Making a living off the land
Opening up the land
Whitewells Station plan
Eucalyptus oil
Shepherds to sheep stations
Fencing the hay paddock
Making hay

Fuelling the pastoral machine: making hay for horses and camels

Land clearing | Ploughing | Sowing | Reaping | Hay carting | Chaff cuttingHarvesting

The Whitewells hay paddock

Early pastoralists used camels and horses. To feed them they had to create the fuel: hay. ‘Hayburners' was a slang name for horses. To grow the hay they had to clear land.

From about 1925 to the mid-1940s the cleared paddock at White Wells, known as Ninghan Farm, produced hay and oats to feed the camels and stock horses of Ninghan Station.  The ‘farm’ appears to have begun about the time Tom Elder Barr Smith bought Ninghan Station in 1925, along with the White Wells pastoral leases.  The first images are dated 1925, from the the Banks Collection of photographs at the J.S. Battye Library.  They include photographs of camel teams ploughing the paddock and hauling bags of chaff,  and a man root picking.  

From 1936 to 1941, the farm was managed by Max Lockyer, who lived in the old timber and iron cottage with his wife Connie and four small sons. The Lockyer family hold memories and a collection of photos from their time on ‘Ninghan Farm’ in the late 1930s.

The paddock is approximately 450 acres, split down the centre by the eastern track from the homestead. The paddock would have been selected for clearing and cropping because it ran down an even and gentle slope of red sandy loam clothed in York gum and jam wattle, the favoured cropping soils of the nearby wheatbelt. It was fenced with rabbit netting because the introduced rabbits were in plague proportions early in the 20th Century.

After Macpherson and Green bought Ninghan from the Barr Smith estate in 1948, the White Wells paddock was left fallow for grazing as the homestead holding paddock, and the jam wattle scrub re-grew.  When Denis Mason took over the White Wells block in 1953 (after which it became known as Whitewells), he re-cleared the hay paddock and grew oat crops for several years.  The Masons attempted unsuccessfully to have the Lands Department lease it to them as a farm block. 


After Mason, Bruce Boucher continued some cropping in the 1970s and 80s, despite some concern and confusion by the Pastoral Appraisement Board as to the legality of cropping on this pastoral lease.


I have an area of about 475 acres which was chained 20 years ago before we owned White Wells. It is adjacent to the shearing shed and forms part of our holding paddocks. It is now full of dead bush and regrowth & is almost impossible to muster sheep in it.

I am seeking permission to rechain, rake, burn the heaps and parkland clear (not plough) this area.  It has been inspected by the pastoral inspector from Meekatharra and he agrees with me.

B.S. Boucher to Department of Agriculture, no date, file 660/75

The Pastoral Inspector’s report in 1987 noted that Boucher intended to sow a fodder crop to the area to graze off when the paddocks are being used prior to a December shearing and that the country is York gum and the cleared paddocks do not show any evidence of erosion or salt encroachment. 

He also observed that much of the chained country in the southern pastoral areas appear to have regrown to the point where they are possibly more inaccesible at the present time than they were prior to chaining Pastoral Inspector to Principle (sic) Adviser 27 November 1987, f.89, file 660/75, Department of Agriculture.

Disturbance of these woodland and shrubland ecosytems by clearing or fire promotes a vigorous response after rain, from extemely long lived seed stores in the soil and root suckering.  

The area near Windy Well to the south of the paddock was chained. This block was not cropped, but in the late 1990s Robin Tapper, who had taken over Whitewells from Boucher, raked and burnt it again with the unfulfilled intention of sowing pasture of clover and grasses. This block has returned naturally to shrubland.

Over time, the native jam wattle shrubs have recolonised the paddock, and the annual everlasting daisies have replaced the oats. Since kangaroos have replaced sheep following the purchase of Whitewells Station by Bush Heritage, native perennial and annual grasses have recolonised the paddock, to re-create a grassland ecosystem possibly similar to those grazed out long ago on other stations. Weeds of Mediterranean climates such as the South African doublegee (Emex australis) and capeweed (Arctotheca calendula), and Paterson’s curse (Echium plantagineum) flourished when the sheep were removed, but Bush Heritage has begun a program of slashing, spraying and hand weeding to control them.

