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The Woolshed at Jondaryan is the oldest and largest still operational shearing shed in the world and is a stately monument remaining from the pioneer days of settlement and celebrates the rich cultural heritage and pastoral history of the Darling Downs region.
Jondaryan station’s story began in 1840 when the station was first selected and was to go on to become the centre of a great pastoral empire on the Darling Downs. The station was originally called 'Gundarnian', which meant ‘Fire Cloud’ or ‘Place of the Fire Cloud’ in the local Jarowair dialect. In its first 17 years, the Station changed hands seven times and little development was carried out on it.
From 1844 to 1846, Australia experienced a rural recession. It is significant to note that during that time (1845), the first owner of the station Charles Coxen, who was experiencing his own financial difficulties, was forced to sell the station to James Andrew and banker businessman Robert Campbell. Andrew, the managing partner then changed the name of the station from 'Gundarnian' to what is now widely known as ‘Jondaryan’.
The original shearing shed built on the station by Andrew in 1847, was burnt down in 1849, by striking shearer's who were angry at the intolerable working conditions and Andrew’s treatment of them and his refusal to pay fair wages. A second small shearing shed was built by him in 1850.
The station changed hands twice more before it was finally taken over by a partnership between William Kent and Edward Weinholt in 1858. Kent was the senior and managing partner and it was he who was responsible for constructing the infrastructure and developing Jondaryan into the showplace it was to become. The iconic, heritage-listed Woolshed that stands here today, had its construct commenced in 1859. 5,000 sheets of the newly developed corrugated galvanised iron was used to roof the huge shed that was constructed out of hand-hewn Ironbark timber, with whole trees being used to support the structure. It was completed in 1861 and the first shearing was carried out in it in that year.
The new Woolshed was constructed in 1859 and was designed by James Charles White who was the manager of Jondaryan Station and who also designed St Anne’s Church and various station buildings. The timber slab building was “the finest in the colony” in its time and cost a total of £5,000 by the time it was completed. At almost 300 feet (90 metres) in length, it boasted 52 shearing stands and could hold 3,000 sheep under cover.
James White originally planned a shingle roof for the Woolshed but changed the plan once he learnt about the new invention, galvanised iron. The Woolshed had a canvas roof until the corrugated galvanised iron arrived in 1862
At the end of the first shearing in the new Woolshed in 1861, the station the first 'Shearers Feast’ to celebrate that event and farewell the designer of the woolshed building, the Station Manager James White, who was leaving. The three-day event featured horse racing, foot races, novelty events and competitions as well as a feast and a ball. It was so successful that White’s replacement made it an annual event and the Shearers’ Feast became a major social event for the whole district. A similar event is still celebrated at the Woolshed to this very day during the annual Jackie Howe Festival of the Golden Shears.
By 1863, when the station was purchased for £108,000, ($4,320,000 in today’s value) it had become profitable for the first time. A Shearer’s Quarters complex to house and feed 100 men was built during this time, followed by a station store, a butcher’s shop and a hide and tallow house.
In 1864, the last 40,000 acres of land was purchased and added to Jondaryan Estates, bringing the property to 300,000 acres in extent and Jondaryan became the centre of an empire of stations across southern and central Queensland. Today, the architecture still exudes character, charm and tradition and is a wonderful impression of all things Australian. It is still considered grand in its design. By 1873, 250,000 sheep were being shorn each season, with shearing being carried out during spring and summer months.
The breakup of Jondaryan station into small farms began in 1880 and with that breakup, the number of sheep being carried on the station started to reduce, but the numbers going through the Woolshed didn’t, for the farms had to run sheep and they were all shorn in the Woolshed. In 1890, the Woolshed was converted to machine shears, but only 36 stands were converted, with the remainder being retained as blade sheers to sheer the rams and stud sheep.
1890 saw another major innovation occur on Jondaryan and the Darling Downs, with the introduction of large-scale broad-acre farm machinery, which enabled the Darling Downs to be rapidly put under the plough. As the land was put under the plough, the sheep had to move out as they couldn’t compete with the crops that could be grown on the rich black soil plains and sheep numbers reduce rapidly on the Darling Downs as they moved west onto poorer country.
In 1894, the old Kent & Weinholt partnership was dissolved and Jondaryan Estates came under the control of a family Property Limited company, to take in all the children of the families. The continuing breakup of the station and the rapid cultivation of the rich black-soil plains saw a rapid reduction of sheep numbers and the whole of the Woolshed’s infrastructure was used for the last time in the mid 1930’s, but shearing was always continued in the shed on an ever reducing scale.
The final breakup of the station occurred at the end of 1945, when ‘Darian’ farm was cut off the homestead block and the Woolshed went with Darian farm, bringing an era to its end.