Image 'Sheep station in the forest, Challicum, 1843'

TLF ID R3308

This is a watercolour by Duncan Cooper that shows a sheep out-station in the forest at Challicum, a sheep run west of Ballarat in western Victoria. It depicts a slab hut set among red gums ('Eucalyptus camaldulensis'). A watchman is standing in front of the hut, and on the left of the painting is a sheepfold (enclosure) made of hurdles (portable fences). The watercolour, which measures 17.2 cm x 24.8 cm, comes from a field album that Cooper called 'The Challicum Sketchbook'.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset shows an aspect of Challicum - the sheep run was occupied by Cooper and his partners, the brothers George and Harry Thomson in 1842; 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.
  • It is an example of an out-station - before the introduction and widespread use of wire fences to create paddocks, out-stations were built so that sheep could be spread out across the run; they were staffed by a hut keeper and one or two shepherds, who were in charge of between 500 and 2,000 sheep; each day the shepherd took his flock from the fold, walked them out to a pasture, watched over them, and walked them back in the evening.
  • It illustrates a strategy used by squatters to lay claim to outlying land on their holdings - in the absence of fences, established property boundaries or secure land tenure, squatters often deployed stock to out-stations to prevent rivals from using and claiming the land; this also showed the Commissioner of Crown Land, who controlled pasturing licences and later leases, that they had the stock to support their land claim.
  • It suggests that shepherds and hut keepers led an isolated existence - most out-stations were located on the outreaches of the sheep run and the shepherds and hut keeper had only each other for company; once a week the squatter or overseer delivered rations and counted the flock, docking the shepherds' or night watchman's wages if any sheep were missing.
  • It shows a hut keeper - hut keeping was a specialised and lonely role; during the day the hut keeper would maintain the hut, fetch water, butcher and clean animals for meat, cook breakfast and the evening meal for the shepherds and set up the fold; during the night he would sleep alongside the fold in the watchbox with his dogs deployed around to raise the alarm if the sheep were attacked.
  • It is an example of the type of hut provided for shepherds in this period - 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 huts were basic and often infested with fleas, and, unlike this hut, many had no chimney or fireplace.
  • It provides an example of hurdles - hurdles (portable fences) were used to make a sheepfold to enclose the sheep at night; each hurdle was made of wood and was about 2 metres long and 1 metre high; hurdles were self-standing and were usually lashed together to form the fold; the hut keeper moved the fold to a fresh area every few days.
  • It suggests that squatters occupied land in 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 squatting in this period.
Year level

F; 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • History
  • Studies of society and environment

Other details

  • Author
  • Person: Duncan Cooper
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Description: Content provider
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  • 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