The file Barcaldine: 156 – Item ID70850 (Dead Farm Files – Series ID14050) is a favourite because it is very much alive with details of rural life on a 9000 acre grazing selection in the first decades of the twentieth century.
It reveals the struggle to meet selection conditions of fencing and stocking during the severe 1901-02 drought and the necessity to spend time labouring on the neighbouring station to earn rent money. In contrast, it provides a glimpse of the landscape in the good seasons later in the decade. In 1908 its open forest country was thickly grassed and the waterholes had filled with water. This was the ‘desert country’, described as such to contrast it with the ‘downs country’ further west.
Included in the file is correspondence from JVS Desgrand, the local Land Commissioner, which demonstrates his recognition of the difficulties faced by the small selectors of the district. He believed that the rent of ¾d per acre for this selection should not be doubled in 1908 simply because the seasons were favourable and wool prices were above average. He believed that ‘Judging from the past it is but a matter of time for droughts to recur’. His advice was accepted with the second period rent determined at 1d per acre.
As a local historian, this file leads me to the Dead Farm Files for other selections in the district taken up in the same decade. Together they provide a more complete picture of the landscape as well as the development of pastoralism on these small holdings.
It linked me to the lease that followed 20 years later promising equal detail about other selections leased by family members. All these files add to my understanding of the lives and personalities of my forebears and of the communities in which they spent their lives.
Included in this cherished selection file are the family signatures and marriage certificate, so much relished by family historians such as myself.
Janice Cooper (researcher)