Image 'Lambing station, Challicum', c1850

TLF ID R3309

This is a watercolour by Duncan Cooper that shows a lambing station at Challicum, a sheep run west of Ballarat in western Victoria. A man, who may be the hut keeper, is shown standing next to a slab hut and a campfire. In the distance, on the left of the painting, is the lone figure of a shepherd tending his flock. Several small sheepfolds (enclosures) made of hurdles (portable fences) have been positioned between the hut and a nearby billabong. The watercolour, which measures 10.2 cm x 17.4 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 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 and was gaining a reputation for producing high-quality wool.
  • It is an example of a lambing station - at that time pregnant ewes about to give birth were brought together at lambing stations, where a hut keeper and a shepherd closely monitored pregnant ewes and protected the newborn lambs from predators.
  • It shows a shepherd on the left with his small flock of ewes - hand-lambing called for highly developed skills and knowledge; shepherds would intervene in difficult births and foster the lambs of dead ewes on ewes whose lambs had died; a good shepherd could achieved an excellent percentage of live lambs to ewes (85-100 per cent); some employers paid the shepherd a shilling a head for every lamb born above the 85 per cent figure; after fences were introduced, ewes and lambs were left to fend for themselves and the rate fell to 50-80 per cent.
  • It shows a hut keeper and his dogs outside the lambing station hut - hut keeping was a specialised and lonely role; during the day the hut keeper would maintain the hut, fetch water, chop wood, butcher and clean animals for meat, cook breakfast and the evening meal for the shepherd and set up the fold; during the night he would sleep alongside the fold in a portable watchbox with his dogs deployed around to raise the alarm if the sheep or lambs were attacked; during lambing the hut keeper had to be particularly vigilant to guard the newborn lambs against dingoes.
  • It suggests that shepherds and hut keepers led an isolated existence - lambing stations were set up in areas of good pasture, sometimes located on the outreaches of the sheep run, and the shepherd and hut keeper had only each other for company; once a week the squatter or overseer delivered rations, counted the flock, checked the lambs and docked the shepherd's wages if any sheep were missing.
  • It is an example of the type of hut provided at a lambing station - 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; as this hut does not have a fireplace, the hut keeper has made a campfire outside.
  • It provides an example of hurdles - hurdles (portable fences) were used to make a fold 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.
  • It suggests 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 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 come from 'The Challicum Sketch Book', provides one of the few pictorial records of squatting in this period.
Year level

5; 6; 7; 8; 9

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
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
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