The Liverpool Plains were first discovered by European settlers after Surveyor General John Oxley (1783-1828) undertook two expeditions during 1817 and 1818. Although Oxley reported enthusiastically about the pasture lands of the Liverpool Plans, the Liverpool Ranges initially proved a barrier to settlement in the region.

When news of rich pasture lands discovered beyond the ranges separating coastal and inland New South Wales reached England immigration to Australia, especially of those with pastoral aspirations, increased. The rapid progress of settlement in the Hunter Valley during the 1820s was noted in Assistant Surveyor Henry Dangar’s Index and Directory to Map of the Country Bordering Upon the River Hunter, published in 1828.

In order to control the rapid advance of pastoral settlement and to safeguard settlers it was decided to limit the area where land could be selected and securely held in 1826. However, pastoralists from the Hunter Valley affected by overstocking or drought began to broach this boundary and squat in favourable positions on the Liverpool Plains. By the end of 1831, these lands had become occupied up to the New England Tableland. Occupancy followed the main creeks and rivers that drain the open valleys of the Namoi basin.

The Australian Agricultural Company (AACo) was one of the outcomes of reports written by Commissioner John Bigge, who was sent to New South Wales in 1819 to investigate the government of the colony. He drafted three reports, one of which included observations on the suitability of NSW’s climate for merino sheep and recommendations to consolidate primary industry in Australia through the raising of sheep for wool and by exploiting its coal resources.

AACo was incorporated in London on 21 June 1824. At this time its primary objective was “the production of Fine Merino Wool, as an article of export to Great Britain.” It was to receive a grant of one million acres (404,685 hectares) of unsettled land of its choice, subject to a number of conditions. John Oxley, a shareholder of the Company, was consulted about an appropriate choice of land and recommended either the Liverpool Plains or the head of the Hastings River. However, these localities were rejected because of their distance from the coast.

A final decision was made after the AACo’s agent, Robert Dawson, arrived in Sydney towards the end of 1825. He decided to establish headquarters at Port Stephens and the sheep he had brought with him from Britain were taken up there at the beginning of 1826. Dawson’s performance was unsatisfactory and he was dismissed in 1828.

The local committee looking after the AACo’s affairs was disbanded and Commissioner Sir Edward Parry was appointed towards the end of 1829. He found the land at Port Stephens unsuitable and advised London accordingly. It made representations to the Secretary for Colonies, who instructed the AACo to select equivalent land elsewhere. Parry decided on land in the Peel River area, following advice from Henry Dangar and in 1832 selected 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) in the vicinity of what is now Willow Tree (Warrah) and a further 130,000 hectares (316,000 acres) extending from what became Tamworth to Nundle, Attunga and Duri (Goonoo Goonoo). There were a number of squatters who were wholly or partially displaced from their land as a result. Parry managed to turn the AACo’s declining affairs around. He “found himself commissioner, magistrate and minister to some 500 souls, half of them convicts; he not only started schools for the children but also baptized them.”6 On his return to England he was succeeded by Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Dumaresq in March 1834.

The AACo was rather more successful in another venture during these early years. The town of Newcastle had been surveyed by Henry Dangar in the first half of the 1820s. The AACo obtained a 31 year lease on 809 hectares of land in Newcastle around 1826 and began mining for coal at the end of 1831. The Company was subsequently granted 777 hectares in 1833.

The AACo began moving sheep from Port Stephens to the Warrah Holding in the middle of 1833. However, sheep that squatters had introduced into the locality were affected with disease and were encroaching on the Warrah lands, so the Company’s sheep were moved to Goonoo Goonoo. Dumaresq selected the site of a head station on elevated ground sloping towards the western side of the Peel River near its confluence with the Cockburn River and buildings were constructed in the middle of 1834 for Superintendent Charles Hall. The station was known as Kallala (Calala), and is now part of suburban Tamworth.

Dumaresq died in March 1838 and in April 1839 was succeeded by Phillip Parker King (1791-1856), son of Philip Gidley King, Governor of New South Wales between 1800 and 1806. He joined the Royal Navy in 1807 and by 1817 had attained the rank of lieutenant. During this time he was also trained as a hydrographer. King was sent to New South Wales to survey uncharted sections of coastline, undertaking four separate surveys by 1822. He was granted holdings of land in Australia, but returned to England in 1823 and the following year became a shareholder in the newly established AACo.

Between 1826 and 1830 King was in command of HMS Adventure, which with HMS Beagle was sent to chart the coasts of Peru, Chile and Patagonia. In February 1829, prior to the completion of this voyage, he was appointed to the NSW Legislative Council, but ultimately did not take up the appointment until February 1839. On being appointed resident commissioner of the AACo King reassigned from the Legislative Council. King’s tenure as commissioner “saw the [AACo’s] transition from mainly convict to mainly free labour, drought and depression in 1838-45, the abandonment of the company’s claim to a coal monopoly, and the initiation of a plan to dispose of much of the company’s land to small settlers.” At the time of King’s appointment in 1839 the AACo employed about five hundred men, including four hundred convicts, on its various pastoral properties.

