THE Webb family first sank their roots into the Tarana district between Bathurst and Lithgow almost 175 years ago and not even trigger-happy bushrangers have been able to shift them.
William Webb and his feisty wife, Ann, emigrated from Cornwall, England, in 1840 with three small children and headed straight for Tarana, one of the first districts settled when the colony spread west across the Blue Mountains from Sydney.
Webb managed a grazing property, “Keirstone”, on the Fish River near Tarana for Dr David Ramsay for about 11 years before he was accidentally killed, leaving Ann a widow with eight children (Alice, Richard, William, Elizabeth, Hannah, Robert, Mary and Thomas).
Fortunately, Ann possessed flint-hard business skills and in the following decades built a rural empire for her family at Tarana which was to include “Keirstone” which she managed with the help of her older children after her husband’s death as well as producing vegetables, fruit and eggs and making cheese and butter which she took by horse and cart to Bathurst each week for sale.
In about 1855 she bought land at nearby Mutton Falls (named after her brother, Richard Mutton, who came to the Tarana area in 1827 and may have operated a bush hotel in the area) where she built a home and established an adjoining store on the banks of the Fish River and used the profits to buy a number of nearby farms for her children.
Her descendants still farm some of this land including Richard Webb and his wife Marjorie who live on “Wonga”, a 700-hectare portion of the old Webb family property, “Kamaringi”, about 10km south west ofTarana.
The “Kamaringi” homestead block passed out of the family’s hands in 1960.
Other descendants of Ann Webb still farming land she accumulated include Kevin Webb on “Sydmouth Valley” which features an historic homestead dating back to the mid-1820s and Blair Webb on “Gooyong”.
And Bill and Bob Webb, first cousins of Richard’s father, bred and raced Hondo Grattan, a courageous little pacer dubbed the “Bathurst Bulldog” who became a legend after winning back-to-back Inter Dominions in 1973-74.
The substantial hardwood slab home and adjoining rammed earth (pise) kitchen Ann Webb built at Mutton Falls – which is quite close to the original road built from the Blue Mountains to Bathurst in 1814-15 by William Cox and 30 convicts – still stands in good repair but is no longer owned by the Webb family.
The store, which has now gone, was popular with travellers and teamsters but also a frequent target for the ruthless bushrangers who roamed the countryside in the mid-1800s during the gold rush days.
Bushrangers made a number of attempts to hold up the store but famously came off second best on at least two occasions.
Richard Norris and Henry Stratton tried to rob the store at gun point early one night in May, 1864, but were foiled when one of Ann Webb’s children, Hannah, and her cousin, John Tink (later a pioneer farmer in the Dubbo region), ran off to get help despite threats from the bushrangers they would “blow their brains out”.
One of the bushrangers fired a shot at William Webb (Richard’s greatgrandfather) but missed.
They galloped away but were arrested the next day and received lengthy jail terms with hard labour for their crimes.
In April, 1867, an attempt by the bushrangers, Larry Cummins and John Foran, to stick up the store failed disastrously when Ann Webb’s third son, Robert – alerted by Hannah’s screams from inside the store where she was being held with two sisters – confronted the bushrangers and shot Cummins in the shoulder and cheek (the cartridge was probably loaded with shot used to scare off hawks).
The pair managed to gallop away but were later arrested and Cummins was sentenced to 30 years jail for a number of robberies under arms.
Robert later shifted to Narromine (where he farmed on “Woodlands”) while Ann Webb’s eldest surviving daughter, Alice, married Thomas Baird and also moved west to Dubbo where she lived for a time at “Dundullimul” whose slab-hut type homestead has survived and is now a national treasure.
Life is much quieter around the village of Tarana today but life on the land is still a battle for survival.
However, Richard and Marjorie Webb and their sons, Hugh, Robert and Bruce (who each have three children), are deeply committed to keeping “Wonga” in family hands for generations to come.
“As a family we are protective of the farm as a place to call home – it’s strongly held, a place to meet, make decisions and socialise as well,” Robert said.
“If we weren’t looking after our land, then we wouldn’t be here for so many generations,” Hugh said.
The Webbs run “Wonga” and a 400ha property, “Eastwood”, near Rylstone (which belongs to Marjorie’s family) in a family partnership, producing finewool Merinos, beef cattle and some lamb at Tarana and wool on the Rylstone block where they run Merino wethers.
Bruce works on “Wonga” while Robert and Hugh have off-farm business interests including managing large land holdings for absentee owners and running the Natural Asset Protection Agency which provides a range of services for bushfire mitigation and protection.
Raising the seventh generation, Hugh said his three daughters all liked to work on the farm.
If they are anything like their great-great-great-great-grandmother, Ann Webb (who died in 1906 aged 97), nothing will stop them or their cousins from keeping the farm in family hands.