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Celebrating 125 years in the Australian cattle industry – the Walker Family (Qld)

SIR JAMES WALKER reflects on his family’s 125 years involvement with cattle in Australia.

“It is with great satisfaction to my brothers, our families and myself that we can look back to 125 years of cattle raising and breeding.  My great grandfather and his family were dairy farmers at Shannahan Donigal in Northern Ireland when, in 1864, William Walker, together with his wife and family of two sons and two daughters set sail for Sydney in the sailing ship ‘Ocean Express’.  On arriving in Australia, William immediately applied for land, and thus our family’s association with Australia’s cattle industry began.

“They were advised to take a coastal boat to Kiama on the south coast of New South Wales.  There they were successful in being granted adjoining blocks of 200 acres, the price being one pound per acre, payable on two shillings and sixpence per acre deposit.  Once the last instalment was paid, the land became freehold.

“My great grandfather’s property was heavily timbered with scrub and hardwood as well as stands of cedar.  Springs of water running over gullies were its main asset.  First job was to strip back the hardwood trees, using them to make shelters, roofing and flooring.  The family built a pit saw and sawed their own timber for their fist small home, as well as growing vegetables and establishing an orchard.

“They purchased a number of dairy and beef cattle.  I think these were English milking Shorthorns, Devons and also Ayrshires.  Later the Australian Illawarra milking Shorthorn was established and became one of the most popular dairy breeds in the nation.

“Life was hard in those early days.  If the family wanted groceries such as flour or any other daily needs, one of the members would have to walk the four miles into Berry and back.  Milk from the small dairy operation was set in wooden vats, the cream skimmed off the top with large wooden spoons with holes to let the milk run through, the cream then being churned into butter and carried into Berry.

“Horse and water operated separators were installed to separate the milk and cream, but these proved to be unsatisfactory.  At a later date hand separators became available and then a butter factory was built in Berry.  With these improvements, together with better roads and horse drawn vehicles, life became much more pleasant.

“My grandfather, James Walker, selected a property under the same type of conditions four miles further inland.  Experiencing the same hardships as his parents, he gave a portion of the land to a group which formed the Union Church and put a Church building on the site.  He called the property ‘Mountain View’, the district being known as Wattamolla.

“Very active on all community projects and taking a great interest in the local people of the area, James Walker went on to become an Alderman and Mayor of Broughton Vale for many years.

“When it came to my father’s turn to go out on his own, he made the decision to leave the area as he perceived that he would be able to make only a fair existence for himself if he stayed in the region.  Discussing this with my grandfather, he was given 1000 pounds and so set off to find greener pastures.  He travelled to t the Bellinger River where he inspected a property for sale, the owner specifying that he would not take anything less than 3100 pounds for it.

However, my father made a deal with him – giving the vendor 1000 pounds down, allowing him to use it for two years, and then giving him a further 1650 pounds on talking delivery at the end of the two year term.  The property was 250 acres, and through going back home and doing everything he could to make money – working the land, dealing in horses and cattle, he raised the 1650 pounds and finally took delivery of his new acquisition.

His father gave him 80 heifers and a bull, these all being Australian Illawarra Shorthorn cattle.  After settling in and building a new home, he married his school girl sweetheart.  Dad use to always say that it was the best move that he ever made – a truly loving mother whose thoughts were always for others.

It was extremely difficult to buy land in those days in the Bellinger district to extend his holding.  He had heard of land on the North Coast of New South Wales – 2 dairy farms totalling 800 acres on the Tweed River at Cudgera.  He sold the property in the Bellinger region and moved to the Tweed district.  Clearing more land he established five dairy farms and later sold three of these, moving to Bendalla at Bangalow where he further increased his holdings by purchasing ‘Ewingsdale’ – 170 acres; ‘The Pocket’ – 180 acres; two farms at Hillstone Glen; and ‘Duranbah’ – 350 acres.  At one stage this saw him milking 999 cows twice a day, and owing a total of 19 dairy farms.

Dad was one of the first to bring the Illawarra milking Shorthorn dairy cattle to the north coast of New South Wales and was the foundation Secretary of the breed society.

“The big Depression of the 20s and early 30s brought many problems – unsatisfactory labour was always a continuing worry so he decided to sell up everything and move to Queensland.  He purchased a property called ‘Womalbrook’ in the Mitchell area and later changed its name to ‘Rosebrook’.  The property was overrun with horses and so he had them all mustered and taken down to the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales where they were sold at auction.

“During the early 30s blocks of grazing land from the big stations were put up for ballot.  Conditions were that you had to be over 16 years of age, could pay for improvements on the land and be able to stock the land within five years.  Dad submitted my name whilst I was still at school, and as luck would have it, at the age of 16 years and 2 weeks, I drew a block of 21,000 acres from Kensington Station, the eastern boundary of the property adjoining the western boundary of Mt Cornish.

“From this property ‘Ingleside’, we extended and purchased ‘Conamore’ at Corfield and a portion of ‘Sesbania’ and ‘Cairns Downs’.  Then later we added ‘Vendex’, 25 miles from Winton on the Winton railway line.

“These properties were purchased as my brother left school and were subsequently sold and others purchased in the family’s quest for better and more productive lands.

“Whilst my brother Owen ran a top Shorthorn herd at ‘Conamore’, my father and brother Harry purchased large lots of cattle and walked them down to New South Wales and Victoria where they were sold at auction.

“At ‘Ingleside’ I ran a mixed herd including a large number of Jersey cattle.  Having worked with cattle from a very young age, I had always had a desire to work with and breed the very best.  When I first saw Santa Gertrudis cattle at Risdon I realised that the breed had an enormous potential and so I began putting all my resources and energies into building up a top stud.  Such is the story of the beginning of ‘Cumberland’.”