Oral History Herbert Hain
Interview by Edie Swift
This is Edie Swift and I am recording with Herbert Hain at his house on his estate, near Cooma and the date is February 6th, 1991. I am recording this for the Kosciusko Huts Association.
I would like a five minute survey of what you did before you started working.
Starting with my father owning the store with his brother in Cooma, I used to meet quite a few of the old mountain people coming in for their supplies, as the store was the main shopping place in Cooma for all of these old mountain people. As a young boy, I used to go with my father to various properties inspecting sheep and cattle and I got to know a lot of the properties around the Monaro. Father was involved with property at Providence, Dalgety, Adaminaby and it was there that I learned something about running the sheep in the mountains. As I got older, my father passed away and I was sent to school, Knox College, in 1929. I was there for a couple of years and then I went to Scot's College, for three years and I came back home and worked on my father's estate, with my mother and my brother.
What year was that?
1926 when my father died; it was four years after that.
What did you do there, what were your duties?
My duties were to look after the stock in the mountains. My brother would send me up with different mobs of sheep on different snow leases. One was Foreman's lease in 1935, and 1936. I had quite an experience in that high country seeing it under snow, for many years and knowing the difficulties in keeping the wild dogs out, the fences in order so that we could get a good muster to bring back home. The dogs were very numerous those days and the dog trapper, who was looking after the Kosciusko end, was Mr. Willis. I used to see him
setting his traps. He had a number of stories he used to tell me about the dogs he caught and how he kept them out of the sheep.
The story about Mr. J Adams is related in a book; how I saved his life. He never went back to the mountains after that. Another occasion I sent a lot of horses down into the Tin Mines where I had a lease. There were one hundred and seventy-five. They were branded with W7 belonging to Mr. Jack Smith or Sanko Smith as they called him. He gave them to me under the conditions that I help him muster the cattle over one thousand head. During the early forties, when the ninety-nine year leases they had were terminated, they were allotted to smaller leases on the Monaro and the Riverina, Table Top and in that area and the small leases were given to these people of Monaro and Riverina.
What year was that?
In the early forties.
Can you go into the leases a little more and what you did on a day to day basis?
Yes. We had pack horses to get from point A to point B, so that it meant that we were away for a couple of weeks at a time. We would ride out to Table Top and we were mustering the cattle for Mr. Sanko Smith, during the summertime. We would be taking salt out and keeping all of the salt camps loaded with salt, and how we would do that; how it helped us muster the cattle, we would go out and put the salt on the camps and call the cattle and you would hear them bellowing for miles down in the gullies, especially on the Tumut river side. Up in that area you could hear them bellowing and it wouldn't be too long before you would have one hundred and fifty cattle coming out of the gullies. They would come along the ridges bucking and kicking their heels; they were all fat and kicking their heels. It was wonderful country; Table Top is marvellous cattle country. It made it so much easier, mustering those cattle, that when the fall of the year came, and calling them and then we would take whichever cattle we would muster that fortnight, in a paddock at the Nine-Mile diggings. There was a little hut there that we used to stay in and that was Wallace Smith and Jim Smith, and sometimes Mr. Sanko would come on and we would muster from Tabletop right across the Fifteen Mile, Three Mile down to where Cabramurra township is, all in that area. We would work the cattle back to Kiandra down to Kelly's Plain. After all of the sheep had gone out of the area, we would move the cattle down to the snowline. Many times we were caught in the snow and we had to work in the snow. It felt funny to feel your horse travel on the top of the snow, whenever it was frozen we would have to wait for that time. Soft snow we would just bog down in it and hard snow, when it froze, we could get the stock up and they could just tread along anywhere. We would take them back to Kelly's Plain which was the main base Sanko Smith was using. He lived in Adaminaby township and then we would go home after two or three weeks to Adaminaby.
Tell me about the sheep in the early forties?
I built a hut the fourth year after I got my lease. It was one of the famous blocks in the mountains, belonging to the Lampie family from Coonamble. Mr Fred Lampie was the owner of Goandra. He also owned a very big property in Coonamble, named Neabia. He used to truck his sheep down from Coonamble, sometimes to Gundagai. They would be driven up by road and drovers would look after them after they unloaded them from the train. They would drive them to Goandra. He had those ninety-nine year leases and that involved looking after the fencing. He had a lot of men fencing for him and very good huts at Goandra. They built the woolshed there for looking after the sheep, for crutching and wigging which in the summertime can be very bad.
