It’s a long haul from Charlie Pye’s “Gingie” property at Walgett to the backblocks of the Warragamba Dam catchment area, but it’s a pilgrimage he was happy to make, to absorb some family history. For just on 20 years, four of his Pye great-uncles – in partnership or individually - held the station property known as “Jooriland” in the Upper Burragorang Valley, and he’d never clapped eyes on it.
Moreover, he never expected to do so, but recently an opportunity arose for him and the writer to join a WaterNSW team visiting the site of the former station, now within the restricted catchment area. It was an opportunity too good to pass up, as access to the area is not readily granted, and even then is subject to the vagaries of the weather, and river levels.
Access to the site is via the steep Sheehy’s Creek road that starts near Oakdale (west of Camden) and drops sharply and at times spectacularly to the Nattai River on the Burragorang Valley floor.
The road was built in the first decade of last century as a gentler alternative to the original route down The Bluff, further north, which nonetheless remained the principal road into the valley until the dam filled and cut it off.
Once in the valley, the present road crosses the Nattai River and follows the eastern shore of Lake Burragorang until it crosses the Wollondilly River (levels permitting) and brings you to “Jooriland”. From there, the road continues on to the ruins of the former silver-mining village of Yerranderie, from where a public road leads to Oberon.
READ PART ONE HERE: Painting revives rich Burragorang History
Charlie says that when his great-uncles Henry and Richard owned “Jooriland” in the 1930s and ‘40s, it was common for them to stock the property with wethers bred on their North West stations. The sheep would be railed to Flemington and from there walked along Parramatta Road and the Hume Highway to the Pyes’ “Cecil Hills” property near Liverpool, and thence to Camden, Oakdale and the valley.
At their peak, running 7000 or more sheep, the Pyes would have been producing woolclips of 200-plus bales, which had to be carted to railhead in small tabletop truckloads due to the tortuous road. Shearing was carried out by the Pyes’ regular contractor, Ray Cleaver, towards the end of a run of Pye sheds that also included “Gingie”, “Morendah”, “New Merrigal”, “Calga West”, “Ghoolendaadi” and “Branga Plains” – in all, some 100,000 sheep.
These days sheep are a distant memory on “Jooriland”. The shearing shed has been gathering dust since the last sheep were shorn there in the 1980s, and the adjacent shearers’ huts have sat idle for more than 50 years. Still in evidence though are the rusting overhead gear, the original plunge dip and the remains of the old Koerstz woolpress from which thousands of bales emerged to bear the “Jooriland” brand.
The original timber homestead is still standing, though only just, having not been in use since the departure of Fred Pye’s former overseer, Mervyn Thurtell, in the early 1960s. When Neville and Val Lang from nearby “Bindook” later leased “Jooriland” from the Water Board, they used another cottage on the property, and yet another was adapted as accommodation for their Taralga-based shearers.
A short distance from the homestead is the split-log hut that housed the engine and generator, a reminder of the fact that the Burragorang Valley was never connected to the electricity grid, owing to decades of uncertainty about the proposed dam. (Like all the other properties in the Burragorang Valley, “Jooriland” was never connected to the state’s electricity grid because of the decades of uncertainty surrounding the proposed dam.)
The once-clear paddocks are now steadily reverting to scrub, and the only specimens of livestock we saw during our visit were a family of feral pigs, an emu and a few kangaroos. If a sheep should set foot on the property today, one suspects its fate would be sealed within hours by the ever-present wild dogs, feral pigs or perhaps a lost and hungry bushwalker!