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TOLARNO STATION - A Brief History

Tolarno Station is situated 160 kilometres south-east of Broken Hill, on the eastern side of the Darling River downstream from Menindee.  The current station is 250,000 acres and is 25 kilometres north-south and 80 Kilometres east-west.  Robert and Linda McBride, the current owners, run 10,000 sheep and 150 cattle.

 In May 1855 William and Ross Reid secured an abandoned river frontage run downstream from Menindee.  They gave it the aboriginal name of that area - TOLARNO.  The Tolarno acreages at first were small but they took up other smaller sections named Booliva, Gunanola, Gal Gal Range (consisting of 144,400 acres), Gun pongulla, huco, Mourte, Malinguh, Porcupine, Prunella, Tyndiah, Toorincoca, Undeethee as well as Outer South and Boat Warnegah runs combining these together as one property.  This meant a 45 mile river frontage with land extending sixty miles east to the Bolabooka Lakes.  By 1880, the Reid brothers had leased seventeen runs.

 During the 1870's Ross and William Reid operated their own fleet of steamers to deliver their wool clips direct to Port Victor for transhipment direct to woollen mills in England.  In early 1868 Ross Reid married Lucy Reynell whose family were the founders of the famous Reynella Winery.  To prepare for the forthcoming marriage Ross had a new homestead built on Tolarno.  As well he also built outer offices, stores, stables, blacksmith shop, saddlers shop, cart shed, chaff stores, bachelors quarters and extended the fruit and vegetable garden.  Tolarno gave the appearance of a small township.  The blacksmith shop still stands and is over 100 years old.  Inside is the forge and on the wall are the original tools used.  Today it is used mainly for storage.  A school was also constructed for the children of families employed on the station, and children of neighbouring stations.  This school closed in 1917 and in the late 1920's the school building was transported across the river to Netley Station at a cost of 29 pounds and by June 1931 this building had been moved several times as a result of white ant problems.  Eventually the school was set up as room next to the Netley Homestead before being closed down.  All that remains on Tolarno of the school house are the foundation stumps about 100 metres north on the right hand side of the main entrance to the station.

In 1878 a new woolshed was built on Tolarno and unlike the original bark roof and bush tinkered structure which it replaced, the new shed had an iron roof and comprised of 100 stands (today there are 8 stands in the shearing shed).  In close proximity to the new woolshed were built a wool room, scouring plant and large shearers quarters.  The original woolshed still has one end remaining from the original.  The tinkered walls were cut from trees on the property.  When the woolshed was constructed in 1878 Tolarno was 1,000,000 acres and it was central to the property.  Approximately 330,000 sheep were run and shearing would have been undertaken 12 months of the year.  Outside the woolshed was a rail connection to the wharf to enable the wool to be scoured before shipping.  Wool was also transported to Pooncarie, the largest inland port, by camels or bullock teams as the Darling was sometimes dry.  The woolshed now is in the left hand corner of the station and not a convenient location as sheep need to be mustered and drove long distances.  The shearers’ quarters have accommodation for 22.  During the recent shearing there were 8 shearers, 4 roustabouts, cook and wool classer.

Reid had two hotels built on the station for the convenience of the workers.  These were named the Victoria and Tolarno Hotels.  The latter was soon renamed Cliffs Inn because of confusion with the hotel and station being of the same name.  The Victoria was constructed from red gum slabs and had an iron roof.  It opened in 1877 and operated until 1905 when the last owner was T.D. Kennedy.  The only sign where the Victoria Hotel may have stood is an old bottle dump 400 metres away from the main house.  The Cliffs Hotel was south of the Tolarno homestead and was open from 1870 until 1904.  The supposed site of Cliffs Hotel is marked by a bottle dump on the left hand side of the old main road south of the shearers’ quarters.  The lease for this hotel was held by William A Fields.

In 1873 Ross and William Reid purchased the 98 ton barge Venus to be prepared for the 1874 wool season.  The following year Ross bought the steamer Jupiter which had begun as a river barge in 1860, in partnership with Hugh King.  Another boat was the Gem and in 1875 Ross had the 66 ton steamer Menindee built in Port Adelaide in partnership with S.R. Hasseltine.  This boat was 106 feet long and fitted with a 30 horsepower engine capable of 8.3 knots.  It had a draught of 6 feet and was unfortunately not suitable for the frequently low state of the Darling River.  In 1870 the steamer Bourke was added to the Reid fleet, which was the largest privately owned fleet of steamers on the inland waterways.  There is not much remaining of the wharf, just timber in the bank where it once stood.  At the back of where the wharf once stood and still standing is a water tower with the water tank still on it but this is not used any more.  During the late 1860's and up to the late 1870's Tolarno Station carried between 200,000 and 300,000 sheep.  Today the count is between 6,000 to 8,000 head of sheep.