It is a great worry not having any woolsheds or sheepyards; it is a worry to wig and crutch them. They were the people who had a very good woolshed at Goandra. Also at Currango the Australian estates had a very big woolshed. They used to crutch and wig their sheep at Currango plus running their cattle and horses as well. During the summertime the sheep would be crutched and wigged because the blowflies would blow the sheep very badly. My experience when I got my lease, that was 1943, I built a hut, now called Hain's Hut. It is respected by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. I built it for my men to trap rabbits and for my men to look after my sheep in 1947.
I used to manage the Dulhunty sheep and Mr. Alan Caldwell, who passed away last year, syndicate at Goandra, about seven of them and Alan and I were in the same paddock and eventually we fenced our paddocks off. We put Dulhunty and mine together and Mr. Caldwell ran his other big syndicate. That involved a lot of fencing and a lot of work. The big problem was the rabbits. Herb's staff put in during the wintertime. They caught twelve thousand rabbits, and camped in my hut. The next year they caught ten thousand rabbits, the next year eight thousand. It was down to six thousand the next year. We had the rabbits just about beaten. It is an interesting thing about the rabbits, you will find that they don't go digging much over five thousand feet elevation along the rivers and the sheltered places where the snow comes; in the wintertime they get down underneath those river sides. They bred like flies in those times in the forties. There were many huts and the huts were used by these old trappers who used to go in and stay in those huts and made quite a bit of money out of rabbits. They would have their packhorses, they would trap for a week or a fortnight, then they would take them in and sell those rabbits' skins at Adaminaby. Arthur Blake was probably the man that I was referring to and Squeaky Dan Mcgregor was trapping on at Currango. They had a lot of men working on fences and looking after the stock. In 1950 the rabbit skins made £1 per pound of skins, a record price.
The drovers used to bring their stock from Gundagai and Tumut to Currango. They would look after them during the summer. Currango was one of the big places that was managed by the Australian Estates, and Mr. Clapperton was the director of the whole outfit. Ted Brazil was the man that was in charge of supervising all of the stock. I remember very well that on one occasion we marked eight hundred calves over in the cattle yards. I personally roped eighty-nine horses to be marked with Australian Estate's brand. Mr. Clapperton and seven or eight other men were there and saw it all happen. Ted Brazil managed Wambrook Cooma.
One question about your hut, how did you bring the material into the hut?
That is a very good question. I would think that very few would understand how difficult it was to get that hut in there. I am glad you asked that question because it is seventy miles from Cooma to where the hut is, by the road. I had it precut by Mr. Bottom, then I picked it up from Cooma with five horses and a boy of thirteen years of age,
Bill Thompson. He and myself took it up on the wagon. It was the first time that a wagon had been through from Boggy Plain to where my hut is. We got bogged seven times, in the week, trying to get through the bog to where it is today. We finished up on top of the ridge above the hut site. It is a very high ridge, and that is where we finished with the wagon and the five horses and the material. I had to carry the table and the chairs down on my back; the boy helped me. We dragged the timber down with a horse and slide to where the hut is and where we built it. The hut is near the creek, a lovely sheltered spot and I never ever regretted putting it there. It took a lot of timber to be cleared. We had to cut the trees down to get the wagon and the five horses through. We followed the Ridge all the way to my hut. My head man, Dan Broadhead, found a much better track in later weeks which is the present day road down to the hut. Dan was an old timber cutter, wonderful old man. He helped me muster the horses at the Tin Mines in 1940 and helped me out a terrific amount in working for me. He also worked twenty years for my father. He worked nineteen years for me. I don't think we had a bad argument all of those years. He was a wonderful man. He raised a wonderful family in Cooma. He was a man that I could leave. He would look after the stock when I wasn't there. You could trust him; Nature's gentleman.
