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


"A fine pastoral country"

In the October 9th 1868 The Editor of the Perth Gazette and Western Australian Times reported on the Monger brothers’ explorations, under the announcement of “The Discovery of a Fine Pastoral Country”. He appears to have summed up the colonists hopes that,  a vast area will be opened, giving space for unlimited increase of our flocks and herds. Wool was the mainstay of the colony, although early pastoral settlement of the Irwin, Greenough and Murchison river areas to the west and north of Charles Darwin Reserve,  commencing about 1850, also involved cattle herds.

The Swan River Colony was established in 1829 with free settlers and the objective of becoming a self-supporting, private enterprise farming and mercantile economy. The colony was ruled by the Governor under British law. A land grant system was used to allocate land whereby grants were apportioned according to the value of assets and labour introduced by the settlers. Land which was not thus 'alienated' was Crown land, variously described as 'vacant' or 'waste' land which the government could offer to settlers by way of various freehold or leasehold titles. Freehold title to the grants was held as 'fee simple' to enable the selling and buying of the private land. The first leasehold system to encourage grazing as a precursor to farming settlement was instituted in 1841 when grazing rights to surrounding Crown land were offered to the owners of 'fee simple' land.

An Order in Council of Her Majesty (Queen Victoria) in 1850 became the basis of the 1851 Land Regulations which established pastoral leases in the form recognisable in today’s Whitewells pastoral lease.  It set the size of the lease, rental rates and the terms.It gave exclusive right of occupancy of the land for pastoral purposes only but allowed the cutting of timber for domestic uses and construction; it reserved timber, sandalwood and minerals to the Crown; and gave the Crown the right to do works for public purposes such as roads, public buildings and places for the recreation and amusement of the inhabitants of any Town or Village. These powers of the Crown were exercised on the Whitewells leases at various times to reserve roads, a reserve for tennis courts and the Emu Proof Fence


The Order in Council also enshrined the principle of Aboriginal access, described in pastoral leases as full right of the aboriginal natives of the said colony at all times to enter on any part of the said demised Premises for the purposes of seeking their subsistence therefrom in their accustomed manner. This principle was later watered down to apply to only unenclosed and unimproved parts of the land. Aboriginal access and the interpretation of ‘unenclosed and unimproved’ became a contentious issue with pastoralists from about the 1970s. Equal pay legislation resulted in the shift of resident Aboriginal families who were the work force on stations into town reserves, which meant losing their immediate contact with their traditional lands on stations. The Land Rights agenda further reduced pastoralist’s willingness to have Aboriginal people on their land. How these events affected Whitewells and its surrounding leases is yet to be told by the people involved.  

Tillage leases ‘not exceeding 320 acres’ were established by the Order in Council, allowing for cropping on pastoral lease to feed draught, milking and working animals. Such a provision appears to have carried through to the 1920s when a paddock was cleared and fenced at Whitewells for hay and oat croppping for Ninghan Station. Whitewells was part of Ninghan at the time.

Pastoralism was always seen as a 'passing phase towards an agricultural economy' (Webb, Edge of Empire,  p4). Despite many attempts by the pastoral industry to gain 'secure tenure', most recently in the lead up to the revision of the pastoral provisions of the Land Act 1933 which led to the new provisions of the Land Administration Act 1997, pastoral lands are still leases with conditions on development and management.

Pastoral leases

Pastoral leases in Western Australia provide access to land for particular commercial or other purposes. Leases are not freehold title and what leaseholders can do on the land is defined and limited. The leases were issued by the Minister on the advice of the Pastoral Board, subject to certain conditions as defined in the Land Act. The leases and their boundaries were changed from time to time as the Land Act was amended and new conditions imposed. Although the Land Act 1933 required the lessee to manage the land ‘in a husband-like manner’, the lease document itself demanded attention only to the tools of production and not to repairing any erosion or decline in the condition of the land. After the enactment of the Soil Conservation Act in 1945, such matters were left to the Commissioner for Soil Conservation, who does not appear to have intervened in cases of overgrazing leading to soil erosion until the 1990s.

The replacement Land Administration Act 1997 introduced the requirement that pastoral leases be managed on an ecologically sustainable basis, a concept that by 2007 had not yet been defined.  


Pastoral lease 392/602 was issued by the Minister for Lands to W.J. Farrell in 1950 under Section 93 of the Land Act 1993.  It was registered as Crown Lease No.588 of 1950.  Pastoral stations had a pastoral lease (PL) number which identified the land, and a Crown Lease (CL) number which identified the lease document. 

