Sheep and shindigs – the historic shearing sheds of Mansfield district
THE Preston property has a long history. The 30,000 acre property was purchased by Freddie Griffin in 1842, who came out to Australia from England to take possession.
Griffin died in 1890 and left the station to his nephew, who bequeathed it to St Mary’s Hospital in London.
The station was ultimately sold by St Mary’s and divided into a number of smaller properties, with John Bostock buying the largest parcel of 7000 acres, retaining the name ‘Preston’.
When Lake Eildon was created in the 1950s, the homestead and other buildings were submerged and in 1952, a new shearing shed was built more centrally on the property.
It was this six stand shearing shed that current owner Laurie Tanner showed the Courier.
The shed came to the property as a kit, probably manufactured by women who had gained their manufacturing skills during the war and stayed on in the factories.
A Dutchman called Aari Smink worked on the construction and left his legacy in the concrete stumps that supported the structure.
The name ‘Preston’ and the date 1952 were moulded into two of the stumps supporting the structure, and is also on a large plaque affixed to the building.
The magnificent timber floor was laid by Matt Withers, who, from all accounts, was such a perfectionist that any helpers who left nail heads exposed were severely dealt with.
All hands were on deck for the construction, including the children of the workmen who lived on the property.
When it was up and running, there would be eight shearers employed for around three weeks and the wool would fly off the thousands of sheep’s backs.
The holding pens are enormous, capable of holding up to 700 sheep at a time.
In the roof of the shed, there are two ‘towers’, constructed to accommodate the size of the wool press, which still has pride of place in the shed.
There are two towers because in the past, the decision was made to move the massive wool press closer to the shearers and sorters.
“It was moved such a short distance, it is a mystery to me why they bothered at all,” Mr Tanner said.
Local resident Val Kirley remembers the shearing shed fondly.
She moved to Preston in January 1949 when her dad Bill Stewart moved there as a stockman and later manager.
In the 10 years she lived at the property, Ms Kirley recalls a different use for the shed apart from the shearing.
“It was ideal for functions, and there used to be hospital and race club balls and parties held there,” she recalled.
“We kids would jump on our horses and race up to the shed early in the morning after a function, and tuck into the leftover food and pinch the streamers and balloons.
“Balloons were a real treasure in those days,” Ms Kirley said.
Along with shearing, the shed is still serving a social function for the area.
Mr Tanner told of the shed “jumping with life” when the children from the Farmhouse Kindergarten held their Christmas party there last year.
This shed will stand for many years to come, and no doubt more generations will work and play there.
PHOTOS: Wendy Hunt
HARD TO MOVE: Owner Laurie Tanner is dwarfed by the wool press which was eventually located in this position in the shed.
NOW THAT’S A SHED: The enormous shearing shed at Preston has hosted thousands of sheep and nearly as many revellers.