Image 'Men's huts, Challicum, 1848'

TLF ID R3305

This is a watercolour by Duncan Cooper that depicts the huts provided for male farm labourers at Challicum, a sheep run west of Ballarat in western Victoria. In the foreground is a creek spanned by a narrow and rudimentary bridge weighted with rocks. The watercolour, which measures 13.4 cm x 19.4 cm, is the nineteenth watercolour included in 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, 3 horses and 8 cattle.
  • It indicates that labourers were employed at Challicum - records indicate that by 1844, in addition to Cooper and his partners, the property was worked by '12 male and 1 female resident persons, all free [not convict labour]'; a shortage of labour in the 1840s and 1850s, particularly during the gold rush, led to a scarcity of farm labourers.
  • It provides an example of the type of hut provided for farm labourers in this period - early pioneer 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 men's huts at Challicum were located close to the main station area.
  • It indicates that the accommodation provided for farm labourers was basic - the isolation and rigours of bush life also contributed to a shortage of farm labourers; in 1852 the owners of Challicum may have arranged for immigrants to come from Britain to work on the run; wages and conditions for those willing to work in the bush were generally better than in England, which may have made Challicum an attractive prospect.
  • It shows that the men's huts were located near the creek - while a nearby fresh water supply was essential to the survival of squatters and their employees, these huts often flooded because of their position near the water; the rocks shown in the watercolour may have been placed on the creek bridge to weigh it down in the event of a flood.
  • It indicates that the land adjacent to the men's huts was thinly wooded - Challicum consisted mainly of sparsely wooded and grassy plains, which were ideal for sheep grazing; the run was in the fertile area of south-western Victoria that explorer Major Thomas Mitchell encountered on an expedition in 1835 and called 'Australia Felix'; his discoveries fired the imagination of thousands of settlers who followed his tracks.
  • It suggests that squatters occupied land in western 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


Topics Grazing
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