Friday, 6 April 2018

#52Ancestors - Week 13 - Homestead

For twenty-two years my grandparents, Arthur and Nancy Lord and their family lived on the sheep station, Metavale, in south west Queensland. The property consisted of 55,000 acres. As usual, Trove came up trumps when I began my initial research for this post, providing images and newspaper references to the property. In 1994 I taped my mother talking about her life as a child growing up on Metavale and have included some of her observations in this post. I also found some photographs from a family album.

The earliest photo of the homestead, Metavale, can be found in the Queensland State Archives and appears, according to their records, to date to about 1910.
Metavale - photo in Queensland State Archives
I have not seen any references, as yet, as to when the property was first established but land in the area had generally been selected and settled between the 1860s and 1880s. Looking at the above photograph the house and outbuildings had been settled for a while before the photo was taken.
Map -
Metavale is 39 km south-west of Cunnamulla, not far from the New South Wales border.
Arthur Lord had taken over ownership of Metavale from Mr J R M Mackay by April 1924 according to information in the Courier Mail 11 April 1924. Twenty-two years later a notice appeared in the Queensland Country Life 2 May 1946 announcing that 'Mr Arthur Lord has sold Metavale, in the Cunnamulla district, and after recuperating from a long tussle with drought, will be seeking a smaller property—no doubt in one of the more assured rainfall areas, if he can find any.' When the Lord family first moved to Metavale there had been a number of years with good rain and even flooding. However in the 1940s there had been a prolonged period of drought so the decision was made to move to a property nearer the coast.

Some of my mother's memories are illustrated in the two following photos from Queensland State Archives, though they were taken at an earlier time.
Dam at Metavale - Queensland State Archives
Mum had noted, 'We had a dam in the back yard. When we came down the back stairs there was a vegetable garden and then there was the dam. It had a landing you could dive off from. No-one taught me how to swim properly, but when I was five I learned to dog paddle.' Finding this photo was therefore a great find.
Metavale Bore - Queensland State Archives
Bores providing water from the Great Artesian Basin were the main supply of water. During the oral history recording Mother described the bore: 'There was a bore about eight miles from the house and that was another treat when we used to go to the bore. Bore drains, which were deep trenches for the water to run down filled dams for water for the sheep and came down to the house. Quite often we had to go out there because there was a break in it. The sheep or cattle had trampled in it and broken the trenches with water going everywhere it shouldn't be going. The water in it was hot because the water was hot when it came out of the ground.'

By the time the water reached the house it was cold so in order to have a hot bath a chip heater was installed. Mother remembered: 'We used to gather small pieces of wood from the wood heap to use in the heater. The water was bore water and it was brown.' She then added, 'For drinking purposes we had tank water but it was very precious and you did not dare leave a tap on or dripping.'
Click to enlarge
One of the gems that I discovered in Trove was this letter written by my mother (aged nine years), published in The Australasian 18 May 1935, describing life at Metavale.

Some of Mother's other memories about living at Metavale included the 'wood stove in the kitchen. It had a big kettle on it all the time' and 'We didn't have a refrigerator (initially). We had a coolgardie safe.  There was no electricity so our first refrigerator was a kerosene one. There was great excitement having things cold for a change.' 'Our lights were kerosene lamps and the occasional candle. Hurricane lamps were used if we wanted to move around.' On one occasion a candle was knocked on the floor. 'There was great rushing around to put out the candle which could have burnt the place down.'

Sleeping arrangements often depended on the number of people staying in the house and the seasons. 'In summer we often slept on verandahs as it was cooler, especially if there was an influx of people home from school. That was the beauty of verandahs. We could spread anywhere. We did have mosquito nets in summer, but we didn't always use them. A lot of the place was gauzed in. If we were sleeping in a gauzed area we did not need them but if were sleeping in an unprotected area we did.'

