Squatters & Selectors
Strathdownie, S-W Victoria, Australia

Extracts from "Echoes of the Past", Casterton News, 1886

The extended interview on Strathdownie history from which this extract is taken was conducted with a Strathdownie resident who called himself "Mr. Jones" with a reporter from the Casterton News in 1886. It is believed the person interviewed was actually Mr. William McEachern.

".....In the year 1855, East Strathdownie as well as West Strathdownnie and Heathfield, was held by the McEachern Brothers, in conjunction with their father and their brothers-in-law - Mr James Cameron and the late Mr Hugh McPherson. The Argyle station was held by another brother-in-law - Mr John McIntyre - Ardno West was owned by Mr Edward McCallum and Mr Alex. McArthur, but soon after this time the Ardno run was divided, each partner taking half of the run, Ardno West remaining with Mr McCallum, and Mr McArther retaining the other half then called Andre East. The Messrs E. and J. Kirby held the Springbank run, Messrs W. and J. Robertson the Woodford station, near Dartmoor, Mr Miles Fletcher the Tullich station, Messrs D. M. and D. McKinnon the Kaldbro station, and Mr Andrew Watson the Kilbride station, better known as Nangwarry, Mr Allan Cameron being manager, and his brother, Mr Donald Cameron, now of Lake Mundi, being also resident at the station in 1855."

"Had you in those days any hotel accommodation in the district?" we asked.

"Oh! yes," replied Mr Jones; "Mr Michael Spring kept the hotel at Lindsay, called the "Border Inn," and the late Mr James Grant, father of Mr George Grant, of Casterton, resided at Woodford - now called Dartmoor - and kept the inn at that place, the old house being about a quarter-of-a-mile above the present site of Dartmoor. Mrs McFarlane, the respected mother of the Messrs McFarlane Brothers and her husband - now deceased, then lived at Ardno, about two miles from Invercoe homestead. The Messrs McInnes, of Bamboa, near Kaladbro, were then also residents of the district, residing about two miles from their present fine property. Mr Edward McCallum was a very old resident, having settled on a portion of the Heathfield run in 1842, but selling out of Heathfield he settled at Ardno,and remained there till 1870. Mr McCallum had pretty rough times of it in those early days, like many others of the old settlers of the old time. It is only a few weeks, comparatively, since he left the district to take up his future residence near Melbourne, with one of his daughters. For some years past, he resided near Avenue Bank, which is now the homestead of the Kaladbro estate, and which belongs to Mrs McKinnon, who is also a daughter of Mr McCallum....."

"....."Mr Beilby took possession of East and West Strathdownie - he took it up and managed it for someone else. After that a Mr Coutts had East Strathdownie, then Mr John McKellar, from whom Messrs McEachern Brothers bought it in 1854. In the year previously we had purchased West Strathdownie from Messrs Edmund and James Kirby, who had it after Mr Beilby. It was in 1846 that I took possession of Heathfield, and my father and family arrived after and lived at Heathfield. In 1846, Mr McKinlay commenced building a public house across the Glenelg river, on the Muntham side, and had the frame of it up, when he came to me at Springbank, with tears running down his cheeks, and said that Mr Edward Henty had given him a fortnight to clear out, and, if he was not then gone, he would bring the Commissioners on him. He also told me that that was the last thing he could offer to do, as all other things that he had tried to do, had gone against him. I told him then to bring all that he had across the river, and to build on the Springbank side of the boundary with Dunrobin. That is where the old house now stands. He did this and opened the house about Christmas time. I was afterwards told that he took $200 over the counter on the first day the house was opened. It was not long after this when he was drowned in swamp at Strathdownie, and the Kirby brothers, being then at Springbank, took possession of the public house. From that time, Casterton went on slowly increasing in size, and in population.

"I think that Mr Learmonth had cattle, and also a boiling-down establishment at East Strathdownie, before Mr Coutts had the station. I think also that Messrs E. and D.McCallum were, for a short time, settled on a part of the Heathfield run known as McCallums Swamp. That was before I put sheep on it. There was no-one living on the place when I took possession of it....."

"....."As long ago as 1858," continued Mr Jones, "some of the stations changed hands. Argyle station passed from Mr John McIntyre into the hands of a manager - Mr W. Watson; then a few years later, to Mr John Flower who purchased it, and kept it a few years, and then our respected friend, Mr P. McEwen, had charge of it, until it was again sold, the buyer being the late Mr Thomas Carmicheal, who kept it until his death, and his widow and family now hold it. Ardno West and Ardno East also changed hands later on. After several changes, the first named came into the hands of the late Mrs Crowe, of Mingbool, Ardno East to Mr A. T. Andison; Woodford and Tullich stations also changed hands since then, and eventually came into the hands of the present owners. Nangwarry became the property of the Messrs Gardiner, Kaladbro for a short time passed from the McKinnnon family, but was eventually repurchased by Mrs McKinnnon, the wife of the late Mr Malcom McKinnon, who still owns that fine estate. It is being managed by Mr James McCallum, a well-known and respected resident of the district many years back. In 1875 Heathfield and West Strathdownie, and, about a year later, East Strathdownie, all passed from the hands of the McEachern family, Heathfield going eventually to Mr Walters, West Strathdownie, after passing through other hands, to the present respected owner, Mr H. Watson, and East Strathdownie to Mr A. Brown, who still holds it. Good men had to leave these stations, and other worthy men now fill their places. The former owners of Strathdownie and the other stations named deserved a better fate, but fortune was against them. About the year 1860 shepherding the sheep in this part of the country was abandoned, and the runs were fenced in, in many cases with brush fences. It was hard to say which was the better of the two - the old plan of shepherding the flocks, or the new one of letting them go at large under the fencing system. The runs carried a larger number of sheep, but it was at the expense of the cattle and horses, as the latter had hard work to make a living, amongst the sheep. Under the old system of shepherding the flocks, the cattle and horses had many parts of the runs to themselves to graze over. Scab broke out amongst the sheep at different times in the district, thus causing great loss and expense to the owners. Then, as soon as the scab was got rid of at Strathdownie, another disease made its appearance amongst the sheep - a disease called liver rot - and some 5000 or 6000 sheep on the East Strathdownie alone died with the disease, so that with all these misfortunes the crisis soon came, and the then owners of Strathdownie and Heathfield had to go and seek new homes for themselves and their families. Mr Archibald McEachern, and also Mr John McEachern made their homes on a portion of West Strathdownie run. Mr W McEachern went to New South Wales, and took up land in that colony, Mr Duncan McEachern settled in Portland, and other members of the famlies settled in other colonies....."

"....."Can you tell us about the settlement of selectors on the land?" we inquired.

"Certainly," responded Mr Jones. "In 1871 selectors commenced to take up land, and to settle on the East Strathdownie run. Amongst the first to select land were the late George Lowe, Allan McDonald, W. Gilmore, H. Ball and others on the river flats. On the grass lands away from the river, the first selectors were Messrs T. Pether, Stone, McGrath, McDonald, McCorkendale and Bilston, and also Mr Walker....."

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