Living history at Warrock Station

Living history at Warrock Station


Farm Online News
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A Casterton family is working hard to preserve a seminal piece of Australia's pastoral history at Warrock Station.

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Scott Farquharson in the historic Warrock woolshed.

Scott Farquharson in the historic Warrock woolshed.

THE FIRST glimpse of historic Warrock Homestead comes as a shock.

After winding your way through the quiet, rolling hills of the Glenelg River valley, you turn down the driveway and suddenly what appears to be a entire Victorian-era village pops up at you.

And the first impression is not far off the mark.

Warrock, north-west of Casterton in far western Victoria, is home to the most complete set of pre Gold Rush farm architecture anywhere in the country.

Owner of the property Scott Farquharson said there are 36 historic buildings at Warrock, all dating back to before the Gold Rush.

To put it in perspective, when the founder of the property George Robertson first arrived at the site in 1843, the state of Victoria was still eight years away and the Henty Brothers, the first European settlers of what became Victoria had only arrived at Portland just nine years before.

Once he arrived, the Glasgow native set about carving a formidable legacy, working furiously to build a hamlet of some 57 buildings at one stage, including the main homestead, workers' accommodation, shearing shed, saw mill and various workshops.

His background as a cabinet maker is clearly evident, with barely a nail through many of the buildings, with well made joints standing the test of time.

Early wood for the complex came from Tasmania, then Van Diemen's Land, but later, local wood was processed in the saw mill and used.

While the buildings were all function, Mr Robertson had an eye for style as well.

Most of the construction is in a Gothic style, with decorative features such as finials and bargeboards.

As befitting such a historic property there is a treasure trove of lore and legend surrounding the homestead.

Local historian Adam Robertson has written a book on Warrock Homestead and said there are many colourful tales surrounding the place.

Local historian Adam Robertson, who grew up just kilometres down the road from Warrock, has written a book about the property's history.

Local historian Adam Robertson, who grew up just kilometres down the road from Warrock, has written a book about the property's history.

"There are stories of bushrangers invading the property and tying up George in one of the sheds to Chinese miners passing through as they walked overland from Robe to the Goldfields in the early 1850s."

Naturally, Adam said there were claims of a resident ghost on the property, hardly a surprise on a place with such a long and turbulent history.

One of the major claims to fame of the property, however, is as the birthplace of the Kelpie, the iconic Australian sheepdog breed.

According to stories, the breed, which evolved from Scottish Collie dogs, was named after a black and tan bitch called Kelpie, the Scots word for water sprite, that lived at Warrock in the 1870s.

To this day there is a strong working dog tradition in the area, with Casterton's big weekend of the year the Kelpie Festival, held on the Queen's Birthday long weekend in June.

Mr Farquharson, who together with wife Penny runs cattle enterprise Bushy Park Angus locally, said when the piece of Australia's pastoral history came on the market in 2016 his family decided to take the plunge.

"We knew the family who owned the property previously, the Larkins, and when Andrew, who was planning to come back and farm Warrock died tragically in a car accident and the property came on the market we bought the place."

Now Scott and Penny, together with Scott's parents Greg and Dinah and siblings and partners Tim and Melissa and Jodie and James Young are working to ensure Warrock's legacy endures.

Over its long history, Warrock has had four family owners, the Robertsons, the Patterson / Flanders family, descended from George Robertson's nephew, the Larkins and now the Farquharsons.

Far from its glory days in the 19th century, Mr Farquharson said preserving Warrock was a big task.

"There's a lot of work in preserving the buildings but we are just tackling it one thing at a time."

The saw mill is fully preserved, while another row of sheds now houses a museum.

Other preserved buildings include the belfry, the colourfully named Bitches Hell, more mundanely described as the old dog kennels where Kelpie was housed and the coach house and main homestead

Pride of place is a rare horse drawn fire cart, while there is also a full range of George Robertson's original tools.

Warrock Station is nestled amongst the big redgums and rolling hills of far western Victoria near Casterton.

Warrock Station is nestled amongst the big redgums and rolling hills of far western Victoria near Casterton.

Workers accommodation highlights Mr Robertson's commitment to providing sturdy, liveable quarters for his staff, compared to the makeshift huts and tents offered at other properties at that time.

Near the dining hall is the belfry.

This building was not used for religious purposes, but rather to signal working hours or emergencies such as fire.

Further down the hill is the woolshed, which has a patina of age over it even though it is slightly 'newer' than other buildings, dating back to 1865.

Scores of shearers have hand pencilled in their tallies, while there are also records of Caulfield Cup sweeps from years gone by.

Mr Farquharson said the shed was just recently retired from operational use.

"We've just sold off all our sheep, so we shore the last of them in the shed in February, it marks the end of a long era for the property, but we'll be preserving it all for posterity."

There are a host of other buildings needed to run the largely self-sufficient property, such as grain storage sheds, animal byres, kennels, stables and a smoking room.

"The place looks like one of the replica colonial villages you see as tourist attractions in some places, except it is all the original real deal," Mr Farquharson said.

At present, work is underway to restore the main homestead, built in 1848, to its former glory.

The house is notable for being built in two sections, with a long passageway connecting the two parts.

It is structurally the same as when it was built.

"There's a few things needed to bring it up to scratch but when you consider how old it is and how little work has been done over the years, it is amazing it is in the condition it is," Mr Farquharson said.

Like many squatter families, gardening was a passion for the Robertsons and Warrock has its own conservatory, not for food crops, which were grown in the market garden on the place, but for Mrs Robertson's collection of exotic plants.

The gardens were designed by famous landscaper William Guilfoyle and still feature some stunning trees, including a massive Port Jackson fig and cedar.

A tennis court also survives, including a commemorative coin sunk into the surface presented to the owners of Warrock by a member of the British aristocracy that visited the property in the 1930s.

While Warrock had shrunk in size as a working farm over the years, from around 4200ha in the 19th century to just over 350ha when the Farquharson family bought the property, Mr Farquharson said it had an importance disproportiate to its size.

"We feel very lucky to be a part of Warrock, the birthplace of the Kelpie and such an important site in terms of our pastoral history, we are just hoping we can keep working to ensure it is all preserved," Mr Farquharson said.

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