Understanding the sequence of clearing, cropping and revegetation of the hay paddocks helps explain the ecological changes taking place now that cultivation and sheep grazing have ceased. This knowledge may be important to the management of the millions of hectares of the adjacent wheatbelt on and its expensive programs of rehabilitation of degraded land and remnant bush.


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Making hay: methods and machines

Land clearing | Ploughing | Sowing | Reaping | Hay carting | Chaff cuttingHarvesting

Land clearing: methods and machines

For a while, many Western Australians prided themselves on their ability to clear the land of all the native vegetation to create farms for cropping and pasture paddocks.  In just over a hundred years about 12 million hectares was cleared in the south-west of Western Australia to make 'the wheatbelt' The process started slowly with axe, fire and sometimes gelignite, but the real 'progress' came as bulldozers and heavy machines became readily available after the Second World War. 'A million acres a year' was the catchcry of the politicians.

Pastoral lessees were permitted to clear an area to grow fodder crops for their stock horses and camels. In some cases they were allowed to 'chain' shrublands to promote more palatable herbs and grasses for their stock. The chaining process is described below.

In 1925 the first area of White Wells land was cleared for cropping: it was known as the ‘long paddock’, located to the north of track east from the White Wells homestead. The dense shrubbery and large York gums had to be cleared, and debris and roots removed before the paddock could be ploughed and the crop sown. This was done by hand, probably using axes and fire, and the stump jump plough pulled by camels or horses. The paddock was neglected and allowed to revegetate in the late 1940s, but was cleared again for cropping by Denis Mason in 1959 using an RD4 tractor with a rake in front.

The second area to be cleared was about 300 acres. This was done by Max Lockyer in the late 1930s using a scrub roller pulled by a Caterpillar 15 tractor. This paddock is south of the long paddock and the east track. A triangle of York gums was left in the south-west corner. 

Both these paddocks were cleared and cultivated to such an extent that only a scattering of jam wattle shrubs have recolonised them since cropping and grazing ceased.

The last area cleared was the Windy Well paddock, by the Masons in the 1960s. It was not cultivated, and re-grew to the extent that Bruce Boucher had to use his bulldozer and a scrub rake to re-clear it in the late 1980s as a pasture paddock.  In the late 1990s Robin Tapper raked and burnt part of it again, but by 2007 it was again covered in shrub regrowth. 



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The rusting iron frame of an old farm implement lies upside down under the York gums behind the old cottage on Charles Darwin Reserve. Drill seeder or disc plough? Is it the one in the old photograph? Relicts of machinery, old photographs and memories provide clues to the story of cropping at White Wells (later Whitewells) Station.



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Reaping: The hay binders

The oat crop had to be cut to make hay. Alongside the remains of the drill under the York gums behind the old homestead lie the remains of two old hay binders. One is a McCormick from Chicago in the USA, the other a Massy Harris from Canada.



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The bound sheaves of hay were collected from the paddock and brought to the homestead by horse and wagon to stack into a haystack and cut into chaff for the stock horses at Ninghan. This was a time for all hands on deck, but in early summer it was a hot, dry and dusty job.

That’s when the workers walked off the job. They wouldn’t do it, they were horsemen. Dad gave them the sack. They asked for a ride to the highway [about 17 kilometres]. Dad and old Bert made them walk. Moira Lockyer, 27 July 2006, interview by C. Nicholson


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Chaff cutting

Most properties which grew hay also had a chaff cutter to chop the straw into fine chaff for the horses and camels to digest better. The chaff was bagged in hessian bags for cartage and storage. The chaff cutter with its large rotating blade wheel was dangerous machine.




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Not all the oat crop was cut for hay. They harvested the balance for oats to feed the horses (Ted Lockyer)

When Denis Mason purchased the Whitewells lease in 1953, the bush had overgrown the hay paddock. Mason cleared it again and grew three crops, the first of which was a 12-bag crop (12 bags to the acre). He harvested the oats for supplementary feed and the sheep grazed the stubble.



An old havester stands near the old hay binders at Charles Darwin Reserve. David Syme has identified it as a Sunshine AL, named after the Victorian town of Sunshine where they were made from 1937 to about 1957 by the firm of H.V. Mackay. These were the main Australian harvester used on most wheat farms. They had a ground drive (the moving parts were driven by the rotation of the wheels on the ground), red painted steel work with yellow boxes. The elevator was made of wood, and ran close to the ground. If you hit a stump it was a big job to fix it up.

Photo courtesy C. Nicholson

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