The lease was effective from 1948. It was common for lease documents to take some time to be prepared. The rent was set at 10/3 (ten shillings and three pence) per 1,000 acres, a figure calculated on the ‘pastoral capabilities of the land’ as assessed by the Board of Appraisers. It was subject to the provisions of the Mining Act 1904 and the Forests Act 1918, and the right is reserved to Us, Our Heirs and Successors, to dispose of such portions of the demised land under the provisions of Part III of the said Act [the Land Act 1933] as may

be required for any purpose of public utility or for otherwise facilitating the improvement and settlement of the State as therein prescribed.

The only condition imposed on operating the leased land was that improvements… are effected by the lessee as follows:- Within five years from the commencement of the lease to the value of five pounds, and within ten years…ten pounds … for each thousand acres of the area leased; and such improvements shall be maintained in good repair… ‘Improvements’ as required under the Land Act included the construction of wells, windmills and tanks, fences, stockyards and roads, and other fixtures required for running a sheep station.
Image courtesy Pastoral Lands Board, Western Australia

Pastoral expansion

At the time of the expansion of pastoralism into the Mongers Lake to Lake Moore area in the 19th century, leases were available under the conditions of the Land Regulations of 23rd December 1863. This act had classified the State into Class A lands available for freehold farming settlement in the south-west, Class B lands available for pastoral leases, and Class C lands of the interior which were not available for use. Pastoral stations had a pastoral lease (PL) number which identified the land, and a Crown Lease number.

By the 1860s, pastoral leases had been taken up in the open woodlands and shrublands northwards across the Victoria Plains from Toodyay, York and Northam; the farming centres of the Avon Valley; and inland from the coastal settlement of Geraldton (Champion Bay), into the Greenough, Irwin and Murchison River valleys. As suitable land was converted to more expensive leasehold or freehold lots to encourage permanent settlement and cultivation, pastoralists moved further north and east from these areas. Occupation of the Mongers Lake to Lake Moore area came from both the south and the west.  Monger, Campbell and Macpherson came up from the York and New Norcia areas to the south – the Victoria Plains; Clinch from the Berkshire Valley near Moora to the south-west; Cooke from the Irwin River valley to the west, inland from the Dongara and Geraldton settlements on the west coast. Most of the early pastoral lessees, such as those named, appear to have been freehold or leasehold farmers wanting additional pasture to run larger flocks of sheep or herds of cattle.

In October 1868 the Perth Gazette reported the Monger brothers’ exploration and summed up the colonists’ hopes that ‘a vast area’ would be opened, ‘giving space for unlimited increase of our flocks and herds’. (Perth Gazette and W.A. Times on October 9th 1868,  Exploration Diaries Vol 6, PR5441 Battye Library). The country which became the small sheep station of Whitewells did not attract the interest of the early pastoralists, probably because of the lack of natural waters and the extensive shrubby sandplain which offers little grazing. While leases began to fill in the surrounding country from 1869 onwards, the Whitewells area remained mostly a blank on the maps. The pioneer farming families from the Victoria Plains to the south, and the Greenough and Irwin River areas to the east, such as the Cookes, Clinches, Macphersons and Mongers, had taken up leases centred on springs and waterholes around Mt Singleton and Mongers Lake. They were consolidating, during the 1870s and 1880s, from shepherding to more permanent occupation with wells, shearing sheds, yards and timber and brush fences.

Pastoralists followed the colonial explorers when they reported ‘good country’. Several farmer-pastoralists undertook their own expeditions for new grazing land.

Explorer John Forrest in 1869 followed the Monger brothers, farmers from York who explored the region in 1868. Forrest’s plan shows the first leases, marked in red, around patches of grassland or saltbush with springs or soaks for watering the stock

Extract from Exploration Plan 20, John Forrest 1869, State Records Office of Western Australia Cons 3423-020, courtesy Landgate.

Early 1870s pastoral leases on the 1873 Victoria East public plan show the land being taken up by the pioneering farming families from the Victoria Plains district.

The A.J. Clinch lease A5550 is at the south-east corner of Charles Darwin Reserve, although it not accurately positioned on this plan because the area was not surveyed until 1887

Extract from Public Plan Victoria East  1873 State Records Office of Western Australia Cons 5018-19, courtesy Landgate.

The area was not surveyed until Assistant Government Surveyor G.D. Robinson’s expedition in 1887. Until then, leases were not marked accurately on the public plans, and there is still some uncertainty over where old leases lay in relation to the springs or waterholes around which most leases were drawn.

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