Sunday, 29 April 2018

Shearing Shed Art and Memories

Hello my friends,

You'll need a good cuppa for this one, it's a rambling yarn!

I've been working for a while on creating a new blog header for this blog. I took photos of various vintage elements I thought I might use, then extracted some from their backgrounds so I could use them in a digital collage. I did a few versions. The one below was too busy and cluttered (yes, that's me!).

Blog Header by Lace Age Girl

I started with a base image of a shearing shed - the Yarralumla Woolshed, Canberra, where I used to go bush dancing in the 80's and 90's and later singing for the dances. 

In the pictures below I'm singing at this woolshed for a bush dance (the waltzes) while holding baby Breandan in late 2002 - that made it very hard to breathe properly to sing!!! 

The band (part of The Canberra Ceili Band) is in front of some of the old shearing stalls, and the sheep would be pushed through the openings behind us after being shorn, down a chute to wait under the shed to be herded back to paddocks or into trucks. It still reeks of sheep and lanolin, but being a country girl, that brings back good memories for me. See those boards behind us - that's where I found the background texture. 

Yarralumla woolshed by Jesse Rowan

Yarralumla woolshed by Jesse Rowan

Here's the background texture...

Yarralumla Woolshed by Jesse Rowan

I'll digress now to show you this magnificent shearing shed and tell you some of its amazing history... 

The magnificently large woolshed was constructed in 1904 for the landowner, Frederick Campbell, who ran a sheep farm there on 8 000 acres, called 'Yarralumla'. He had bought the Yarralumla property in 1881, and completed his mansion in 1891. He had been using an older woolshed previously.

The Yarralumla Woolshed is such an iconic building for the middle of Australia's capital city, not far from the Governor General's Lodge - which was originally the homestead owned by Campbell. On his father's death, Campbell owned 39 000 acres of prime land in the Australian Capital Territory - including Belconnen and Yarralumla. His grandfather had owned Duntroon, built in 1833, the oldest surviving building in the ACT and Blundell's Farmhouse, built in 1860.

Here's the outside of the woolshed... It's since been made accessible for disabled people as it's used by the community for various functions. I took these photos on a sentimental visit in 2017.

Yarralumla Woolshed by Jesse Rowan

The back door - this is where we entered on bush dance nights. In Summer we would gather outside in the cool evening to chat and rest after the strenuous dances. In Winter, we huddled together and kept dancing to keep warm - the poor musicians froze!!!

Yarralumla Woolshed by Jesse Rowan

Here's the ramp for herding sheep in to be shorn. There are sheep pens underneath too. 

Yarralumla woolshed by Jesse Rowan

Here's Terry McGee inspecting his old stamping ground... He played Irish flute in many bands between 1970 and the 1990's  for many of the bush dances here. Funds were raised for Canberra Stereo Public Radio (later ArtSound FM), a community radio station dedicated to folk, jazz, poetry and radio drama. Some of the bands include Colonial Experience, Dancereye, The Perfect Cure and The Canberra Ceili Band. Sometimes there would be 500 people at the dances!

Yarralumla woolshed by Jesse Rowan

Inside, the sheep stalls and pens are intact, though the machinery has been removed.

Yarralumla Woolshed by Jesse Rowan

Yarralumla Woolshed by Jesse Rowan

Below is the new dance floor. The old one was getting dangerous, and the whole shed would rock for some of the dances! You can see the doors to each shearer's sheep pen, and the boarded up chutes for the finished sheep to slide down to the pens underneath. Poor creatures!

Yarralumla woolshed by Jesse Rowan

I tried to find pictures of dancers at the woolshed, and these pics were all I could find. They are from The Monaro Folk Society's webpages.

I found many articles about the woolshed on Trove, ( The National Library of Australia's search engine of books, images, historic newspapers, maps, music and archives), including one from The Age, July 1904 when the woolshed was just finished. 

Fred Campbell (the Yarralumla property owner) was the President of the Queanbeyan Hospital, and he offered his new shearing shed as a venue for a Winter Ball as a source of fund-raising for the hospital. I've included excerpts from the article below, which paint a wonderful picture of this community event.

A large table was set up for a midnight supper, and the women would have baked their best cakes to bring for it, being a fund-raiser. This is the official first dance at the new Yarralumla Woolshed! (They were a regular event at his old shed after the shearing, as I found in Trove.)