In 1841 the head station was relocated from Calala south to its present position at Goonoo Goonoo. One reason for this was to move the AACo’s flocks of sheep away from the danger of infection from flocks being driven north from Gunnedah. Calala also seems to have been affected by flooding. Once the move had taken place a homestead and various outbuildings were constructed. The quality of sheep at Goonoo Goonoo was complemented by its horses, which were of sufficiently high quality to be offered for stud purposes.

In 1847 the AACo obtained freehold title to its land on the Peel River and the Company began to subdivide an area near the Crossing Place (Bridge Street / Goonoo Goonoo Road) into suburban lots, beginning with two blocks (later Blocks J and L) and a site for a church and school (Block E). The first auction was held in December 1849 and this area became South (or West) Tamworth, a private Company town, on the opposite bank of the Peel from the government town of Tamworth, which had been laid out in 1848.

King left Goonoo Goonoo in 1849 and travelled to London to assist in planning the settlement of framers on land sold to them by the Company and the establishment of towns and villages. His post was abolished as a result of the reduction in size of the AACo’s holdings.

In 1851, King’s son, Phillip Gidley King (1817-1904), was appointed superintendent of stock for the AACo. He accompanied his father to England in 1823 and then accompanied him on the Adventure during the second half of the 1820s. He served as midshipman on HMS Beagle from 1831, becoming a friend of Charles Darwin in the process and returning to NSW at the beginning of 1836. After gaining experience in southern NSW and the Port Philip District followed by a period surveying a road from Gloucester to the New England District.

In 1842 King joined the AACo and was placed in charge of livestock studs at Stroud. In 1852 gold was discovered in the Peel River district. The AACo responded by establishing the Peel River Land & Mineral Company in February 1853, anticipating profitable returns from mining. The so-called Peel River grant, on which Goonoo Goonoo was situated, was sold to the new company that same month. King became manager of the new company and took up residence with his family at Goonoo Goonoo.

In the rush for quick wealth that followed the Peel River Company directors issued mining licenses to prospectors who flocked to the river, which formed one of the company’s property boundaries. A small township was set out to the southern end of Goonoo Goonoo across the river from the government town of Nundle and town lots were offered for sale in 1854. Communication in the region improved around this period with the formation of the Main Northern Road, which traversed part of the Peel River Company’s property: At 13 miles from Wallabadah the road comes close to the Goonoo Goonoo Creek, and continues along its left bank to the village site of Goonoo Goonoo, where the proposed new road comes in… Thence to Tamworth, the road continues along the Goonoo Goonoo Creek.

A couple of years later another report on the road from Wallabadah appeared: The roads on to Goonoo Goonoo are being improved, but bridges, culverts and metal to raise the swampy parts are still wanted, and all these works should be done before the rains of winter render these places next to impassable. Many settlers are along the first ten miles of this road, and then commences the lands of the Peel River Company, and for many miles right and left. Their land is rich to a degree, and their dividends spent at “Home” in the luxuries of Europe. Why not adopt the English law of county rates, and thus compel such companies to pay their proportion to the making and repairing of the roads? At Goonoo Goonoo … there is an “accommodation house,” where the traveller has to attend to his nag himself, although he is charged the highest hotel rate! And—ye “Sons of Temperance”—raise your hats in triumph, not a drop of spirits, beer, nor even the juice of your own colonial grape can be obtained here for “love or money,” by the travelling public, not even to improve the very indifferent quality of the water obtainable here. But I am sure such abstinence does not prevent inebriation even at this very pure station.”

The homestead and outbuildings were included in a report of 1868: [The] residence at Goonoo-Goonoo [sic] is a good, substantial two-storey brick building, surrounded by trees and shrub. It stands on an elevated position, and has a comfortable as well as a pleasing appearance and is, certainly, a much better residence than any of the squatters, even the richest of them, possess. There are, of course, a store, and other necessary buildings near the dwelling house, and there is also, an accommodation-house for travellers and a post-office.

There can scarcely be said to be anything like a village, but yet Goonoo-Goonoo is.

The shearing and wool-packing sheds are within a short distance of the station, at which over 84,000 sheep were sheared and the wool sorted, pressed into bales, and sent to Sydney during the last six weeks, I did intend to give your readers a description of the drying and drafting yards, the style and manner of the shearers, the process of sorting, packing, weighing, marking & c., only that you have so recently, gone over another and similar establishment. In both are to be found the careful and careless shearer, the quick and the slow hand; and one man was pointed out to me, whose general day’s work was from six to seven score {that is, 120 to 140], and who—upon one occasion, whether for a wager or not, I forgot to ask—clipped nearly 200! I was also informed, that one of his brothers could shear as quickly, and, as a rule, the quickest men shear the best, and call less for the “tar-boy.” Under the superintendence of Mr Munro, and his able assistants, everything went on peaceably, and nearly as quiet as at a Quakers’ meeting. The steam-washing establishment is about fifteen miles off, on the nundle [sic] road, from whence the sheep were driven over the grassy hills to be sheared, and the flocks looked beautifully white as they approached the yards and shearing sheds.

