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SA Memory. South Australia past and present, for the future


The earliest significant numbers of sheep in South Australia were brought overland from New South Wales by Edward Eyre in 1839. The arrival of these 1000 sheep increased fivefold the number in the colony. Many of the first European settlers to establish themselves as pastoralists leased land for their runs from the government and were known as squatters. Sheep runs were established wherever the settlers thought there to be enough grass and water, with the highest concentration being in the colony's mid-north and the drier regions of the south-east.

As South Australia was relatively isolated during the mid-19th century, wool and wheat were practically the only goods farmed in South Australia that could make a profit after the high price of transport to the other colonies or overseas were paid.

By the 1850s some large runs had been established such as JB Hughes' Bundaleer and the Hawker brothers' Bungaree, both in the mid-north. More pastoralists settled in the far north of the colony after the town of Port Augusta was established at the head of Spencer Gulf and transport of wool to markets was available via ships from its port. The drought of 1864-65 was disastrous for many pastoralists and yet between 1865 and 1890 the number of sheep in South Australia nearly doubled.

Much of the early sheep stock in South Australia was the merino breed introduced earlier to New South Wales via the Cape Colony. South Australian pastoralists realised that this breed was not entirely suitable for the colony's hotter and drier climate. A South Australian strain of the merino was bred - having a more robust and large frame and thicker fleece with a higher percentage of natural grease which protects the fibres in harsh conditions. These now constitute about 80 per cent of the state's flock.

Famous pastoralists of the later 19th century such as Thomas Elder, Robert Barr Smith and Peter Waite had the capital to improve their runs by erecting fencing - so that shepherds were no longer required and sheep could graze freely - and sinking wells for a more reliable water supply. Their successes encouraged others to adopt these methods in saltbush country. Elder, Barr Smith and Waite were all to become great benefactors, particularly to the University of Adelaide.

Anlaby Woolshed
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Men shearing sheep
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P.S. Tolarno and barge loaded with wool bales
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Woolwashing works
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