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Image 'Sheep station on the plains, Challicum, 1843'

TLF ID R3307

This is a watercolour by Duncan Cooper that shows a sheep out-station on the plains at Challicum, a sheep run west of Ballarat in western Victoria. A slab hut is depicted in the foreground, while in the distance is a shepherd with his dog and flock. The shepherd's watchbox and the hurdles (portable fences) used to contain the sheep at night are also shown. The watercolour, which measures 11.3 cm x 18 cm, comes from a field album that Cooper called 'The Challicum Sketchbook'.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset shows an aspect of Challicum - in 1842 Cooper and the brothers George and Harry Thomson took over the sheep run, which they called Challicum, from Alexander and Colin Campbell; like many Englishmen in this period, the three men were lured to Australia by tales of the wealth to be made from wool; by 1844 the 15,000-acre (6,070-hectare) run was stocked by 3,500 weaned sheep.
  • It is an example of an out-station - before the introduction and widespread use of wire fences to create paddocks, out-stations were built so that sheep could be spread out across the run; they were staffed by a hut keeper (who also served as a nightwatchman) and one or two shepherds, who were in charge of between 500 and 2,000 sheep; each day the shepherd took his flock from the fold, walked them out to pasture, watched over them and walked them back in the evening.
  • It illustrates a strategy used by squatters to lay claim to outlying land on their holdings - in the absence of fences, established property boundaries or secure land tenure, squatters often deployed stock to out-stations to prevent rivals from using and claiming this land; this also showed the Commissioner of Crown Land, who controlled pasturing licences and later leases, that they had the stock to support their land claim.
  • It suggests that shepherds and hut keepers led an isolated existence - while the out-station depicted here was only about 2.5 kilometres from the Challicum homestead, most out-stations were located on the outreaches of the sheep run, and the shepherds and hut keeper had only each other for company; once a week the squatter or overseer delivered rations and counted the flock, docking the shepherds' or nightwatchman's wages if any sheep were missing.
  • It is an example of the type of hut provided for shepherds and other station workers in this period -huts were crudely constructed of vertical or horizontal timber slabs and a thatched roof, and clay was often plugged between the slabs to stop the draught; the huts were basic and often infested with fleas, and, unlike this hut, many had no chimney or fireplace.
  • It provides an example of hurdles and a watchbox (next to the sheepfold) - hurdles (portable fences) were used to make a sheepfold to enclose the sheep at night; each hurdle was made of wood and was about 2 metres long and 1 metre high; hurdles were self-standing and were usually lashed together to form the fold; the nightwatchman slept alongside the fold in the watchbox with his dogs deployed around to raise the alarm if the sheep were attacked; the night watchman was responsible for moving the fold to a fresh area every few days.
  • It depicts a gallows next to the hut - the gallows were used for flaying (skinning) butchered sheep and for cleaning the carcass; as well as his night watching duties, the hut keeper also acted as butcher and cook.
  • It suggests that squatters occupied land in Victoria in this period - squatters moved into the Port Phillip district and illegally occupied crown (government) land from the mid-1830s; after 1835 squatters paid the colonial government in New South Wales a £10 annual licence fee to pasture their stocks and in 1847 they could lease their runs for 8 or 14 years with the option of re-leasing or purchasing the land at the end of this period.
  • It is an example of the work of Duncan Cooper (c1813-1904), an amateur artist who recorded the settlement of Challicum from his arrival in 1842 until his retirement in 1853, when he returned to London - his collection of sketches and watercolours, most of which come from 'The Challicum Sketch Book', provides one of the few pictorial records of settlement in this period.
Year level

F; 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • History
  • Studies of society and environment

Other details

  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Description: Content provider
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: Duncan Cooper
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements