Goonoo Goonoo Station
The Kamilaroi people have lived in the Tamworth region for thousands of years and represent one of the largest Indigenous nations in Australia. The language of our local First Australians is Gamilaraay which lives on in many place names including ‘Goonoo Goonoo’ which means ‘running water’.
The Liverpool Plains were first encountered by Europeans 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 reached England, immigration to Australia, especially of those with pastoral aspirations, increased dramatically.
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.
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 particularly 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 deemed 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). On his return to England he was succeeded by Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Dumaresq in March 1834.
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.
Phillip Parker King had 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.
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 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 out of Gunnedah. Calala also appears to have been affected by flooding. Once the move had taken place a homestead and various outbuildings were constructed.
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, Phillip Parker King’s son, Phillip Gidley King (1817-1904), was appointed superintendent of stock for the AACo.
He had previously accompanied his father to England in 1823 and then accompanied him on the HMS 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, and joined AACo in 1842, 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. Philip Gidley 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.
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.
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, being described as “the most complete establishments of their kind in the colony”.
The shearing shed, since destroyed in 1996 during a severe storm, was situated in very much the same footprint as our new restaurant. It was 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 was considered a fair average. Surrounding the shed, and now serving as our carpark, was a network of drafting yards, sweating sheds, and catching pens, all so arranged as to facilitate extreme rapidity of work.
The wool-room was described as “a spacious brick building, adjoining the shearing floor, through which the fleeces are conveyed from the shearers’ hands to the sorting tables. This building is divided into three Sections. 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, provides storage room, when necessary, for about 200 bales of wool. Production peaked in 1899 when the property held over 212,000 sheep.
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.
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.
George McArthur Gidley 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, with further land 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) who was the son of a pastoralist and was born in Wagga.
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. 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 1935, 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.
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
AACo retained ownership until July 1985, when it sold the remainder of the the property.
Goonoo Goonoo Station was subsequently acquired by its present owners, the Haggarty family, towards the end of 2011, adding to a 1619ha south eastern subdivision of "Goonoo Goonoo" purchased in 2009.
Work began on restoration almost immediately, with the last of our restored buildings being completed at the end of 2017.