by Belinda Elton 5THE FM wattlerangenow
This year the Glencoe Woolshed celebrated 150 years with a weekend blade shearing, dancing and entertainment. It all began with the Leake brothers who decided to settle in Glencoe.
Their story follows:-
Robert and Edward Leake, who came from Rosedale in Tasmania, first settled in the Glencoe district in 1844 bringing with them Saxon Merino sheep, their land consisted of 90,000 acres stretching from Mount Muirhead near Millicent and taking in Mount Gambier region to Penola Road.
Robert Leake passed away in 1860 and Edward was left to continue managing the property. The flock of sheep reached nearly 50,000 Edward decided that a woolshed was needed. The Woolshed was built in 1863. This sufficient building has hand glazed, cathedral-like arched blackwood beams with supporting posts of pit sawn blackwood. The roof timbers were laid on the ground and marked with Roman numerals to assist in their assembly. The gates of the catching pens were formerly pivoted on an English penny and were closed with a weighted cord. The woolshed was officially opened with a gala ball with 200 guests attending.
The shearing/wool shed is a 36 stand shearing shed and is unique because it was never converted to mechanised shearing. In its day there were 38 shearers as well as roust-a-bouts, wool classers and shed hands. The most sheep shorn in one year was 53,000. The shearers were shearing 2,000 per day and had to employ additional 100 men.
Edward Leake passed away in 1867 and the property was purchased by George Riddoch who sold it for closer settlement in 1901. In additional changes in ownership it was acquired by Mr Scotty Kennedy who donated it to the Mount Gambier Branch of the National Trust of SA in 1976. The National Trust restored the building; the official opening was on October 1st 1978 with Mr Kennedy present at the opening.
When the catching pens were full, the shearers would catch sheep and drag them out backwards holding the sheep’s front legs so that they can be turned into position to be sheared. After the sheep was shorn the shearer would push the sheep through their legs and through the porthole into the catching pens. At the end of the day the sheep are counted and this becomes the shearers tally. The shearer is paid from this tally. While the blade shearers were shearing they told stories and yarns but as years went on and the sheds became mechanised this stoped because of the noise factor.
Mr Richie Foster from Edenhope has been blade shearing for the past 20 years. He claims that blade shearing is more of an art than a skill because a lot depends on the sheep. Richie was a contestant in a blade shearing competition last Saturday night to go to Ireland and he sadly missed out by getting one sheep that would not cooperate.
In the early days the sheep were washed because their wool was clotted with sand and dust. The sand and dust would slow down the shearing and blunten blades and added considerable weight to the fleece. The sheep were washed at Tarqua Lagoon and other swamps. The sheep were left to dry for at least 10 days before shearing. At the rear of the woolsheds a drying shed was built for drying the sheep where they were kept under cover until they were shorn. Shearers would not shear wet sheep as arthritis can develop in their legs and wet wool causes spontaneous combustion. Once the sheep were shorn the fleeces were collected and taken to the wool table where they were skirted and classed. The wool was then pressed into bales which were stencilled with the name Leake brand on it. They were then transported to Portland by bullock wagon and shipped to England for auction. After the subdivision and sale of Glencoe Station the drying shed was sold and relocated at Coola Station near Kongorong.
It is an example of the working material of large parcel land holdings of early settlement. The Glencoe Woolshed is a remarkable building and provides visitors with a real insight into the history of agriculture in the region and it has now been converted into a museum of original and historic blade shearing and wool handling processes.
On Sunday the 3rd of November Glencoe held 150 years celebration of the Woolshed. A lot of fundraising was done on this day with the Mount Gambier Branch of the National Trust raising about $1,000 going towards maintaining the woolsheds. There fundraising consisted of a BBQ, cake stand and they also sold raffle tickets. About 300 to 350 people turned out to enjoy the day and learn about the history of Glencoe woolshed.
The entertainment for the day consisted of two songs by the children of the Glencoe Primary School. They sang the Australia National Anthem and Click Goes the Shears. The children’s school work was also on display in the woolshed.
Wendy Monger from Mount Gambier Branch of the National Trust received a drawing of the shearing shed sketched by Kingsley Marks. Wendy received this award, to say thankyou for all her hard work, for being the Chair of the Mt Gambier Branch of the National Trust and a loyal and dedicated member.
The rest of the afternoon consisted of dancing in the woolshed, pipe band and whip cracking.
Photography: by Belinda Elton
Contributor R Lowe
Sources included: History panels in the shearing shed.