Shearing the Rams 130 years on

Shearing the Rams 130 years on

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.

Former NSW Farmers president Derek Schoen on his property at Corowa – the site where the Shearing the Rams was painted in the late 1890s.

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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7 thoughts on “Shearing the Rams 130 years on

  1. It is a good thaing that those big properties were broken up. Had it not happened, most of us would be nothing more than peons, working on those properties. Look at what happened in the Argentine.

  2. A few years ago there was a re-enactment of the “Shearing of the rams”, This was a very large event that ran for some days with shearers and staff, particularly blade shearers, drawn from a large area, and spectators likewise. This was held in a large old shearing shed, then owned and partly restored for the event by a NSW Farmers member Bruce Atkinson. I understood at that time that this was the shed where the Tom Roberts painting took place. There must be some record of this event, I am also interested to read this report from Derek Schoen on his current property. Does someone have a correct explanation? Maybe the event I recall was just somewhere to hold such an event.

  3. Was the event held on Bruce Atkinson’s property some years ago just a re-enactment of the event portrayed in the Tom Roberts painting “The shearing of the Rams” but not on the property where it occurred?

  4. G’day Rod,
    The “recreation” of the “Shearing of the Rams” was at North Tuppal Station near Tocumwal in June 2010.
    Many people and organisations contributed to the reconstruction of the old North Tuppal Station shed, but the principal organisers and (still) residents of the Murray Valley were Mark Baldwin, Tocumwal; and Peter Artridge, Mullengandra.
    I think you would find both in the white pages or send me an email – ian.evans@wool.com and I can provide contacts.
    There was a book produced with a great collection of images from the 2 days – if my memory serves me correctly.
    Best regards,

    1. Hi Ian and Rod, your memory is correct Ian, there was a book and a video produced of the re-creation at North Tuppal Station. (It’s been a few years since we last spoke, Ian, I hope all’s well.)

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