Now a restricted area managed jointly by WaterNSW and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Upper Burragorang Valley in earlier times was a scene of serious pastoral activity.
As detailed in our cover story in Rural Life two weeks ago, it was home to a number of large grazing properties, one of them – “Jooriland” – with a long history of ownership by members of the Pye pastoral family.
Today this former woolgrowing property which once hosted annual shearings of up to 10,000 sheep is reverting to nature, thanks to its protected status as part of the catchment area of Warragamba Dam. Only a scattering of remnant farm buildings, stockyards and abandoned machinery bear witness to its earlier life as a working farm and home to several families.
One man with vivid memories of “Jooriland” as a working station is Philip Scarlett, who first went there crutching as a lad of 15 in the early 1950s. Now 84 and living in retirement at Carrington, near Camden, Philip harbours vivid memories of his years in the Upper Burragorang Valley which effectively “book-ended” his working life.
His family had settled on a 640 hectare property, “Friendly Acres”, in the Upper Burragorang in 1946 after moving from Locksley, near Bathurst, where his father, Leo, had managed “Clifton”. Philip worked on “Jooriland” when it was owned by Fred Pye, and remembers how that gentleman would turn up once a fortnight in his ’48 Chev ute to pay the men, arriving usually at around 4pm.
“We were his last port of call, on his regular ‘pay run’ of Pye stations that started at ‘Morendah’ near Goodooga and worked its way south,” he said.
The property then ran wethers bred on the Pyes’ western stations, and being accustomed to smaller-framed “inside country” sheep, Philip assumed when he first saw a western wether that it was full-grown.
“I was amazed to see they still had their lambs’ teeth, or were just cutting their two teeth,” he said. “They took a bit of handling for a 15-year-old boy.”
The wool from “Jooriland” was normally trucked out via The Bluff and Oakdale to rail at Camden, but at times when the river was up, a longer alternative route was used: via Bullio to Mittagong.
The Scarletts’ early years in the valley were tough, as the country was overrun with rabbits, but from 1950 on, the stars aligned in the shape of bumper seasons, myxomatosis and the Korean War wool boom. By then, the family was running about 1500 sheep and 70-80 head of cattle on “Friendly Acres”.
We all knew for years that the valley was earmarked for a dam, but we were told that a bridge would be put in to provide access to Upper Burragorang properties.
When cattle were to be sold, it was common for several property owners to put a mob together and walk them to the saleyards at Picton – a journey of about 60 kilometres taking several days. Philip’s father made local news in the early 1950s when he became the first farmer in the valley to buy the new Ferguson TEA-20 tractor – at a cost of 589 pounds ($1178) with plough.
By 1957 the family had prospered sufficiently to enable Philip and his father together to buy a bigger property, “The Crown”, in the Capertee Valley.
Philip carried on there following his father’s death until 1973 when he sold and settled with his wife Lola and family in Camden, where he found work managing a caravan park.
But his association with the Upper Burragorang was far from over, as his sister Val was married to Neville Lang of “Bindook” who had leased “Jooriland” from the Water Board since 1964. After Neville died in 1987, Philip was drafted back into service to take over the management of “Jooriland” for his sister – a role he maintained until the lease expired in 1993.
Running all cattle, he usually marked about 300 calves, which he walked up to “Bindook” for growing out and/or fattening.
Like many of the dwindling band of former Burragorang-ites, Philip looks back with mixed emotions to the valley’s enforced transition from Sydney foodbowl to Sydney reservoir.
“We all knew for years that the valley was earmarked for a dam, but we were told that a bridge would be put in provide access to Upper Burragorang properties,” he said.
“In the event, they (the government) baulked at the cost of the bridge, and decided it would cost less to resume the affected properties instead.
“But then once they had all the land, they built the bridge anyway – for their (agencies’) own use!”