STEP BACK IN TIME

North East Living Magazine - - Contents - words Pam Zierk- Mahoney photos Pam Zierk- Mahoney/courtesy of Val Kir­ley

His­toric prop­erty Dueran in Mans­field is a piece of liv­ing history.

With its grand house and gar­den still cen­tred within a work­ing sheep and cat­tle farm, his­toric prop­erty Dueran in Mans­field is a piece of liv­ing history.

THE prop­erty known as Dueran was first taken up through a ‘squat­ter’s run’ in the 1830s when new pas­toral land was sought by the early set­tlers.

In his mem­oirs of grow­ing up and liv­ing on Dueran (over some 45 years), Bill Lester de­scribes Mans­field as ly­ing in a ‘rather bumpy basin on the north­ern wa­ter­shed of the Vic­to­rian Alps where all the rivers empty di­rectly, or in­di­rectly, into the Mur­ray River’. The history of the Mans­field area re­veals that as an in­crease in de­mand for wool grew in the 1820s and 1830s so did the need for open­ing up more land.

The first set­tlers in the district were squat­ters - farm­ers who spilled over what the gov­ern­ment au­thor­i­ties de­ter­mined would be enough space for set­tle­ment - and went in search of suit­able graz­ing land. Each man was a land free-booter, scan­ning the hori­zon for un­oc­cu­pied or un­claimed land. He was an over­lan­der mov­ing his flock along un­til he found a suit­able run for his sheep. Al­though many were gen­uine farm­ers, some were ex-con­victs who gath­ered sheep, but many were also well ed­u­cated men of good fam­i­lies - younger sons of Eng­land and re­tired army of­fi­cers - but nev­er­the­less unau­tho­rised oc­cu­pants.

Early ex­plor­ers Hume and Hovell on their Over­lan­der trail south first came upon the area in 1824 but never en­tered into the Mans­field val­ley it­self. They did, how­ever, name Mt Bat­tery af­ter cross­ing the Bro­ken River at Bar­jarg. The first real set­tle­ment of the Mans­field district did not come un­til 1839 when a Scot­tish pas­toral com­pany, trad­ing as Hunter and Wat­son, formed to en­gage in pas­toral pur­suits in the Port Phillip District of New South Wales, tak­ing up a gi­gan­tic run in the district, first nam­ing it Devil’s River Coun­try. It was so named when the set­tlers came across an Abo­rig­i­nal tribe hold­ing a cor­ro­boree on the banks of the De­latite River – then called Devil’s River.

The first large run was named af­ter an Abo­rig­i­nal word ‘Wap­pan’ which still ex­ists today but in a much smaller ca­pac­ity, as much of that run now lies un­der Lake Eil­don. It was pur­chased by John Bon. In 1846 due to fur­ther de­mands for new runs, land sales took place and runs such as Pre­ston (known then as Ban­num), Mount Bat­tery, Loy­ola, De­latite and Dueran were formed and later Main­dample, which be­came Main­dample Park. Dueran (then known as Bro­ken River Creek Run) was pur­chased by Ed­ward Robe Bo­s­tock, al­though he did not oc­cupy it. It was then trans­ferred to Keith Jackson King.

Al­though in the 1860s and 70s some 2000 names were listed as land-hold­ers in the district, few re­mained when gold was dis­cov­ered. Those who stayed on their runs in­cluded Bo­s­tock, Bon, Chen­ery, Hunter and Ritchie. It is said that a cor­ner­stone in the cen­tre of Mans­field town­ship was where the main five ‘runs’ met – and it’s still there today. >>

Homes at that time were crude - mainly bark huts or wat­tle and daub huts made of sods of earth and lay­ers of wat­tle straps to bind them to­gether. The roof, doors and win­dows of each hut were sim­i­lar to those of the bark huts. As the prop­er­ties were im­proved so were the homes – but they re­mained mainly cot­tages.

Dueran has passed through the hands of many own­ers with such well-known names as Leatham, Lester, Al­dous and Bo­s­tock, but the most re­cent are the Vasey fam­ily. Be­ing such a large prop­erty – orig­i­nally some 45,000 acres but now re­duced to around 2000 - it re­quired many work­ers and sta­tion hands to keep it run­ning.

Val Kir­ley re­mem­bers liv­ing with her par­ents at Dueran. Val’s fa­ther was a man­ager on the prop­erty and the fam­ily lived in one of the cot­tages from around 1935 to 1946. She re­called be­ing in one cot­tage but then mov­ing to a house called ‘The Dairy’. Af­ter them, the Stephens fam­ily moved in to The Dairy, milk­ing the cows and then sell­ing the milk and cream on a share ba­sis. Pri­mar­ily, the prop­erty ran sheep and cat­tle.

“It took more peo­ple to run the big house than it did to run the prop­erty,” Val said.

“The ar­chi­tect must have said ‘build the new house on the de­signs of the shear­ing sheds but on top of the hill’.”

Grand as it is, it looks a lit­tle like a board­ing school – two- storey and on square lines but with ve­ran­das along the back.

