STEP BACK IN TIME
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.