Image 'First hut at Challicum, 1842'

TLF ID R3302

This is a watercolour by Duncan Cooper that depicts the first hut built at Challicum, a sheep run west of Ballarat in western Victoria. The basic hut consists of timber slabs and a roof clad with bark. Mount Langi Ghiran and Mount Cole form part of the mountain range shown behind the hut. The watercolour, which measures 7.4 cm x 11.5 cm, is the second watercolour included in a field album that Cooper called 'The Challicum Sketch Book' and the title is one that Cooper himself inscribed on the mount.

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; the run could not be sold because it was located on crown (government) land but by purchasing the flock of sheep that belonged to the Campbells, Cooper and his partners assumed the right to squat (or occupy) the run; they paid an annual licence fee of £10 (the equivalent of approximately A$1,500 in 2004, based on the retail price index) to the colonial government in New South Wales for the privilege.
  • It is a record of the pioneering phase of squatting - like many Englishmen in this period, Cooper and his partners were lured to Australia by tales of the wealth to be made from wool; equipped with basic supplies, squatters journeyed beyond the frontiers of settlement into largely unknown territory, where they usually led isolated and arduous lives, with the constant threats of drought and diseased sheep flocks.
  • It provides an example of a pioneer slab hut from this period - squatters had to build their own huts using a few basic tools and the materials available; the walls of the Challicum hut are made of vertical timber slabs, which were fitted into grooved top and bottom timber plates; the plates were secured to posts and clay was often plugged between the slabs to stop the draught.
  • It provides an example of the type of roofing used on a slab hut - roofs were pitched and made of sapling rafters clad with bark, a technique borrowed from Indigenous Australians; large poles were laid on top of the roof to stop the sheets of bark from curling up or blowing away in stormy weather; the roof was also anchored by greenhide (strips of animal skin) ropes, iron spikes and wooden pegs.
  • It shows that the first building at Challicum was of a basic construction - once squatters found a suitable tract of land, they quickly built a hut, both to serve as shelter and to prove to the government and other squatters that the run was occupied; while these crude huts usually had a chimney and fireplace, they provided meagre comfort or protection from the elements; the internal walls were sometimes plastered with clay and straw or lined with hessian.
  • It indicates that the first building at Challicum was a semi-permanent structure - uncertainty over land tenure in this period meant that squatters were reluctant to make major improvements to their pastoral holdings; after a tour of outlying settlements in 1840, the governor, Sir George Gipps, wrote that 'A race of Englishmen are living in bark huts in a state of semi-barbarism because the conditions of their leases do not make it worthwhile to build permanent dwellings'.
  • It suggests that squatters occupied land in western Victoria in this period - squatters moved into the Port Phillip district (Victoria) and illegally occupied crown (government) land from the mid-1830s; after 1835 squatters paid the colonial government in NSW a £10 annual licence fee to pasture their stocks and in 1847 they won the right to lease their runs for up to 14 years, with the option of purchasing the whole station or a minimum of 160 acres (64 hectares) at £1 per acre, or of renewing the lease at the end of this period.
  • It is an example of the work of Duncan Cooper (c1813-1904), an amateur artist who recorded the establishment 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 were compiled into 'The Challicum Sketch Book', provides one of the few pictorial records of squatting in this period.
Year level

5; 6; 7; 8; 9

Learning area
  • History

Other details

  • Author
  • Person: Duncan Cooper
  • Description: Author
  • 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
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  • 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