Following Sturt’s expedition in 1845, and Burke and Wills in 1860, Crown Lands of New South Wales appointed John Chadwick Woore to commence surveying the “back blocks” of the colony, from the Darling River west to the South Australian border and north to Queensland.
Some pastoralists, often financed by large companies in England, were able to take up huge areas of land. Other than having to pay the Crown an annual rental there were few regulations.
Early properties required a huge workforce. The station homestead complex consisted of the “government house” where the overseers, book-keepers and jackaroos lived.
The men’s quarters (where the station cook head stockman, the blacksmith, the saddler, bullock drivers and horse breakers lived) comprised huts with about ten bunks.
There were sundry other buildings for the saddler and blacksmith, and a harness room and a stockyard located perhaps half a mile from “government house”. The shepherds, boundary riders, and those who looked after water pumps at wells and bores, lived in huts or tents close to where they worked.
At the time, an optimistic view of the carrying capacity of the land, and high wool prices, saw sheep numbers rise to 13.9 million by 1891. Drought, and exploding rabbit populations across the area, changed it all.
In 1901 a Royal Commission found that overstocking, drought and rabbits were the cause of the resultant devastation. The Commission placed the Western Division under the control of a board, and insisted that rabbits be controlled and edible plant growth fostered.
The majority of the Homestead Leases were then converted into Western Land Leases. In 1930 there were further radical changes. Existing lessees were offered an extension of their lease for up to 25 years in return for surrendering half their Leasehold Areas, “one quarter of their land immediately, an eighth in 1943, and an eighth in 1948”.
These areas were then used to establish new Western Lands Leases and to build up smaller holdings to economic size. Not everyone complied, including landholders such as Sidney Kidman, and those properties ceased to exist after the expiration of their current lease period.
Today, station properties in the Corner Country continued to be owned by the “Crown” and are leased to owners who pay an annual rent. Merino sheep continue to be run but workforce challenges and low prices for wool have seen a major shift toward meat sheep such as dorpers and damaras, as well as goats and cattle.
More information about the pastoral and water history of the Corner Country can be found on the shelters along the Sturt’s Steps touring route in the Pastoral Sheds and Post Office museum area at Milparinka.