MANY long-established station properties have dedicated graveyards for family members past, or scattered graves of long-gone workers, but “Coombing Park” has gone a step further.
The historic Carcoar property now boasts a memorial garden where generations of owners and workers alike of the historic station are recognised and recorded for posterity in bronze.
Formally consecrated in September last year by the Bishop of Bathurst, Richard Hurford, the garden is the brainchild of “Coombing Park” manager and co-principal, George King.
He had long felt a need to acknowledge in some lasting way the people who developed the station across nearly two centuries, and to whom “Coombing Park” meant something special.
But bringing the project to fruition was a joint effort also involving his Melbourne-based cousin, Rosalie Counsell, and his uncle, retired cleric Father Peter King.
All three are descended from William Franklin (Frank) Whitney, one of the founding partners of Cobb and Co, the coaching and pastoral ?rm that bought “Coombing Park” from the Icely family in 1881.
Whitney died aged 64 in 1894, leaving a widow, Isabella, and her seven surviving children, and it was she who built the gracious “Coombing Park” homestead, established Whitney Pastoral Company and ran the family business until her death in 1941 aged 97.
Still trading as Whitney Pastoral Company today, and still held by Whitney descendants, “Coombing Park” has thus had only two family owners since being taken up by Thomas Icely in 1826.
While George King was mulling over his idea of establishing some memorial to those with strong links to the property, his cousin Rosalie came up with a related proposition.
Her father, John Cargill, who died in 1982, had grown up at “Coombing Park” where his widowed mother, Louisa (known as Katie) – one of Isabella Whitney’s ?ve daughters – kept house for her mother.
According to Rosalie, John and his two sisters had never forgotten their “idyllic” childhood spent at “Coombing Park”, and it seemed appropriate his ashes – still in her keeping since his death 30 years earlier – should be spread on the property.
It was a chance phone call she had early last year from her cousin, Peter King (from whom she hadn’t heard in 60 years!), that started turning ideas into action.
Peter, a former Anglican minister and police chaplain living in Forbes, had been pursuing his own “Coombing Park” project, tracking down records of past station workers. It was his desire they too should be acknowledged and remembered as well as family forebears with links to the station.
From there, the project gathered pace. Other Whitney descendants got wind of what was afoot and became involved, as did descendants of former workers.
George prepared a suitable site for the memorial garden and erected rows of carefully selected granite rocks (excavated from around the property) to carry the commemorative plaques.
Rosalie designed, scripted and commissioned the bronze plaques, drawing on family knowledge and details of former staff provided by Peter.
By June last year, when relatives gathered for a memorial service to inter John Cargill’s ashes and formally launch the project, nine plaques had been set in place.
Since then, the number of plaques has swelled to 32, 18 of those honouring Whitney family members, two recognising the Icely founders of the property, 11 dedicated to past workers and one at the entrance gate marking the garden’s formal consecration.
Of the property’s earliest workers, little is known. They were the 62 convicts assigned to the founding settler, Thomas Icely, who built the station from a 560 acre (227ha) grant taken up in 1825.
It was these convict labourers – honoured collectively now by a plaque – who erected the early station buildings (still standing) and who had established 100ha of cultivation by 1837, when “Coombing Park” covered nearly 24,000ha.
They were followed by successive waves of pastoral workers. Even in the 1960s the property – then comprising about 4000ha – still employed upwards of 20 station staff and domestics.
That had been whittled down to ?ve, however, by the time George’s grandfather and former long-standing managing director, Ewart King, died in 1996.
And now, thanks to holistic management and a move out of sheep, George manages the 3000ha that is present-day “Coombing Park” on his own, calving 2000 Angus cows.
But he acknowledges the debt he owes to the hundreds of men and women before him on “Coombing Park” who paved the way – a debt now on permanent record, in granite and bronze.