Social history
Shelters: from rock shelters to iron roofs
Wire to satellite
School of the Air
The mail run

The rock shelter | The brush hut | The prototype homestead | The grand Ninghan Homestead
'Ninghan Farm' | The Lockyers | The Masons | Settlers cottage | The new homestead

At the Charles Darwin Reserve homestead site, what started as an open air Aboriginal campsite with the sun by day and the campfire by night, was probably followed by a brush hut,  then a mud brick and iron hut, and then a timber and iron cottage. It is now the site of a house with all the modern conveniences. Twenty-four-hour electricity is generated by solar panels and supplemented by a diesel generator. There are running water, pumps, refrigerators, air conditioning, satellite and radio telephone communication systems, and bottled natural gas for cooking.

The climate, the cultural origins and the technologies and materials available to the successive inhabitants of the Lake Moore to Mongers Lake area led to extreme contrasts in the need for shelter. It started with the rockshelters, brush and bark constructions and fires of the original hunter-gatherer people to the metals, plastics and electronics of the twenty-first century.  

The original Aboriginal inhabitants left little trace of their modest forms of shelter. The first pastoralists and their shepherds of the late nineteenth century likewise made do with bush materials which have long perished. Their successors built grander station homesteads with the iron and timber freighted in. The outbuildings of mud brick, rammed earth or stone have mostly crumbled. Ephemeral mining camps with their iron and timber buildings came and went in the 1920s and 1930s. A few photos and stories remain of the Whitewells buildings of the 1920s and 1930s, then an outstation of Ninghan Station.

The evolution of domestic energy began with the use of bush wood, then kerosene and then electricity. Electricity, has brought modern housing and the sophisticated high-energy technologies that provide insulation against the extremes of the climate and the isolation: refrigeration, airconditioning and electronic communications. 

The rock shelter

The original inhabitants of the area were the Aboriginal people. Over the presumed 40,000 or more years of their occupation, little remains on Charles Darwin Reserve of their shelters. These shelters would have met their requirements which were those of a mobile hunting and gathering lifestyle. They adapted to the semi-arid climate. This climate has been relatively mild and did not have the ice age extremes of ice and glaciers of the northern continents. For the last few thousand years at least, rudimentary shelter and a fire was all that was required to shelter from the occasional rainstorms, rainy days and near-freezing nights in winter. High summer temperatures required a site near drinking water, a measure of shade, and a refuge from bushfires. Resting in the heat of the day helped the Traditional Owners to avoid overheating and dehydration. The only evidence of a shelter known thus far on Charles Darwin Reserve is a small natural rockshelter in the eroded overhang of a breakaway. Its entrance is littered with stone flakes that would have been used for cutting and scraping meat and hides, and making spears.

Around gnamma holes (narrow circular holes holding water in granite outcrops) scatters of stone artefacts can be seen indicating the past location of campsites. Any brush shelters that were constructed nearby having been demolished long ago by termites or fire.

The  present-day practice of tourists and visitors camping out under the stars attests to the minimal needs for shelter except at the wettest and hottest times of the year.

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The brush hut

The area was first grazed in the early 1870s when well-established farmers from the settled areas around the Avon Valley and Victoria Plains, and inland from Geraldton, first explored and then took up grazing leases centred around the springs and soaks in the area. They often sent their sons or other farmhands to drive flocks of sheep (or in some cases herds of cattle) out to the leases, where they were expected to protect the stock from dingoes and probably wedge-tailed eagles, and maintain soaks or dig wells to provide a water supply in the dry months.



In November 1875, the explorer Ernest Giles provided a description of what was probably the typical accommodation on an early pastoral lease, the shepherds’camp, after he crossed Lake Moore heading south-easterly towards Perth, having crossed the desert from South Australia:

…and early on the 4th we came upon an outlying sheep station; its buildings consisting simply of a few bark-gunyahs. There was not even a single, rude hut in the dingle; blacks' and whites' gunyahs being all alike. Had I not seen some clothes, cooking utensils, etc., at one of them, I should have thought that only black shepherds lived there. A shallow well, and whip for raising the water into a trough, was enclosed by a fence, and we watered our camels there.