Ten thousand were sheared at another station… Leaving this station, about one mile further is the mail station, which should be for the accommodation of the passengers, near the Post-office, at Goonoo-Goonoo, where they have to wait for the mail-bags, and should not be expected to again stop to change horses, one mile further. I feel sure Cobb and Co have only to ask Mr King for a suitable spot near the station. To at once obtain what would be a boon to the travelling public, especially in the winter portion of the year, when a cup of coffee, or a glass of colonial wine—mulled—would be welcome, and cheerfully introduced by Mrs Hieman.

In October 1871 an article in the Evening News described the station as “a group of buildings sufficient to constitute an ordinary colonial town.” The woolshed was described in the following terms: … is on an extensive scale, with paved approaches, mustering, shearing, and press-sheds, under different roofs of iron, with covered ways, where, disconnected, stands on gently rising ground, presenting a general and very fine view over the greater part of the estate to the north and east. … it struck me that the great distance from the washpool to the shearing-shed must be a great inconvenience, if not loss, in hot and dusty weather.

Goonoo Goonoo was an important destination for visiting dignitaries. When the railway extension to Tamworth was completed in October 1868 the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Hercules Robinson, travelled there to officially open it. A kangaroo hunt was staged for the benefit of the Governor at Goonoo Goonoo and was considered to have been generally a success. A few years later the Colonial Secretary visited the station in September 1872 while on a tour of the Northern Districts. At a more public level, Goonoo Goonoo served as a polling place for elections in the electorate of Liverpool Plains in the 1870s and 1880s.

A Wool Room was built at Goonoo Goonoo Station during the mid 1870s adjoining the shearing shed, and together these buildings enhanced the reputation of the station: The shearing shed and wool room at Goonoo Goonoo … are the most complete establishments of their kind in the colony …

The shed, which is situated on the top of a rise overlooking the township of Goonoo Goonoo, is built to accommodate 47 shearers, and when full handed, as many as 3,000 sheep can be put through in a day, though 2,500 is, perhaps, a fair average. Surrounding the shed, and interwoven with it is a network of drafting yards, sweating sheds, and catching pens, all so arranged as to facilitate extreme rapidity of work.

The wool-room is a spacious brick building, adjoining the shearing floor, with which it has communication by three doors, through which the fleeces are conveyed from the shearers’ hands to the sorting tables. This building is divided into three sections, each 50 ft by 25 ft [15.24 metres by 7.62 metres], with a front elevation of 25ft [7.62 metres]. The section nearest the shearing floor is appropriated to the work of skirting and classing the fleeces; the next contains the various bins for receiving the wool as classed, previous to pressing; and the third, or front section, accommodates the presses and provides storage room, when necessary, for about 200 bales of wool.

The anticipated profits from gold mining did not eventuate. The Peel River Company consolidated and improved pastoral activities at Goonoo Goonoo. It contributed to the International Exhibition of 1879, staged in the Garden Palace in Sydney, sending a “fine exhibit of grasses” from the station.27 The Peel River Company was aware of advances in agricultural technology and acquired up-to date equipment. For instance, a Wolseley sheep shearing machine was installed in 1889, potentially increasing productivity. Pastoral activity at Goonoo Goonoo reached a peak in 1899 when the property held its maximum herd of over 212,000.28

At shearing time:… all was bustle and activity. Forty two sheep shearing machines were in constant use in the spacious shed, the wool presses and pressers were dumping, and all were working with the best energy they possessed. Seventy or eighty hands were all engaged in attending to the greatest staple industry of the colony, and it was a pleasure to see the systematic and energetic way the work was performed.”

For many years the school house at Goonoo Goonoo served as a chapel on Sundays and during religious festivals. As the Anglican clergyman based in Tamworth could only attend Sunday services once a month, George King read prayers “and Mr Webb, at the harmonium, carried the limited congregation through the hymns and canticles with much success.” A bell called station employees and their families to services and the schoolroom was “nicely decorated” during Christmas celebrations. 31 A chapel was built during the second half of the 1890s after the Peel River Company provided £400 in 1896, as well as promising to cart timber and undertake work for free. The Company also provided £50 towards the stipend for an additional curate in the Parish of Tamworth.32 Philip Gidley King eventually retired to Sydney and died in August 1904. He was succeeded by his son, George Bartholomew Gidley King, who had taken over the management of Goonoo Goonoo in 1881.