When I said the wagon was bogged, I meant bogged. The whole wagon had on it one ton of timber, and half a ton of iron. It meant that the whole wagon had to be unloaded and loaded, so you can imagine by the time that we took the stuff off into the bog or out of the bog, then pulled the wagon out and reloaded it, there wasn't much of a day left. That went on for seven days. Time meant nothing and while you were building the hut there were wonderful people that you met, they were down at the Boggy Plain hut and down at the old Saw mill. They kept the road in pretty good order. They put in all those corduroys. Perhaps the bushwalkers didn't realise what they were for. The Broadheads were responsible for putting in the corduroys. If you ever come across corduroys, they are rails that are put down over the tops of the bogs, for fifty yards, a hundred yards sometimes, the rernains of them are still there in places. They are called corduroys over these bogs and that would hold the wagon and the jinkers for bringing the timber out of the mountain - the alpine ash. The Broadheads were the first to set up a waterwheel at the foot of Alpine Hill; they were the first to send timber to Kiandra for paling for their fences. The first skis were made out of the paling. Dan Broadhead's wife was the post office mistress from 1912-1915 and Mr Broadhead worked for Mr Lampie at Goandra. Bill Butler, a bullock driver, was staying at Boggy Plain Hut. He was driving bullocks for the Alpine Saw Mill.
In later years I went away to Coonamble as a jackaroo for a couple of years, who should I meet, but Mr. Lampie. He wanted me to go and work for him at his place at Neabia when I was working for Mr. A B Fisher at Emby, Coonamble.
What year was that?
Could you tell me a little more about some of the tracks that you used to get into the hut and where they came from?
The main track in to the Hain's Hut was from Providence to Boggy Plain, then to Witses' Hut which adjoins Dulhunty's Block. We would take the sheep from Providence to Boggy Plain the first day. We would travel in the morning early, would be there at night first day Boggy Plain Hut. The next day we would be down in the Boggy Plain country, on the side of the timber where the walking tracks would be now, down on the Tantangara Creek. We would cross it to Witses' Hut. Witses' Hut was the place where we had big sheepyards and that is where we did all our drenching. We did some crutching with the old hand blades, no machines. No cars to get in there, just pack horses. Many times, the old spring cart would be turned over and you would lucky to get in there without turning the spring cart over and the horse, going down some of the hills, they are that steep. If the river was boggy or there was heavy rain it would be flowing pretty high. You would have to wait a day or two on the other side of it, before you could cross it. Our block was just over the Tantangara. We would have great work getting the sheep across it when it was full. You could lose a lot of sheep if you weren't careful because you had to feed them into the current; in so many at a time and if they all started to come in, they would jump on top of each other and at the first bend in the river you would have fifty or a hundred sheep smothered in the river. Mostly we would wait until the river rand down so that it would be reasonably safe for the sheep to get across. Then we would put the sheep in our paddock. They would feed away for the summer months and they would enjoy themselves, and live on the beautiful feed and fresh water. The country was always green. There was no scrub; the cattle and the sheep kept the scrub down.
The little sheep camps, the bushwalkers will notice now, are all green with white clovers, that is because of the sheep, the fertiliser from the sheep. The sheep would travel through the day feeding from one camp to another. You would see them, they would pick up the early morning sun, and they would be off the next day to feeding grounds.
You didn't have cars at the Hain's Hut until the fifties?
It was somewhere about the fifties before we could get a car in there. It might have been fifty-five before any cars were in there. Once we put the sheep on the Block, the fences had been attended to; we would come on home. One man would stay there and look after them and make sure that they didn't get through the fence. We would drive a car up to Goandra, that was a station held by the Caldwell's syndicate. I used to leave my three horses there. I'd leave the car, get my horses, and I would ride over six miles to my hut where I had more horses. We would be checking the fences and make sure that the neighbours' sheep didn't get into our sheep and that our sheep didn't get into the neighbours' sheep. There was a terrific understanding with the neighbours. We seldom lost any sheep to the neighbours; each person was looking after each other's interest. You would help one another. There were many occasions when people were moving out, that had snow leases in other areas, that used to take a few sheep to make up their numbers. Mostly they were caught out because you would see them on the road travelling back to Gundagai, or Tumut and if they saw them on those roads, people would report them and go back and get them. They kept a pretty good check on them.