The house was run by ser­vants dressed in maid’s out­fits and from var­i­ous rooms, bells would ring bring­ing the maids run­ning to serve the Lester fam­ily. “Mrs Lester was a crip­pled lady,” Val said. “Old Hugh Lester would come up to mum with dad’s wages and on top of that, an al­lowance to buy gro­ceries. Mum used to cook for the men and got 2/6d a week – Mrs Lester was very tight with money and kept a very close watch on what was spent.”

Val re­calls her mother putting fish on the gro­cery or­der and when queried about why she wanted fish, hav­ing to ex­plain they were Catholic and only ate fish on Fri­days, be­fore be­ing al­lowed to buy it. Mrs Stewart (Val’s mother) used to also get 2/6d (25 cents) for each or­phaned lamb she raised. Val also re­calls old Bert Hol­loway com­ing up from Mel­bourne for hol­i­days and stay­ing in the shearer’s quar­ters at Dueran, where they would go shoot­ing for rab­bits.

Dur­ing the time the Lester fam­ily owned Dueran, pur­chased in 1927, there were many changes tak­ing place in the farm­ing in­dus­try. In Bill Lester’s pub­lished rec­ol­lec­tions of grow­ing up there, he de­scribes Dueran as be­ing “tucked into the north­ern cor­ner of the district and ly­ing astride the Bro­ken River, with its bound­ary fence hard up against the bush of the Blue Range – of some 3500 acres”.

The fam­ily had mi­grated from China where Bill’s fa­ther, Hugh, had worked for the Bri­tish Mer­chant House Dod­well and Com­pany. They found the hous­ing was not to their lik­ing, so had ‘The Big House’ built in 1928 – stay­ing with aunts, un­cles and cousins at the Ritchie fam­ily’s De­latite Sta­tion.

Bill Lester de­scribes the prop­erty as hav­ing an an­cient wool­shed and sheep yards on the flats, not far from the new Big House. Lester’s mother was Mar­jorie Ritchie, sis­ter to Geoffrey Ritchie, who owned De­latite and was brought up on the land - but farm­ing was new to hus­band, Hugh. Dur­ing World War I, Mar­jorie had served in the nurs­ing corps in the Mid­dle East where she met Hugh Lester. Hugh knew noth­ing about wool, sheep or cat­tle, or in­deed about the cows and pigs which were to in­habit the dairy in the south-east cor­ner of Dueran on the Tolmie Road.

Dueran was one of the first prop­er­ties to in­tro­duce ‘round cat­tle yards’ and ‘line feed’ their sheep in spe­cially fenced runs or lanes be­tween pad­docks where the bot­tom line of wire was left off en­abling the sheep to ac­cess the feed lines but pre­vent­ing cat­tle from en­ter­ing. The Lesters moved from the prop­erty in 1963.

Dueran Home­stead is a com­mand­ing build­ing and one might think with a Bri­tish her­itage, Hugh Lester would have cho­sen a more aus­tere English de­sign. None­the­less it stands on the high­est point of the prop­erty with com­mand­ing views for al­most 360 de­grees around the district – to the west to Bon­nie Doon, to the east to Mt Buller, to the south to Mt Ter­ri­ble, and to the north up the Bro­ken River Val­ley.

The gar­dens, orig­i­nally de­signed by well-known gar­den de­signer Edna Walling, were not com­pleted for some years af­ter the home­stead was built due to a shortage of wa­ter. Now beau­ti­fully man­i­cured, they carry the Edna Walling sig­na­ture with their curved stone walls, long walks and wide ex­pan­sive lawns.

The Vasey fam­ily have taken great pride in bring­ing the gar­dens up to their best and al­though only own­ing the prop­erty for around 10 years, they have not only re­tained the whole of the prop­erty as a cat­tle and sheep graz­ing en­ter­prise, but the gar­dens have hosted wed­dings and other func­tions.

The old shear­ing shed still stands, much as it did at the turn of the 20th cen­tury, and is still in use. The lay­out of the prop­erty may have changed over the 180 years since be­ing ‘set­tled’ but farm­ing re­mains. Today the prop­erty car­ries some 10,000 head of sheep and 500 cat­tle and is man­aged by Matthew Vasey. Libby and Jim Vasey, along with their son Matthew, carry on the farm­ing tra­di­tion of Dueran and plan to for many years to come – with its history not only writ­ten in the past, but con­tin­u­ing into the fu­ture.

ROUND ‘ EM UP / In 1937, sta­tion man­ager Bill Stewart in­spects a newly shorn flock.

PIC­TURESQUE / Al­most 360 de­gree views can be seen from the home­stead’s stun­ning Edna Walling de­signed gar­dens.

NEW STYLES / Sheep feed­ing at Dueran was of­ten done in lanes fenced for sheep only, keep­ing cat­tle away from feed bins.

THE HUNT / Seen here keep­ing hares un­der con­trol are (from left) Jim Comer­ford, Ossie Stafford, Harry Nor­ris, Bill Stewart and Robby Miller, circa 1930s.

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