From the mid-1890s the Peel River Company sold off land at West Tamworth, so that by 1905 it had disposed of about 12,140 hectares. Three years later, the State Government granted approval for the compulsory resumption of 40,468 hectares, which resulted in the creation of 232 farms. The subdivision met with great success. During the inquiry into the Peel River Resumption exhaustive investigation was undertaken into the financial worth of Goonoo Goonoo, which provided a clear picture of the extent of development on the station and the capacity of its paddocks.

Buildings to be found on the station included: the woolshed; a timber shearing shed with an iron roof; two shelter sheds; two sweating sheds with fencing, gates and stables around them; a variety of sheds, huts and tanks; three wool presses; a laundry; the overseer’s cottage, stables and outbuildings; shearer’ and station hands’ huts and kitchen; two brick station cottages, the house of the manager (Euston King), stables and outbuildings; a gardener’s cottage; a ram shed; the chapel; the school and teacher’s residence; a bridge below the homestead; a boiling down shed; a sweating shed associated with the south camp; a pair of hack-sheds; stabling, tanks and stands at the superintendent’s residence; a milk separating room, a killing yard; blacksmith’s shop and shed; pigsties, draught horse and blood stock stables, a butcher’s shop; brick manure pit; a timber cottage; and various staff buildings. As well, there was about 26.5 kilometres of fencing around the homestead, telephone lines connecting the homestead to Nundle and Tamworth, three telephones and two windmills.

George McArthur Gidley King, the eldest son of George Bartholomew Gidley King became superintendent in 1910 after his father died. By this period, if not before, wheat was under cultivation at the station. Reference was made to the “wonderful progress” of wheat crops in a newspaper report published in 1917.35 G M G King was confronted by further resumptions during the mid 1920s, when the State Government resumed and disposed of 12,680 hectares between November 1925 and October 1926 as part of its closer settlement policies. It was noted that subdivision had reduced the number of shearing stands from 50 to 35. Notwithstanding this, in 1925 one shearer put up a record tally of 300 sheep. Further land was offered for sale in April 1930. George McArthur Gidley King retired in 1930, and died in September 1932. He was succeeded by John Francis Holloway (1871-1940) was the son of a pastoralist and was born in Wagga. He attended Geelong College then worked on several stations in NSW and Queensland, rising to the position of property manager. In 1919 he was appointed manager of the AACo’s Warrah station. In 1930 he became general superintendent of the AACO and Peel River’s pastoral interests, at which time he took up residence at Goonoo Goonoo.

In 1932 the operations of the Peel River Land and Mineral Co and the Australian Agricultural Co were jointly managed. Apart from this, Holloway served for a time as Government representative on the Meat Board and was a member of the Cattle Council and the New South Wales Graziers’ Association.39 After Holloway died he was succeeded by Rudolph (Dolph) F Schmidt (died 1962) in 1941.

From 1932 the operations of the Peel River Land and Mineral Co and the Australian Agricultural Co were jointly managed. This may have happened because of the low price of agricultural products during the Depression, making it difficult to achieve profits. Towards the end of the following year Goonoo Goonoo came to national attention with the release of the Ken Hall movie The Squatter’s Daughter, parts of which were filmed by cinematographer Frank Hurley at the station. The movie was a resounding success and progressively opened in regional cinemas during 1934. It was also shown in the United Kingdom, where it was known as Down Under.

Land sales and resumptions continued before and after World War II. 18 blocks were offered for sale in March 193540 and 7,284 hectares were resumed in 1937 to form 22 new farms. By this time Goonoo Goonoo’s fame as a shorthorn stud was widely acknowledged. For instance, its “strong team of stylish bulls and heifers” were something of a hit at the Brisbane Show in 1938.

Resumptions continued after World War II. In 1952, 9,720 hectares of Goonoo Goonoo were acquired and disposed of as part of the Soldier Settlement Scheme. In 1959 the AACo re-acquired the shareholding of the Peel River Land and Mineral Company.

AACo retained ownership until July 1985, when it sold the property to Ray Lord, managing director of Smith & Lane Holdings, for $5.2 million. Trevor and Alison Schmidt were managing the property at this time. The property was described by the Sydney Morning Herald as comprising 4,852 hectares with 47 dams, eight windmills, a manager’s residence, ten cottages, 62 paddocks, butcher’s shop, blacksmith’s shop and several fattening paddocks.

Five years later Lord sold the property to the Prudential Insurance Company for approximately $30 million.46 Greg and Anna Goodman purchased the property at the end of 2006 from the Colonial Pastoral Company.

Goonoo Goonoo Station was subsequently acquired by its present owner, Tony Haggarty, towards the end of 2011. In 2009 he had purchased a 1619ha south eastern subdivision of “Goonoo Goonoo”.