Breathing new life into the old shearing shed at Hamelin Station Reserve

It was wonderful to attend the recent Science Fair at Hamelin Station Reserve and to see the property’s old shearing shed once again come alive – with science and learning, and passion and participation.

The old weatherboard and corrugated-iron shearing shed “hung-up its shears” in 2015, when Bush Heritage purchased the 202,644 hectare property on the eastern boundary of the Shark Bay World Heritage Area. The old shed has been a focal point of interest ever since, with hundreds of visitors staying at the Hamelin Outback Station Stay taking a stroll through its now silent and empty interior.

For many years it was the centre of activity on the station, with its eight stands, and team of about 20 shearers, roustabouts and station hands toiling for up to six straight weeks (in the era of hand shears) to shear the Hamelin flock. One year – when Australia was “riding on the sheep’s back” in the 1950s – Hamelin produced a massive 776 bales of wool from its flock of 26,600 sheep.

From its meagre beginnings in the 1870s, Hamelin (which was at one time called Boolagoorda Station, until changed to Hamelin Station in 1919) gradually built-up its flock to a peak of about 33,000 sheep – a number which had been more or less halved by the time Bush Heritage purchased the property and de-stocking commenced a couple of years ago.

The numbers of sheep on the property had fluctuated considerably over the years, often determined by how much rainfall had been received, and how good the season turned-out to be. For example, there were about 20,000 sheep on Hamelin in 1977, but 8,000 were lost in a severe drought the following year. The owners rebuilt the flock, only to lose another 9,000, in another drought, a year later.

As far as shearing sheds go, the one at Hamelin is a classic. It was built to last, with solid upright posts, wide-planked hardwood flooring, and a corrugated-iron roof. There are openings on all four sides of the shed to enable it to capture any passing breeze and provide at least some relief from the stifling summer heat when the shed was in action.

It has proven itself to be strong enough to withstand cyclones, termites, and all of the other Outback trials of time. The stockyards alongside the shed are equally hardy. They were originally built using timber posts cut from the property – from Snakewood (Acacia xiphophylla), Mulga (Acacia aneura) and Wanu (Acacia ramulosa) – with rails made from local mallees (Eucalyptus spp.). The yards were rebuilt – using flat-plank-style timbers – in 1929.

With its “glory days” of shearing well and truly passed, the shearing shed is now being maintained as a historic feature enabling visitors to the Station Stay to learn more about the property’s history and heritage. It also provides great background context for the transition that is currently underway – as Bush Heritage goes about converting Hamelin into a private conservation reserve.

Spruced-up especially for the 2017 Science Fair, the shearing shed was once again the star of the show, proving to be a magnificent venue for the event. It was hard to imagine what it must have been like to be there when shearing was underway – especially since it was carried-out (at different times) between December and March – the hottest time of the year, when temperatures regularly soared into the 40s.

We were lucky to enjoy gorgeous weather for the Science Fair (although the station could do with a good downpour or two – the region just experienced its driest March-to-June period on record), and the shearing shed interior was the perfect temperature.

Other Bush Heritage volunteers and staff had already repaired the roof, and installed a solar power unit to provide electricity for the lights, computer and data projector. I’d helped clear-out some of the old wool-bin partitioning during a previous visit to the Reserve, so it was great to see it now filled with scientists, participants and presenters, and the old shed once again a hive of activity.

You can be sure that it will be a centre of attention on the property for many years to come – as it now provides a perfect place and setting for all kinds of events and occasions.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s Hamelin Science Fair.

– Richard McLellan

​Richard is the CEO of NACC (Northern Agricultural Catchments Council of WA) and a Bush Heritage Volunteer. ​NACC has been a sponsor of the 2016 and 2017 Science Fairs. You can follow Richard on twitter: @RichardMcLellan