During our time in the Kinchega National Park we visited a ‘must see’ attraction; the Kinchega Woolshed.
Now that may not seem very exciting eh?. A place where sheep were sheared? Yeah! It’s kind of what I thought too. But it was genuinely impressive for a number of reasons.
Historic Kinchega Woolshed
Woolsheds like this one (and there are quite a few dotted around the outback) were not just places where sheep were sheared. The whole thing was an efficient production line with the wool being packed, weighed and labelled before being shipped off. Some of the process was even semi-automated and the power required to do that was produced on site.
Built in 1875 of corrugated iron and river red gum trees, the historic Kinchega Woolshed is a huge and incredibly well preserved classic piece of Australian pastoral heritage. During its 97 years of operation, six million sheep were sheared here. That is an amazing statistic to consider when you roam around this now silent, imposing building.
Yet again however, for me, it’s not even that. I just found myself wondering how they managed to do it all in such a remote and hostile setting. That never ceases to amaze me.
The shed was first built in 1875 and the sheep station was owned by the Hughes family from that time right up to the final shearing. At its height there were four shearing areas – or “boards” – meaning that up to 64 shearers could work at any one time.
Every spring thousands of sheep would be rounded up and routed through this woolshed. Rounding up so many sheep spread out over such huge distances was itself a monumental task in those days. Most of the herding was done by the local aboriginal people. Even today these operations still cover vast areas. These sheep station workers really are a tough lot.
The sheep were first held in “sweating pens” then moved to “catching pens” – generally one for each shearing point. From there the shearers took the sheep one by one and removed the wool before throwing them down the exit chute into the counting pens outside.
The overhead shearing gear powered a set of shears at each shearing “board” station. The shears were known as the “handpiece” or “bogeye”. Over the years there were four methods of providing power to the shafts inside the shed. Steam engine, kerosine & diesel engine, petrol driven engine and finally directly by electricity. The overhead gear was modified to adapt to each change in technology.
Cutting, Baling and Weighing
The open plan area in what was the centre of the (original) building was where the wool was sorted into different grades. It was pressed, baled and weighed then labelled, ready to be sent to market. The finished bales of wool were then moved the short distance to the Darling river for transportation.
The whole set up was self sufficient with adequate water nearby and never a shortage of food on site. They would simply slaughter some of the animals.
The workers were housed in barrack type buildings. These have recently been restored and used as accommodation for tourists, school parties etc…
The end of the line…
The original building was almost twice the size. The place originally had a mirror image of the sorting and shearing section, with the middle bailing and weighing section common to both. As the shearing process became more efficient the west side of the shed was no longer required and no longer stands.
In March 1967 the final shearing took place and the workers loaded 500 bales of wool. The Hughes family held a ceremony where it was announced that the woolshed would be handed over to the NSW government as an historic place worth keeping for future generations. It was then that the final and six millionth sheep was shorn.
Old Kinchega Homestead?
By comparison I found the nearby Old Kinchega Homestead fairly disappointing. Long since abandoned and derelict to the ground there is very little to see which was a shame after visiting the woolshed.
In fact it was so bad it was difficult to make out most of what was there before it became such a ruin. I am sure there are plenty of examples like this around the many other similarly remote locations in Australia.