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Clerkness Station (1836 - )

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Location: Bundarra, New South Wales, Australia
Clerkness Station, situated on the Gwydir River directly opposite the present township of Bundarra in the New England region of New South Wales, was part of a large parcel of land taken up by Edward Clerk and John Rankin in 1836. Having recently purchased the squattage of Carlyle’s Gully, near Walcha, from William Carlyle, Clerk and Rankin arrived there with their flock in April 1836 to find the ground covered in snow. With their sheep and cattle starving, they immediately decided to seek greener and less exposed pastures further west. They packed their belongings onto two bullock drays and by the spring of 1836 had found what they were seeking on the banks of the Gwydir. Clerk and Rankin formed their head station on a pretty little tributary which they named Clerk’s Creek. Two rudimentary huts were built by splitting slabs for the walls and stripping large sheets of stringybark from nearby trees for the roof. Clerk and Rankin called their new home ‘Bundarrah’, from the local Aboriginal name for the kangaroos which grazed in large numbers under the tall trees of the Gwydir River.

The area of the run was vast. It extended from the Big River, as that part of the Gwydir was then known, to the Macintyre River, covering roughly 179,000 acres of land. Rankin built a homestead on the northern part of the run, which he named Newstead, while Clerk retained the southern portion known as Bundarrah.

Clerk now resolved to make Bundarrah his permanent home. In 1839, he brought his new wife, Mary, to live on the property. Though barely nineteen years old, Mary Clerk seems to have taken the difficulties of squatting life in her stride. She made light of sleeping on bunks thrown together from wool bales and endured a staple diet of salted beef, damper and tea without complaint. Even so, Edward, obviously concerned about recent clashes between squatters and Aborigines and the growing prevalence of bushrangers in the area, feared for the safety of his young bride. Finally, he persuaded her to move to Newstead, where she would have the services and protection of a personal bodyguard. His concerns were well-founded. Not long afterwards, while visiting squatters near Newstead, Edward was taken captive by a band of thieves and ordered to hand over his possessions. He soon identified the leader of the gang as a former servant named Dick. On recognising Edward, Dick returned the stolen goods, saying that he had no intention of robbing his old master. He added that, although tempted by the horses at Newstead, he had avoided the homestead so as not to frighten Mrs Clerk. This chivalrous behaviour earned him the nickname ‘Gentleman Dick’. Upon being released, Edward returned to Newstead to find Mary hinding in a storeroom. He not surprisingly decided that she would be safer in Maitland until a proper house could be built for her at Bundarrah.

Meanwhile Rankin, alarmed by the encounter with ‘Gentleman Dick’, sold up Newstead, leaving Edward Clerk to remove all his sheep to Bundarrah, where he began building a cottage shortly thereafter. The house, which was finished in 1841, he called ‘Clerkness’. Edward immediately sent for Mary. Drays with supplies and furniture were despatched from Maitland and, although some of the female servants refused to ‘go and be eaten by blacks’, Mary arrived safely on Good Friday 1841. The building was barely completed, but the men hastily prepared the cottage so that it could be slept in that night. With time the name Bundarrah was dropped in favour of the more personal nomenclature Clerkness.

Clerkness Station was a very successful run; by 1848, it consisted of 66,000 acres and carried more than 16,000 sheep. In accordance with the custom of the times, sheperds were employed to tend to flocks which usually comprised about a thousand sheep. Many were assigned convicts; ‘aimless fellows’, according to one contemporary, whose lives had been ruined by an addiction to the ‘bottle’. When transportation to New South Wales ceased in 1842, the Clerks employed Chinese shepherds to assume this desperately lonely and thankless task.

But Edward Clerk was more than a resourceful grazier; he was also an astute businessman. The cottage itself was situated on the Great Northern Road leading north to Inverell and south to Uralla and Tamworth. As Inverell was rapidly opened up to European settlement during the 1840s, Clerkness became a main stopping point for the ever-increasing number of travellers heading north. This severely taxed the resources of the homestead, which only received supplies once a year when wool was taken south to be shipped to England. Not one to miss an opportunity, Clerk responded by building an inn next to his homestead in 1846. Later he also opened a store, for which Mary was largely responsible. These, along with the blacksmith’s shop which Clerk had established for his own needs, in the 1850s became the nucleus of the Bundarra township.

During the 1850s and 1860s, Clerk, like so many New England graziers, consolidated his hold on the station by purchasing land around the homestead. He was by no means as hard-headed or as ruthless as others in this respect, and perhaps as a result of an easy-going nature, when he died in 1876 Clerkness was left with a host of financial problems. Mary, whose two sons, Frederick and Ted, headed north, struggled to keep the property afloat, and in 1879 she finally sold Clerkness. After several more changes it was bought by Richard Wiseman in 1888. Symbolically, the old homestead burnt to the ground in 1899.

Clerkness, which was reduced to a total area of about 17,000 acres in order to accommodate closer settlement in the early years of the twentieth century, remained in the hands of the Wiseman family for many years. By the 1970s, it had been cut into three blocks with Mrs MS Curtis occupying 5,500 acres, Mrs BA Curtis occupying 7,000 acres (both were daughters of Richard's son, AS Wiseman), and the Wiseman Brothers Estate occupying 4,000 acres. Recently, the property was re-consolidated and began trading under the name Clerkness Pastoral Company.

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Margaret Lorraine, ‘The Clerks of Clerkness’, The Tide of Time: The Official Publication of the Inverell and District Historical Society, no.1 (February 1968); Golden Horizens: Supplement to the Inverell Times (28 February 1972); Claire Schofield, Bundarra: Stepping Stone of the Gwydir (Inverell: Regional Printers, 1979).

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Structure based on ISAAR(CPF) - click here for an explanation of the fields.Prepared by: Sophie Patrick
Created: 26 June 2002
Modified: 7 July 2006

Published by The Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, 5 April 2004
Prepared by: Acknowledgements
Updated: 23 February 2010

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