There are many legends of the shearing industry, past and present. Some receive accolades and some just quietly putt along on their course. They come, they go, but there are some that just aren’t going anywhere – the mighty woolshed. They are built tough, to stand the test of time. Some have had a rough life and stand only as shells of their former glory. Then, there are some that still stand proudly, holding Australia’s history within their walls.
Just a few kilometres out of Camperdown, Victoria sits the West Cloven Hills woolshed. Nestled among the rolling green hillsides, it houses over a century of local history. It tells the story of the gold rush in Ballarat, the Black Thursday fires that wiped out almost all of Victoria and the story of 7 generations of the Cole family.
Nicholas Cole (the 6th) is now the heir of West Cloven Hills and is keeping his woolshed alive for future generations. He recalls the mammoth project it took to build the shed back in 1851.
‘The contractor for the shed was Mr Swan and employees of his were hired on the job. There would have been workers out in the paddocks getting the stone and cutting it to blocks, dray drivers carting it to the site and masons etc building and erecting it when they got the walls to about 5 feet high. You have to work in a course around with bluestone because of its weight. The timber from the roof was a contract from Carranballac station up at Skipton, the Chirnside family property’.
Work was going full steam ahead with the team of hard-working men when fire struck West Cloven Hills.
‘It has been burnt at least two times that I know of. Once the week before the Black Thursday fires and later in 1858. I think it’s dipicted in a painting by Eugene Von Gerard called the bushfire between the Elephant and Timboon – which is now Camperdown.’
The woolshed rose up from the ashes and work contiuned. The walls were going up at a good rate and reached around 1.5m and this is where they stayed, even to this day. Gold was struck in Ballarat in late August and while the woolshed was steady work for the men, they all packed up and joined the gold rush. A quick little duck is required by most to walk into the woolshed.
The woolshed (when eventually completed) stood with 14 blade shearing stands in its glory days. 48,000 sheep would be run through it at shearing time. These days it runs around 7500 sheep through it and has had a bit of a facelift. Nicholas is mindful to keep as much of its original construction as possible.
‘It’s a great old shed, full of character and history and luckily it’s still a very usable shed. We’ve modified it to suit and bring it up to modern standards. But the major structure is still very sound and easy to work in. We have re-roofed the shed and had to rebuild the back of the shed. But we have only just done minor works to the original section to make it safer and stable. ‘
The shearing carries on year after year in this grand old woolshed. When it’s not pumping out bales of wool, it also is doing it’s bit for the community.
‘We have had open days with proceeds goingto charities – I mainly favour the local Camperdown Hospital, as we all use it at some times. I also open it to groups that want to visit. I’ recently had about 15 men from a men’s shed out for their outing. We also host weddings for people that want something different.’