It has now been 130 years since Tom Roberts, a renowned Australian artist who held a deep affinity for the Corowa district in NSW, began visiting a small but sturdy timber shearing shed on the fringe of a sprawling 30,000-acre property named Brocklesby Station.
As the story goes Roberts was related to the property’s then owner, Alexander Augustus Anderson, and after visiting for a family wedding, he became so captivated that he kept returning.
It was during his visits to the town on the banks of the Murray River in 1889 and 1890 that Roberts formed an artistic vision for Shearing the Rams, one of Australia’s most iconic paintings which now permanently resides at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.
Recently the painting was exhibited at the Wangaratta Art Gallery, 45 kilometres from Corowa, to mark its 130th anniversary. The work is now back in Melbourne and from April 2 is featuring in a new exhibition, She-Oak and Sunlight: Australian Impressionism, alongside the works of other notable artists including Frederick McCubbin, Jane Sutherland and Arthur Streeton, once a young protégé of Roberts.
When Roberts began Shearing the Rams, which depicts shearers using olden day blade shears to ply their trade, the wool industry was booming with frantic scenes often reported at wool exchanges as sheep breeders gathered to buy and sell stock and wool each year.
Today the land which was once a part of Brocklesby Station is owned by former NSW Farmers president, Derek Schoen, who has diversified it to now produce beef and prime lamb and grow grains including wheat and canola over 4,500 acres.
At the turn of the century there was a push to dismantle large stations like Brocklesby into smaller parcels, and Derek’s family’s property, Killeneen, came to be in this process and in doing so laid claim to the now-famous Murray pine shearing shed featured in the painting.
Sadly, the shed was destroyed by a runaway fire in 1965, a decade before Derek and his family arrived in the district.
“The shed was full of hay and the rabbits had got in and the farmer was burning the paddock off for his crop and it got into the hay and burnt the shed down,” Derek told The Muster.
But some connections with that time still exist today.
“In the painting you can see some gum trees through the window and those gum trees are still alive in the area where the shed was,” Derek said.
“It’s in a large paddock that is being farmed so it is either crop or grazing.
“There was a grain shed built adjacent to the site of the old shearing shed and we are now looking at removing it so the area can look aesthetically more like what it would have looked like if the old shearing shed was still there.”
Derek says when he first arrived in Corowa, there was no indication that anyone had ever heard of Tom Roberts, despite him painting four major works in the area.
As time passed, he says he began to fully appreciate the significance of the artist and 20 years later when he was a councillor on the Corowa Council, he succeeded in having the road running alongside Killeneen re-named to Tom Roberts Road.
A mural depicting Shearing the Rams has also now been painted on the side of the local Corowa museum for those who happen to be passing by.
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