top of page
  • Writer's pictureDigital Liz

A Whole Lot of Bull Saw Australia Boom

It was a frenzy almost as wild as the gold rush - and it occurred only one decade later. You see, it wasn't gold that saw Australia boom in the 1860s, but rather a whole lot of bull - and quite a few sheep!

The 1850s gold rush saw some towns manifest almost overnight, but in truth many went bust almost as quickly.

By the end of that decade the cornerstone of the nation's economy had shifted north to where vast outback stations had completely transformed the landscape. In 1859, when Queensland became a separate colony, the state was home to more than 3.5 million sheep and 500,000 cattle, and grazing was generating a whopping 70 percent of revenue.

130-year-old woolshed on Charlotte Plains Station

The following year the new Queensland colonial government introduced generous land regulations that created a land- buying frenzy. One-year licenses were offered on any properties of 100 square miles, with leases extended to 14 years as long as the pastoralist could stock their run to at least one quarter of its capacity. Boom!

Victorians who'd made their money through gold turned to Queensland grazing to maximise their returns. Within a couple of years only Cape York Peninsula and the very far west remained unoccupied. Queensland had became populated almost overnight and it was in this climate that a far western property now known as Charlotte Plains ** was established, covering a breath-taking 155,920 hectares (385,280 acres).

By the mid-1860s the flurry was over and pastoralists began battling an economic downturn. With capital drying up, some went bankrupt. Those who survived the land boom and bust, such as the first owners of Charlotte Plains, felt they were still looking down the barrel of despair. Yet in truth, help was just around the corner in the form of technological advancements.

The first was the invention of wire fencing, providing graziers with a comparatively inexpensive way to constrain their herds and reduce the need for shepherds.

The second was the tapping of the Great Artesian Basin (GAB).

Soothing artesian water baths at Charlotte Plains

It brought certainty to keeping livestock on the driest continent on earth. Yep, we live in a thirsty land, but it'd be a whole lot more thirsty without the GAB - the only water source for 22% of inland Australia. Early settlers saw it as an endless supply of water that gushed from the bore heads at delightfully dizzying rates. The first bore was drilled in Bourke in 1878 and soon the outback was pock-marked with them. By 1915 there were 1,500 GAB bores pouring out two gigalitres of water per day. That's 2,000,000,000 or 2 billion litres daily!*

The third technology that transformed the outback was the coming of the railway - permitting stock to be sent in healthy condition to processing works on the coast and more efficient despatch of wool bales to the coastal wool clippers. By the early 1880s, a network of stock routes converged on railheads to facilitate these movements.

And finally, the development of refrigeration technology after 1883 meant that beef and mutton from far western Experience Outback Queensland, Australia stations like Charlotte Plains could safely be transported to cities and beyond to overseas markets. Freezing works put our meat industry onto a lucrative and sustainable footing for the first time.

Part of the outback experiences at Charlotte Plains

The result? Queensland's sheep numbers peaked at an astounding 21 million by 1892, and cattle at seven million shortly afterwards. It had the state politicians loudly extolling the boundless potential of the state's grazing country. Not even droughts, dust-storms and strikes could dent their pride on the eve of Federation.

Among those millions of sheep were 67,000 woolly wonders that called Charlotte Plains home.

While the property is significantly smaller these days, it's still a gob-smacking^ 27,000 hectares. That's half the size of Singapore!

And sheep and cattle continue to add interest and authenticity to a stay on this working station. You may see them in the paddocks along your trek to the borehead campground, where an expanse of open ground means you can pick a site that suits you best.

Once set up, head to the artesian baths that line the bore channel, slide into one of the 14 artesian baths, go for a soothing dip in the hot waters or try your luck at snagging a few yabbies. Birds will entertain you at your camp site as the sun lowers. Night brings new experiences - get your smores ready for a campfire, join in one of the camp gatherings or watch the million stars light up the sky in a stellar display. Bliss!

** Charlotte Plains Outback Magic won the ultimate BEST of the BEST winner for this year's awards after taking home home the GOLD for Best Grey Nomad Farm or Station Stay (for the third consecutive year, so hello Hall of Fame recipient!) and a swathe of three other awards for their property tour and one-day pass attraction experiences.

* As a mind boggling comparison, at the height of the recent flood ten times that amount of water moved down the Murray River. Yep, it's estimated that a jaw-dropping 20 gigalitres or 20,000,000,000 litres or 20 billion litres of water flowed daily. And as astonishing as that figure is, there's another recent one that's even more incredible - the torrent of water that rushed down WA's Fitzroy River, destroying the town's bridge as it pushed through, could have filled Sydney Harbour four times over in just one day. It was a whopping 2,000 gigalitres - ten times the daily Murray River flood flow and 100 times the amount gushing from the GAB daily in 1915.

^ I don't believe I've written a post before that's been so chocked full of over the top adjectives, and I didn't intend to do so this time. Sorry about that. In my defence: the amounts - of land sizes, livestock and especially water, are truly phenomenal.


bottom of page