 As a result of financial troubles in November 1892 after foreclosing on the whole of the Tolarno Station holdings the Union Bank offered the property for auction.   Benjamin Chaffey bought Tolarno from the Reids in 1892 and was the owner from then until 1911. Other owners included Michael Seymour Hawker (28/9/1911- 1920 - he also had Bungaree Station in South Australia), Albert William Bamfield (2/4/1925 -13/1/28), J.L. Warren (1928 – 12/2/1949) and W.E. and B.R.G. Hogan.  Since 1949 the property has been in the McBride family, and the current owners are Robert and Linda McBride.

During the Pastoralists (shearers strike) dispute in 1894 a holding cell was built on Tolarno, the remains of which are still there.  An incident that occurred was the burning of the paddle steamer Rodney on the morning of 26 August 1894.  Aboard the riverboat were 50 non-union shearers being taken to Tolarno Station.  The Rodney was moored in shallow water near the Moorara shearing shed, ninety miles south of Tolarno.  A force of shearers waded to the riverboat and ordered Captain Dickson and crew to transfer to a barge and remove the non-unionists.  The riverboat was set alight and it drifted downstream until it sank several hours later.  Eight men stood trial at Broken Hill in October but were acquitted because of the absence of creditable witnesses.

There is grave on the sandhills east of the homestead and the headstone remains, that of Colin McKiechan who died on 22 August 1899.  Nothing is known of his history.

The homestead is the second built on the property.  The existing one was built by Benjamin Chaffey and consists of 20 rooms not including the main hallway and is 100 squares including the verandah.  There was a drawing room, smoking room, dining room, seven bedrooms, two bathrooms and an office.  Of the seven bedrooms, four are inside the house and three have outside access.  The room nearest the smoking room on the northern side was called the "strangers room' and was available to travellers.  The other two bedrooms are on the western side of the house and may have been for the housekeeper and governess.  The ceiling and outer walls are covered in decorative tin imported from England.  It is interesting to note that the ceilings are different from the formal and living areas.  The front main entrance is very grand and has a decorative metal frieze at the bottom.  The picture rails were originally painted black and in the hallway evidence remains of an archway.  The walls are plastered with horse hair which is evident on them.  The rooms inside the house all have doors to the verandah so that the rooms were able to be cleaned by the servants who didn't enter the house.  The main bedroom with attached enclosed verandah and bathroom area was always kept as the owners’ room. In the central area in the main hallway are frames containing a notice of an earlier sale of Tolarno and maps of earlier layout and paddock names.  Detached from the main home are the servants’ quarters, store room, wash room, original kitchen and cellar.  All the cooking for the home was done in the main room, and there is a smoking cupboard to the upper right of the fireplace.  The other two rooms were accommodation for the house servants.  The cellar has been partially filled in and is no longer useable.  Along the verandah between the servants’ quarters and main house was a balustrade so the servants had to walk to the far western end of the verandah to enter the house.  The verandah of the main house is 9 feet wide while that outside the servants’ quarters is only 7 feet wide.

The original colours of the home were sandstone and green and are shown in a small section by the meter box outside the office.

The existing kitchen inside the main house was installed in the 1970's.  The levee bank was constructed after the 1950's flood.

Tolarno received Murray River County Council Power in 1987.

Coming on to the property from the southern boundary on the right hand side are large cleared areas of land. The bush that grew here was woody weed or hop bush and grows as a result of over grazing the land.  There has been government assistance to remove this plant as neither sheep nor cattle will eat it.  It is interesting to note that there are peppercorn trees planted along the sandhills between the current managers home and the main house.  It is supposed that there were workers cottages along here as they planted the peppercorn trees to hang meat in.

POINTS OF INTEREST

*   Stumps of old school house

*   Grave site

*   Old cattle yards

*   Storage shed with wooden wool press

*   Blacksmiths shop

*   Gaol

*   Workers cottage ~ stockman's home)

*   Wharf

*   Main home and servants' quarters

*   Meat house

*   Bottle dump - site of Victoria Hotel

*   Woolshed (shearing shed)

*   Bottle dump - site of Cliffs Hotel

REFERENCES:

HAEUSLER D               The Netley Story Published by D. Haeusler, Glencoe, 5291 South Australia 1989

LANS R, SNUTH T, SNUTH B          The History of Pooncarie and District. Published by Sunnyland Press, Red cliffs 1988

 

 

 

 

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