Unlocking Regional Memory
Pastoral Station entry
|Location: Guyra, New South Wales, Australia|
Ollera Station, a sheep and cattle station, fourteen miles from Guyra, was founded in 1842 when it was registered in the joint names of brothers John, Edwin and George Everett.
Ollera, situated about 20 kilometres north-west of the town of Guyra in the New England tablelands, is one of the region’s few properties still managed by the family who pioneered it.|
Ollera was taken up in 1838 by two brothers, George and John Everett, who had only recently arrived in Australia to try their hand at sheep-rearing. Armed with letters of introduction (their father, Joseph Hague Everett, was a former member of the House of Commons), George and John wasted little time in expediting their plans. Less than a month after disembarking at Sydney, they travelled up the Hunter River and from there proceeded north across the Liverpool Plains, over the Moonbi Range, and after further wanderings, arrived at the site which was destined to be occupied by Ollera homestead. Led by an Aboriginal guide, George and John were taken to a hill, now known as Mount Selim, where they observed the property with its large waterhole from a distance. ‘See ‘im’, the Aboriginal guide is alleged to have said, pointing to the water below, ‘Ollera’; which, when translated, means roughly, ‘See there, good (or sweet) water’.
They hastened down the slope and decided to settle on this creek, which they named ‘George’s Creek’ after the eldest of the brothers (George was then only 27 and John a babe-in-arms at 22). Upon marking out the territory, they returned to Sydney in May 1839 to register their property. On the way back, George and John stopped at the Hunter Valley and purchased a flock of some 450 sheep. They then proceeded to the township of Armidale, which had only recently been proclaimed and named by the Commissioner of Crown Lands for New England, GJ Macdonald, and paid the assessment fee on the flock just purchased.
The Everetts soon received a taste of the difficulties which they could expect in this isolated outpost. Exactly two hours after returning to Ollera, they were held up at rifle point by a band of bushrangers led by the charismatic ‘Gentleman Dick’. The thieves, who, according to George, were ‘well dressed and well armed’, promptly helped themselves to the Everetts’ belongings and seized their horses before fleeing into the bush. Young John was sent south to report the theft and procure more horses. He walked 200 kilometres to Currabubula, where he not only discovered that the bushrangers had been captured but also found his own horses and belongings in police hands. Shortly thereafter, the brothers erected a slab hut which was by no means built for comfort. According to George, its earthen floor was so impermanent that ‘frequent brushing out has sunk it not a little, and I expect if we lived here very long we should sink it so very low that we should just be able to look over the door sill’. Even so, the roof was so low that neither brother could stand upright; ‘but’, George added philosophically, ‘we do not sleep standing up in Australia altho’ things are contrary’. Less open to humour were the problems constantly arising from floods, droughts, outbreaks of catarrh, footrot and scab, transport difficulties and fluctuations in the market which were particularly acute in the early-1840s. Labour shortages were a recurring problem. In 1843, a passing traveller reported that the Everetts ‘do everything for themselves’, from blacksmithing, carpentry and book-keeping to shepherding, fencing and breeding horses.
The Everetts were energetic and capable graziers. Within three years of occupying Ollera, the station’s flock had grown to 3,338 sheep. They introduced Hereford cattle to the region, raised horses, cultivated vegetables, oats, lucerene and potatoes, and ground their own flour. A third brother, Edwin, joined them in 1842, and with his assistance Ollera by 1850 was carrying 7,250 sheep, 1,150 cattle and 250 horses. A decade later, it carried 12,000 sheep, 2,000 cattle and 400 horses.
Remarkably, the Everetts achieved this success without the conflict so frequently reported between European settlers and local Aborigines throughout these years. So impressed was Commissioner Macdonald with the spirit of cooperation exhibited on Ollera that he wrote the Governor, Sir George Gipps, in July 1842, reporting that the Everetts had ‘succeeded by kindness and perseverence in inducing a small Tribe … to remain constantly’ on the property, with ‘the young men being employed in various capacities on the establishment, not only as stockmen and shepherds, but … also in the house’. The settlers had made a genuine attempt ‘to Study and acquire the Aboriginal Dialects of the District’. At a time when the authorities were deeply disturbed by the frequency of clashes between settlers and Aborigines, most notoriously at the Myall Creek Station near present-day Inverell in 1838, Governor Gipps felt compelled to write personally to the Everetts and congratulate them for ‘the services you are rendering to the Colony and to the cause of humanity’. He hoped, perhaps vainly, that ‘your example may be extensively followed in the district where you reside’.
Despite the station’s success – or, perhaps, because of it – George Everett returned to England in 1856 and was followed two years later by John. Edwin remained at Ollera until 1862, when he took up the adjoining property of ‘Tenderden’. Being nearby, he remained intimately associated with the running of Ollera, which by this time was under the management of a superintendant, James Mackenzie. This was a position of great trust, and one which Mackenzie held until 1887.
The ‘progressive’ and ‘enlightened’ philosophy of the Everetts, so obvious in their policies towards the Aborigines, was similarly manifested in their approach to the station’s social organisation. In response to labour shortages, the brothers had early on devised a scheme to bring out ‘honest men’ from England to work the land. They also brought out the wives and families of their labourers, and encouraged them to breed their own animals and grow their own crops. The station facilities in the form of stores, the washing pool, the shearing shed and the grinding mill were placed at their disposal. A spirit of community was thus fostered as station workers took a real interest in the welfare of the property. This approach proved extremely successful. By 1877, when Ollera was at its peak, the station carried 46,000 sheep and 4,000 cattle. Ollera’s sense of community, which was further enhanced by the establishment of a school, the promotion of social activities (especially sport) and the building of a church (in 1877), played a vital role in mitigating the tensions traditionally associated with free selection after 1861. In this sense, Ollera was unique. The run was certainly downsized in subsequent decades; by 1892, free selectors had reduced the area of the station to 18,000 acres and the sheep to 14,000. But, in contrast to the fierce struggles which characterised other runs, Edwin Everett actually encouraged the station’s labourers to choose their land carefully, going so far as to help some of them find the necessary deposit. As a result, when the great run (73,000 acres in 1877) was eventually parcelled out, 90 per cent of the selectors belonged to families which had pioneered the property in its heyday.
After James Mackenzie’s death in 1887, John Everett’s son, Arthur, came out from England to manage Ollera. Between 1902 and 1914, he built a new homestead in the Edwardian architectural style. His son, Tom, took charge of the property when Arthur died in 1937, and forty years later Ollera passed into the hands of Bill Skipper, a nephew of Tom’s widow, Nancy. Ollera, though today comprised of a mere 5,000 acres, remains a successful enterprise and with its ‘unusual and interesting’ past, historic outbuildings and plethora of horse-drawn carriages, early steam engines and power-shearing equipment, constitutes a ‘living museum’ which Bill and Lynda Skipper freely open to the interested public.
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Published by The Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, 5 April 2004
Prepared by: Acknowledgements
Updated: 23 February 2010