The Queanbeyan observer also reported the event, giving more detail about the shearing shed's working life:
The Yarralumla Woolshed in 1925, with its Shearers and Rouseabouts Quarters and kitchen.
Photo from,_Australian_Capital_Territory

Below are some interesting historical images taken from The Yaralumla Woolshed Management Plan 2014:

The wool, from merinos of Boonooke and Wanganella extraction, became one of the most valuable in the State, according to Campbell's obituary in The Tumut and Adelong Times (NSW), 28 August 1928, p 1.

Campbell had his three-storey mansion completed in 1891, attached to the older  elegant, Georgian-style homestead, the main parts of which were erected from local stone in the 1830s. You can see the original older homestead behind the mansion below.


The Commonwealth Government bought Yarralumla from Campbell in 1913, and the land and homes of all who would be in the way of the new capital of Australia - Canberra. 

I can't help feeling sorry for Fred Campbell, who borrowed money to build this dream home for his growing family, developing his sheep farm extensively, building the biggest and best woolshed in the district, on this beautiful land by a major river.

The Canberra Times reported in 2013, 'One hundred years ago this week, Frederick Campbell (1846-1928), the squire of Yarralumla, was overwhelmed with emotion as he said goodbye.'

Campbell's vacated home was used as a temporary residence for the Governor-General of Australia. Another three-storey block was erected behind the existing one and a new entrance portal was constructed on the southern frontage. A stable block was constructed to the west of the structure and cottages built for staff. Since the 1920s the building has been extended and refurbished several more times; but the basic structure of the 1891 house can still be seen clearly when viewed from the south. I prefer the old homestead, seen on the right in the photo below.
Government House as viewed from the front in 1927.

Attribution: By Unknown - (National Library of Australia), Public Domain,
Government House as viewed from the left side in 1927

Attribution: By Unknown - (National Library of Australia), Public Domain,

Government House, Canberra, commonly known as Yarralumla, is the official residence of the Governor-General of Australia.

The following picture is the current Government House with its official frontage added on later:

Photo by Figgles1 -, CC BY-SA 2.0,

The Yarralumla Woolshed was hired out for local sheepfarmers to continue using until 1964. At its peak, an average of 20 000 sheep from the local region were shorn each year, going through 15 shearing stands in the shed. The last shearing season was 1964. In its 60 years, the shed has seen one and a half million sheep shorn!  Another article from Trove describes the last shearing...
The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995) Friday 20 November 1964 p 9

It's really weird when you find an article on trove written by a friend, and your name appears in it... As I was searching Trove I found Bob Hefner's article about Bushdancing in Canberra in 1989, and I found myself in history! Even weirder when I had changed my name by Deed Poll from Cathy Moran to Jesse Rowan since then!

If you'd like to hear us, I've put together a short video of the Canberra Ceili Band back in 2002 playing for a Ceili dance at the National Folk Festival, Canberra.

 You can read more about the history of the Yarralumla Woolshed from these references I used:


It may not be pc to include Rolf Harris after what has come out about him, but he did a good job of this Australian shearing song, and explains it well. The old pictures are very evocative - you can get the whole Australian shearing experience here!

That was a major digression from my original topic of creating a new blog header, but I found it fascinating to read up on the history of the area and the Yarralumla Woolshed - since I lived only a kilometre away, in one of the original old worker's cottages from when Canberra was first being built,  and I went to so many wonderful bush dances there. 

I'll show you more about my blog header next post! 



  1. Hi Jesse
    Now that was a very long post indeed to read! Your new header looks great with your own artworks added - even your little book you created at Millingandi with me and the others. I remember it well!
    The history of the Yarralumla shearing sheds is so interesting. I love seeing these so much and have photographed many myself which I have shown on my blog in the past. There is a book out showing many of the Australian shearing sheds which is fantastic!
    Thank you for sharing all of this history with us.
    Have a great new week,
    Many hugs,
    Suzy xxx

    1. Thank you, Suzy, I remember that post you did on shearing sheds and loved it. I enjoyed getting carried away in this topic, exploring days gone by.
      What gorgeous weather we are having today -sunny and pretty and perfect for anything!
      Love and hugs,
      Jesse XX

  2. Such an interesting post - thank you Jesse!


Thank you so much for your friendly comments. It makes my day to hear from you about my artworks and topics.