E. Giles, Australia Twice Traversed, Chapter 4.4, University of Adelaide Library Electronic Texts Collection

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The prototype homestead : Location 1703

In August 1887 Surveyor G.D.Robinson link to surveyors drew a sketch plan of the location of various buildings on the 100 acre lot at Jibberding Spring, Victoria Location 1703. Loc 1703 was held by A.J.Clinch who was among the first to take up pastoral leases in the region after establishing a large farm at Berkshire Valley to the west.


G.D Robinson’s 1887 fieldbook shows the layout of the forerunner of a typical pastoral station homestead, somewhere between Giles’ 1875 description and the modern set-up. Jibberding Spring appears to have been the centre of Clinch’s several leases in the region, one of which was ‘Banawar Spring’, the first lease on what is now Charles Darwin Reserve. Two huts are indicated, one near the wool press and one near the shearing shed. The well was dug near the Jibberding Spring, with another near the western boundary with a trough for watering sheep. The sheep yard and the cultivated paddock were probably fenced with bush posts and brush.

By the 1880s corrugated iron was available, but bush pole and brush construction was still in use in the 1930s, for small shearing sheds and outbuildings.  

The Jibberding Station homestead with its sequence of mud brick and rammed earth homes, the latest built in the 1930s, was once the ‘gateway’ past Lake Goorly into the Lake Moore to Mongers Lake area from the farming areas to the south and west. Location 1703 is now a wheat paddock, and the homesteads have crumbled. The wells turned salty and only the most recent shearing shed is still intact. 


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The grand Ninghan Homestead

Whitewells Station, which became Charles Darwin Reserve in 2003, was not established until 1919 when it was known as White Wells. It was an independent property for about five years before it was absorbed into the neighbouring property, Ninghan Station. It is not clear what buildings may have been erected during its short term of independence.

With White Wells as an outstation, the centre of operations was at Ninghan Homestead which typifies the grander style of a large sheep station. Ninghan was owned by Tom Elder Barr Smith from 1925 to 1948 , the prominent Adelaide rural businessman who owned the large stock and station firm of Elder Smith & Co. Barr Smith invested heavily in the station. With almost 30,000 sheep, it was a large operation employing many people, and had stores, workshops and a school room as well as living quarters. The successive managers assumed a high social status. Ted Lockyer's father came to White Wells in 1936 to grow fodder for the stock horses at the time that Draper was the station manager. He recounts, 

Dad went up to start with, and then Mum came up. They brought Mum out to the station, because Dad was already out on White Wells, and they brought her up to Ninghan; she was offered to have a meal sitting in the dining room with the Drapers but Dad had to go out and have his meal with the workers.  Mum wouldn’t sit down in the main house, she went down with the workers.

Ted Lockyer, interview by C. Nicholson, 27 July 2006

Located on a reliable spring, Ninghan was able to grow a lush garden with large trees, vegetables, orchard and lawns. 

We used to get fresh vegetables from the Ninghan garden. Nicholson the accountant at Ninghan came over [to White Wells]with the gardener in a car, the gardener was killed on the way back to Ninghan when they came over a rise and a young driver was coming the other way on the wrong side of the road. Ted Lockyer, 27 July 2007, interview C.Nicholson

 With its large homestead with verandahs, separate guest and staff quarters, and its location on the main track from Perth to the Murchison goldfields and other sheep stations, Ninghan became a stopping point for many important travellers, and also a favorite holiday destination in good wildflower seasons.  The shearing shed and shearers quarters were built several kilometres away from the homestead.


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Ninghan Farm : the White Wells outstation

The first lease on what became Whitewells Station was A.J.Clinch’s 10,000 acre ‘Banawar Spring’ lease, issued in the early 1870s. It lies in the south-east corner of Charles Darwin Reserve. There is no evidence of pastoral habitation apart from Aboriginal stone artefacts on a granite outcrop with a rockhole holding water after rain. A shallow round, and usually dry, stone-lined well was dug near the base of the outcrop, perhaps at what might have been optimistically named the Banawar Spring. 

Lack of water and limited areas of good feed seem to have delayed the taking up of the White Wells leases until 1919. It is not clear how the first lessees, returned soldiers Finlason and McCarthy, operated the property and whether either of them lived there in the short time they held it; McCarthy to 1921 and Finlason to about 1925. It was then sold to T.E. Barr Smith.

The first accommodation known from White Wells during its pastoral era was a small mud brick and iron cottage with an earth floor built near the ‘unnamed well’, near the creekline that runs down from the granite rise behind the present homestead. When Ted Lockyer’s father Max came to White Wells in 1936 to manage the cropping, it was part of Ninghan Station and owned by T.E. Barr Smith. It was known as ‘the Ninghan farm’, where oat crops were grown for hay for the camels and stock horses.  Ted recalls that his father lived in the mud hut when he first came to White Wells in 1936. There is only a small bare patch of red soil now indicating where it might have been.

Aboriginal stone artefacts such as flakes, cores and a grinding stone indicate its early use as a camping site. Water was seasonally available here from the granite rise to the west. A small creekline flowed down from the granite and subsequently several dams were constructed here. There may have been a shallow freshwater soak at the foot of the granites, but both Draper Well and the unnamed well are now salty and suitable only for stock water.

The old Dalgary to White Wells road which runs west from the homestead through Banawar Rock and Soak on Wanarra Station (not to be confused with Banawar Spring) suggest the site was on a main Aboriginal track.  The thousand or so acres of gently sloping York gum, jam wattle and Callitris pine woodlands on the red sandy loam of the Yowie Land System provided an ideal site for clearing and cropping.

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The Lockyers: too many memories

In 1936 Max Lockyer built a timber and iron cottage set on tall native pine (Callitris) stumps. It had a main kitchen-dining room, one small bedroom and verandahs. His wife Connie and sons remained in Perth until the cottage was completed. Ted, the eldest son, has strong memories of living there as a boy. He believes it may have previously been the bakery and mess that was shifted from the Retaliation minesite.  It is typical of the galvanised iron and jarrah-framed buildings of the early goldmining days. This became home for the young Lockyer family.



There were also sheds and workshops at the homestead, some built by Max Lockyer .

Max Lockyer and family left the White Wells farm in 1941 during World War II. Max enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force where he served as a flight engineer:  Dad had a natural flair for engineering.  He then went wheat and sheep farming at Corrigin after the war. The sons and their mother Connie visited Whitewells on occasions in later years. 


Ted the eldest Lockyer of the Lockyer children with younger brother Tom, learning basic farm skills at an early age at Whitewells, late 1930s. Ted later followed in his father’s footsteps, and went wheat and sheep farming at Corrigin in the Western Australian Wheatbelt.

Photo courtesy Lockyer family

Bill Lockyer recalls their visit in September 1995:

I brought Mum back to Whitewells the year she died.  She was outside, crying. 'I want to go home;  too many memories'. When Dad built it, she was pleased with it. She said, 'It was my first home'.

Bill Lockyer interview by C. Nicholson, 21 July 2006

Clearly affected by the visit, her note in a shaky hand in the Visitors Book says simply: Too many memories.

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The old shack: The Masons

After 1953, Denis and Vera Mason bought the northern White Wells lease, which they called ‘Whitewells’, from Ninghan and re-established it as a sheep station in its own right. The Lockyers’ cottage was entitled to be called ’Whitewells Homestead‘ although Mrs Mason refers to it fondly as ‘the old shack’.  When the Masons took it up, the cottage had been unoccupied and the iron roof removed. Mason replaced the roof with asbestos.


When we arrived, there was no roof on. Super Six asbestos, and a sheet weighed about two tons! The heat! – it was very hot, very hot in summer. We went up there in January – must have been totally mad. We put the asbestos roof on because we wanted to keep the place as cool as possible. We ran out of money, you’ll find the panels on the wall are flatttened out sheep trough – they’re not there now. We got the sheep trough in and flattened it out, there’s one (photo) That front there is flattened out sheep trough, the wall between was covered with flattened out sheep trough because the asbestos would all get smashed. Denis Mason, interview by C. Nicholson, 4 October 2003.


In re-reroofing, the hipped roof seen in the original Lockyer building was repaced with gables. Mason added a washhouse, built the stone base for the kitchen fireplace and installed a stove with a cowling fashioned from an old galvanised iron squatters tank. 

Buildings had to be able to cope with severe storms. A storm blew off the verandah roof which Mason had to replace. The same fate befell the roof of the visitors quarters ablution block in 2004 in a summer thunderstorm.