The other essential was, of course, the toilet. 'The toilet was as far away from the house as it could possibly be. It was way up behind the fowl yard, a long way away. It wasn't really very convenient. It had a great hole in the ground which went down forever which was just as well. We did not have the luxury of toilet paper but used cut up newspaper, phone books, whatever was available. If I wanted to go to the toilet at night Michael (Mum's brother) on occasions used to escort me with a hurricane lamp. He used to have to put the lamp down the hole to see that there were no snakes or spiders.'

Mother recalled the challenges of the weekly washing day. 'The wash house was on its own away from the house. It had two big tubs, a washboard and a wood (fired) copper. Dad did the washing every Monday and it used to take virtually all of the day as everything had to be boiled up and washed and hung on the line. Quite an operation. The clothes line was a wire and post line.'

Although Metavale was a sheep station there were also cows to provide milk. Mother described the process of  gathering the cows in the afternoon including catching the horse when it was time to bring in the cows. 'It had a bell around its neck so you would know where it was and you would hope it would let you catch it. The paddock wasn't exactly small.' After milking, the cows were kept in a paddock near the house until after milking the next day. There were also 'lots of chooks and Mother kept turkeys and ducks'.
My mother and grandmother in the garden
Creating a garden on the property was a challenge. My mother remembered that her mother 'had quite a nice garden considering there was only bore water and the climate was terrible. There was lots of bougainvillea growing on the trellis in the front. One of the only things that would grow was a saltbush hedge around the house. There were also oleanders. Mother did have a nice flower garden in winter and spring. Dad grew vegetables.'
Front garden at Metavale

Being so far from town, the family had to be self sufficient to some extent. Mother recalled: 'We only had bread once a week. The mail used to come out once a week. In the end it was was twice a week. It used to come on a Sunday and then if we had to answer something it had to be done then as it had to go back that night. The mail came in a lorry. The driver would go to other properties and then come back. He would bring out groceries and any other things needed. We used to ring up and they would be sent out with the mail.'
The Australian Government Gazette included tenders for mail run
Living miles away from other properties and families the children learned to entertain themselves, including playing in the scrub near the house. 'I used to play away from the house a bit. There weren't many trees but there were a few clumps of trees. I used to take out boxes and sometimes pretend I was a secretary. I lived in my own world. Behind the house was another nice area with small mulga. Occasionally it rained and grass would come up and a few wild flowers and I called this area Dingle Dell. I used to go up there sometimes and play.'
Mother and her doll's house
My mother had a doll's house designed to look like a house. 'It was big enough to get into but there wasn't room enough to move around. It had cane furniture but I was never terribly a dolly person.'
There were always animals near the house including lots of dogs, usually sheepdogs but also a couple of family pets. Other animals visited the area. 'There used to be lots of rabbits. We used to see them in the evening or early in the morning. On one occasion a pelican came to the house and caused great excitement ... naturally it did not stay.'

The ability to communicate with the outside world was important. The telephone on the wall was a party line. 'If you were ringing one of the neighbours you would ring, for example, one long and one short or three longs etc.' With a party line other neighbours might listen to the conversation.

The family relied on the wireless for information and entertainment. 'Our big wireless ran on batteries with a big aerial rigged up outside. I remember I would listen to the cricket when Dad was mustering and I would keep all the scores for him when he came home.'

Initially the children had a governess to help them with their lessons which they studied by correspondence. Once they were ten they were sent to Brisbane to attend primary school and then to Sydney to attend secondary school.

Obviously I have never been to Metavale but thanks to the growing number of online resources, my mother's memories and photographs in the family album it is possible to have an idea what living at the homestead was like when my grandparents owned the property.

NB: More information about two of the Metavale images held at Queensland State Archives can be found with the enlarged images on Flickr.
Dam at Metavale


  1. Beautiful old Queenslander! I wonder if it’s still there and lived in? Your mum’s memories really tell of life in a bygone era.

  2. The information I included is only part of the story that Mum told about growing up in outback Queensland. It is definitely part of Australia's past history. I located a webpage via Google discussing the fencing of the property, Metavale, in 2015 to protect the stock from wild dogs, so the property still exits. However I do not know what the homestead is like today.