An interesting story that I think that I should tell you is that people do not realise that there were a hundred thousand sheep just around Kiandra, Currango and Tabletop and they were all showed in for about fourteen days in 1944. It was the same time that the big fall of snow stopped the train from Nimmitabel to Cooma. It was snowed in as well. It was there that on that occasion Mr. McGufficke, a neighbour of mine here, had a block at Kiandra and Mr. Rose and Jimmy Pattinson, of Kiandra (he was the ranger) and I had a little rubber tyred cart and a horse. We picked the ranger up after about three days of snowing and we decided to go into Kiandra. Jimmy Pattinson was the ranger. He was known as the great skier; he was from a skiing family. Bill Patrick was the postmaster at the time. All of these sheep that were snowed in, we had great difficulty getting into the different blocks. In my particular block we had them all mustered into a mustering paddock and so did the Caldwells. I rode from Boggy Plain down into Goandra with Mr. Cliff Rose. We carried our skis on our shoulders on horses and we got to Boggy Plain and the snow was four feet deep. We couldn't travel any further that day so we stayed the night in the Boggy Plain Hut and put the horses in the stable. Next morning we started down towards Goandra on our skis. The snow drifts got lighter as the wind could get to them. I said to Cliff Rose I think that our horses would get through it because I don't think that we would make it on these skis. We skied back to the hut and got our horses. We carried our skis on the horses again, got down to Goandra at night. The two men who had been showed in all of the time with the sheep at Goandra had just about run out of supplies, other than plenty of meat: they killed their own sheep all of the time. We had some wonderful meat that night. That was all that saved us when we got in there. One of the men was Harry Waterson from Bombala, and Mr. Ossie Caldwell as well.
To get the sheep out, it took about three days of mustering the two lots together - different owners. I suggested to them with the experience that I had had, many years before, mustering all of that country and seeing those conditions with all that snow, I was that much ahead of these people they were only too pleased to listen to what I said. They took my advice. We put all of our sheep together, Caldwells and Dulhunty's and mine. I drove the sheep over from Witses' Hut over Blanket Plain, on to Nungar Creek. The snow was nine inches less than if I had gone up Boggy Plain, the way that we always brought our stock in. On our way out who should come along but Alan Caldwell and his brother who had walked ten miles in the snow in gum boots. They were completely knocked up, and here we were siting on the flat waiting for the snow to soften a bit to get the sheep moving again and the Caldwell brothers wanted to know what we were going to do. I told them that I was taking the sheep over to Witses' Hut on the Nungar Creek and I could get the sheep out for them. They turned around and they left it to me. They walked back ten miles to Boggy Plain and the Main Road where they left their car. That night it got so heavy at a place called Gang Gang; it was written up on the map pretty well. It is Gang Gang Mountain, around which the road goes into the Tantangara Dam. The sheep completely bogged down. There was Harry Waterson and two other men who were with Caldwell Sheep, and me. We lit a fire and I camped in a hollow tree. The others just slept around the fire. We couldn't go anywhere because we couldn't move. That was the night we put in here at Gang Gang.
The next morning the snow was pretty frozen, So we were able to get the sheep up, and we came down to Providence the next day, and got the sheep out of the snow. Caldwells thanked me very much for that. That is the story of the hundred thousand sheep that were snowed in. The others were all from different huts and different yards and had to get their sheep from Kiandra and back to Providence then back to Cooma. Tumut.
It is interesting to look back and see the difficulty that we had getting all of these sheep out. No one unless you were experienced could understand the difficulty. I tried my best to explain it to you. All of that country was under four feet of snow, or more, and looking for your sheep is quite an experience that you only want to see once in your lifetime. The sheep, when they were snowed in, would be under the big trees. They would have no way of getting out four feet deep. How we got them out was with our wonderful horses, and our wonderful dogs. We would ride in under the tree with the horse and break the wall down, and make it so that we formed a little ramp so that the sheep could scramble out. Then we would put the dogs in and they would bark and once one sheep started to go, the rest would follow. It was a very pleasant sight, I can assure you, when you saw those sheep, forty or fifty under a tree or more, walking single file on top of the frozen snow and we finally got them out, and then the little mobs building up, with four or five men doing this. We soon put seven or eight hundred sheep together.