As I wandered around Gum Woolshed, the shearing shed of Pernatty Station in outback South Australia (SA), sadness nagged at me as I viewed a story of the end of an era for Pernatty Station and the French family.
The passing of Colin French, the end of French ownership of Pernatty and the end of Merino sheep and shearing on the station that had followed the business model and traditions established by William Greenfield in 1906, 103 years previous to it's sale to Col Greenfield of Billa Kalina, a couple of hundred kilometres to the north west.
On the board lay several fleeces, or maybe it was a spread out heap of skirtings, the bins were empty, the classing tables bare, the wool press was gone but the motor to drive the hydraulics was still on the floor, the belt was off the pulley of the diesel motor that once drove the shearing plant, the yards were empty. In a corner of the shed was a part used bundle of new wool packs, folded neatly in their packaging.
The doors were open and I suppose they'll swing off their hinges in the wind, sooner or later. As it is, the woolshed is open for the kangaroos and sheep to camp in. At the shearers quarters, most rooms have kangaroo poo and some have decomposing bodies where the roos have got in and the door has swung shut.
Over the years of shearing at Gum Woolshed, many shearers have stencilled their name and sometimes the year on the rafters of the building. It's clear that many French family members have sheared the Pernatty flocks but the one that caught my attention was C.W.French 1934 - 2009, written up by one of his sons, I suspect, along with his shearer's boots fastened to the rafter, after the death of Colin French, the last of the French Familiy owners of Pernatty.
My good friend Beth French, daughter of Colin French, has written the following to fill in some historical details of Pernatty Station. Thanks Beth!
Pernatty Station was leased in 1868 by James Bowman, being 200 square miles in size with the Pernatty Creek running through it and in 1871, was the first in the area to be stocked with sheep. Two huts were built at Pernatty Waterhole. This area is now called Old Pernatty.
Eventually, William Coombe of Partacoona Station, (on the eastern side of Lake Torrens) bought Pernatty Station in 1896. Working on Partacoona was a 15 year old by the name of Walter French, (1876-1960) who was sent to Pernatty (on the western side of the lake) to do contract work for 15 shillings a week. Being in drought, the crew left but Walter stayed to look after 28,500 sheep, which dwindled down to about 700 as the drought persisted.
During this time, he met Agnes Greenfield (1884-1961) of South Gap Station, whenever he went through the property on the stock route. They married in 1903.
Her father, William, bought Pernatty from Coombe in 1906, with the Willows and the Woodforde blocks added, and sent Walter and Agnes to Old Pernatty to look after sheep and the infrastructure.
To cut a long story short, after the deaths of William and his brother George, Walter and Agnes were beneficiaries of Pernatty Station. This entailed a shift from Old Pernatty to the Acacia Creek where they had their home built in time to move in by Christmas 1927, with their staff and children, five sons and one daughter.
The woolshed at Gum Creek was not built until May and completed in June 1935 ready for its first shearing on August 7th 1935 with 6 shearers.
From then on Pernatty grew with the purchase of the southern end of Yeltacowie and Mount Gunson stations.
Walter and Agnes retired to Port Augusta in late 1957 while their third child Walty, became manager of Pernatty. After both parents died, the property went to Walty and his son Colin, in 1961.
Walty and his wife Mildred moved into his parents homestead, while Colin and his wife Ina, and daughter Beth, moved into his parent’s house 100 yards away.
Mildred died at Pernatty in 1981, Ina died 1990.
Colin’s son Leslie, moved back to the property.
Staff eventually left as the price of wool dwindled, then the drought set in.
Walty died in 1999 of cancer which left Pernatty to Colin and Leslie.
Sheep numbers in 2008, pastured on Pernatty, was between 4,000 and 8,000 depending on the amount of feed available.
Shearing continued in its ordinariness but by 2009 the sad and difficult decision to sell Pernatty was made. Dad (Colin) also had cancer and once the drought finished it would take another three to four years to build the flock up. It wasn’t just that, there were other considerations as well.
Dad rang to tell me about that decision and I wondered how he was going to cope because Pernatty was his life, he cared about it, but there were times when he felt helpless. The papers were signed, he died the next day.
Now, instead of Merino sheep that needed shearing, there are Dorpers that shed their wool. The woolshed is being taken over by the elements as is the grand old house built by Walter and Agnes.
I would like to go back to Pernatty again but do I want to see deterioration in some areas. The trees that my great-grandparents planted around the houses and the creek will, hopefully remain, but PIRSA wants the peppercorn trees removed. At least I have the memories and photos of history and my time there.