Deep within the grazing country of Central Queensland sits the heritage listed Isis Downs Woolshed. It’s located 20km east of the small township of Isisford, bordered by the Barcoo river, a system that flows towards the expansive Lake Eyre in central Australia. The waterway forms a natural dividing line between the outback and the remoter and less inhabited areas further to the west, the ‘Far Outback’.
In 1840 Patrick and Walter Leslie founded Canning Downs Station on the Darling Downs establishing the wool industry in Queensland. The early paths blazed by explorers were soon followed by pastoralists who were quick to see the potential of the land. Twenty years later, in 1860, wool had become the primary export earner for the newly established colony of Queensland.
Isis Downs came into existence in 1867. Charles Lumley-Hill, W. St John Holberton and W. B. Allen, the initial lease-holders, named the property after the Isis River in England, establishing one of the first properties in the Isisford district of far west Central Queensland. The station had a big impact on the local economy, employing locals and seasonal workers alike. It changed ownership a number of times however by 1912 it was at its height, running around 230,000 sheep and employing more than 150 staff, a significant operation on any scale.
In that same year the original woolshed burnt down, and was replaced with a structure that became one of the largest shearing sheds in the early 20th century. But it wasn’t just its size that made the Isis Downs Woolshed different; Isis Downs was also the first shearing shed in Queensland to have electric shearing stands, made possible by the powerhouse constructed nearby.
Construction of the new shearing shed was completed between 1913 and 1914, with owners Sir Rupert Clarke and R S Whiting working with Kay MacNicol & Company engineers to put a unique spin on its design. Dominating the landscape, and attracting plenty of attention, the woolshed is a steel structure, clad in corrugated iron, a simple construction, with a very unique semi-circular interior design.
The construction process was a huge feat, quite astonishing when you consider it was built over 100 years ago. At the time of construction there were no steel mills in Australia, so in a remarkable effort, all the steel was shipped over from England, fabricated in Melbourne, shipped to Rockhampton, sent via rail towards the site, then by teamsters to the property. A lengthy build that resulted in an extraordinary structure.
The shed remains one of the biggest and most intact early twentieth century shearing complexes in Queensland, with its semi-circular, prefabricated design the only one of its type in Australia.
In the newly constructed woolshed there were 52 shearing stands, with external pens designed to hold approximately 30,000 sheep. It’s believed a total of around 450,000 sheep were shorn in the woolshed each year.
While it was once a booming sheep property, Isis Down’s final clip was sold in 2014. The new owners, Consolidated Pastoral Co Ltd (formed by the late Kerry Packer) moved into cattle grazing, stocking Charolais Brahman cross females and Angus bulls.
If only those woolshed walls could talk.