresome, and one that effectually murders sleep, doubly welcome as it is