Author Ian Waples seeking Barcaldine Downs memories for history book

Sally Gall
By Sally Gall
Updated April 26 2022 - 12:01am, first published April 22 2022 - 11:00pm
The Barcaldine Downs homestead was built in two stages. The section to the right was built in the 1870s and the higher section to the left, in the 1890s. The more recent additions feature upper verandahs and a pyramid roof structure to the upper story. Picture: State Library of Queensland

Barcaldine Downs has featured in the annals of pastoral development in Queensland ever since it was founded in 1863, but until now, no-one has focused exclusively on documenting its rich history.

That's changing thanks to author Ian Waples, who has previously captured the record of iconic Barcoo River properties Isis Downs and Portland Downs in three books.

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He said Barcaldine Downs was such an historic property, he couldn't go past the opportunity to share its story with a wider audience.

It was taken up by enterprising Scotsmen, Donald Cameron and his son John, along with James and William Crombie, who overlanded sheep from the NSW New England region in 1863 to the new Queensland colony, settling on a 40 mile frontage to the Alice River.

The holding was named Barcaldine after a family property in Scotland, but thanks to drought and a slump in wool values, the venture ended up in serious debt and was forced to merge with a syndicate financed by TS Mort.

Barcaldine Downs was eventually sold to one of the pastoralists instrumental in mounting opposition to the 1891 Shearers' Strike, George Fairbairn, the first Australian to own more than a million sheep.

He in turn sold the property to James Clark and Peter Tait in 1914 and it became part of the Clark and Tait stable.

Following the dissolution of that era in 2019 after more than a century, Andrew Kibble's Tawarri Pastoral Company took over the Merino sheep property.

Mr Waples said he'd been in touch with Mr Kibble, who was happy with the idea of putting all the memories together for posterity.

"I'm a bit surprised it hasn't been written up before," Mr Waples, deep in the online archives of Trove, said.

"It's all so interesting - if it was dry in one part they drove their sheep 200km up the road to another property.

"It's all amazing in today's context."

Ian Waples has a background as an engineer but dabbles in writing about history as a hobby.

As was the case with his previous histories, Mr Waples is finding it's the personal stories of people involved with the property who ae making it come alive, and he's keen to speak with anyone who worked there, or had any association with it.

"Any jackaroos or ringers or shearers - I'd love them to come to the party, be part of the book," he said.

He's just about to make another trip west to glean a few more recollections that have come to light, and to visit the headstones of one of the Camerons at Home Creek in the Barcaldine district, and a Crombie grave at Greenhills, near Muttaburra.

"I'd love to speak with any of those descendants with photos and memories too," he said. "And of course, it would be good to get station records as well."

Mr Waples said his research was coming along well and he was hopeful of publishing the book later this year.

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"I think it will be a very good seller, because Barcaldine Downs was so well known, and was linked from the early days with the shearers' strike," he said.

He wasn't hoping to make money from the venture, just to get his publishing costs back.

"I do it off my own bat - it's a hobby, like they've always been," he said.

"I just get interested in the properties out there, and this one is a real part of the history of the industry.

"But if anyone out there wants to put a few bob in, they're more than welcome."

People can contribute their items and get in touch with Mr Waples by emailing ikwaples@bigpond.com

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Sally Gall

Sally Gall

Senior journalist - Queensland Country Life/North Queensland Register

Based at Blackall, CW Qld, where I've raised a family, run Merino sheep and beef cattle, and helped develop a region - its history, tourism, education and communications.

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