A farmer-pastoralist-mechanic and a young family playing in the red dirt generated considerable clothes washing.

When we went up there, I said to Denis I’m not going up there until, unless, we’ve got a washing machine. Nothing to run it of course, so he put a little motor on it and it went like a charm. Not electric at all.  But it worked well?  It was perfect – petrol, running the washing machine. I couldn’t start it; it had a thing like a lawnmower? And I’d start it and he’d go off and check the sheep or something and I’d be ‘oh I’ll do a bit of washing’ and the damn thing wouldn’t start and by time he’d got back the water would have gone cold, and he’d say ‘I don’t know, you always have trouble’. And when Denis came back I would say ‘ damned thing is no good, it’s useless you’ll have to get another one, it won’t start’. Vera Mason, interviewed by Hannah Eames, 4 October 2003

There being no electricity, the Simpson washing machine ran on a petrol motor, the lights were kerosene lamps and cooking was on a Metters No 2 wood stove which also served as the heater on cold winter nights.


The Masons moved to the more substantial Wanarra Homestead in 1955 when they became managers of the adjacent Wanarra Station as well as operating Whitewells. They later moved across Mongers Lake to wheat and sheep country around Perenjori where their sons still farm.

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Settler's cottage

Abandoned for the second time in 1955, the timber and iron ‘Whitewells Homestead’ was repaired again after the Masons sold the station to Kevin Boucher in 1972. Kevin’s father Bruce Boucher moved from his wheat and sheep farm at Buntine in the wheatbelt to the south-west of Whitewells to manage the property and took up residence in the cottage.

An old shed to the west of the cottage was used by Boucher as a shearing shed until he built the present shed. If it rained during shearing, he was known to have taken advantage of the cottage’s tall stumps. He locked the sheep under the house with netting to keep them dry.

In the 1980s when Boucher built the new homestead and was operating the Whitewells tourist venture, the cottage was refurbished for visitors, with a sign proclaiming it ‘Settlers Cottage’. Eventually it was abandoned yet again, and by 2006 a hole in the roof was letting in rain, windows were missing and sheets of iron were peeling off the verandah roof. The seventy-year old Callitris stumps are still holding firm.


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The new homestead

Bruce Boucher lived in the old iron cottage after taking over Whitewells Station in 1972. He later purchased a timber and fibro house in the Perth suburb of Melville, removed and sold the roof tiles, cut the house in half and had it transported to Whitewells. He re-erected it on the north side of the creekline near the shearers’ quarters, adding a section in the middle to widen the hallway and re-roofing it with corrugated iron. He installed a spa bath at the end of the hall which provides a good view out both the front entrance and the back, but requires caution by the bather in case visitors arrive.


The Tappers purchased Whitewells in 1995 and ran the property from Perth where they operated a pet food abattoir. A caretaker lived in the house, maintaining the windmills and troughs and hosting the tourist visitors. After the property's purchase by Bush Heritage in 2003, the caretakers Barry and Carol remained at Whitewells until Bush Heritage personnel arrived. Barry, who died soon after leaving Whitewells, is especially remembered for the fox proof ‘chook’ yard he built. It secures the supply of hen eggs for the managers and volunteers of Charles Darwin Reserve. 

The Tappers’invested in upgrading the tourist facilities at the homestead. They installed a new solar power system to supplement the diesel generator. They then had 24 hour power. This system was replaced by Bush Heritage in 2004 with a completely new one partly funded under a Commonwealth Government scheme supporting solar energy in remote areas. They rebuilt the vistor's quarters,  brought in the ‘boundary riders hut’ and connected the homestead to Monger Well by pipe.

In 2003 the homestead received a thorough spring clean and re-paint under the direction of Bush Heritage volunteer Don Royal and a squad of conservation workers before the first manager Leigh Whisson and his wife Jackie Courtney moved in. They were succeeded in 2006 by Kurt and Andrea Tschirner who have maintained the Whitewells tradition of raising children there, commencing with Geri May, born in April 2006.


Geri May, the first baby on Whitewells since the 1950s, celebrates her first Christmas on the homestead verandah at Charles Darwin Reserve.

Photo courtesy Tschirner family

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