5 corrections, most recently by anonymous - Show corrections
A VISIT TO WEROCATA.
The breeding of Australian horses for the Indian market has become an industry of so much consequence as to deserve an enquiry and report upon the part which South Aus-
tralia takes in the enterprise; and with the view of ascertaining the facts of the case I availed myself on Tuesday of an invitation from Mr. S. S. Ralli to pay a visit to Wero- cata. Mr. Ralli has long been known in sporting circles as a leading member of the Hunt Club and the Polo Club, as a first-class amateur rider, and as one of our best whips ; in the city also as the head of the firm of Ralli & Co., coach proprietors and liverymen, of Wakefield-street. It is in another capacity, however, that I had to make the acquaintance of the subject of this notice on Tuesday by visiting his estate at Balaklava, where he has a beautiful private residence and about I6.000 acres of first-class land. This, once the property of the Bow- mans, was a well-known sheep station, but when "The squire" was succeeded by Mr. Ralli the latter gentleman decided upon com- bining his favorite pursuit of breeding and breaking horses with those of sheep and cattle rearing. There are few gentlemen who have first gained colonial experienceand then bought estates in Australia better qualified for the life than Mr. Ralli. His father and friends are wealthy people "in the city," and after his college career, having a hankering for the ribands he induced a chum to start a coach with him, which they ran for two years between London and St. Albans, " coaching" at that time having been revived as a fashionable amusement as well as a business enterprise. Then Mr. Ralli came to the colonies and obtained thoroughly practical experience amongst the herds and studs of Queensland until be was able to take the position of stock man and overseer. After a visit home he returned to Australia and settled in his present quarters, and it is pleasant to be able to record that his practical business qualities have found full scope for their development here, and that his venture has been attended with very gratifying success. Werocata is a boomerang-shaped estate, com mencing at the township of Balaklava. and following the windings of the Wakefield River up to Whitwarta, where there is a good hotel and a few houses forming a township, about six miles north-west of Balaklava, the nearest railway-station to Whitwarta being Saints, on the Port Wakefield line. It can be understood that an estate with a double river frontage from end to end must have valuable slopes and flats of alluvial soil, and these are gradually being utilised principally for the growth of lucern. The Mount Templeton range of hills lie about 12 miles distant to the north-west, and more distant still the Hummocks Range, while easterly there are the Camel's Hump Ranges, the rains from which cause the flood ing of the river, on which there are waterholes during the summer besides natural springs. Strange to say, just below Whitwarta salt springs of the quality of brine are in existence, but on Werocata itself the springs are quite fresh. On the southern boundary of the station mallee scrub extends away to Mai lala and Two Wells. Werocata is an original plain that never required clearing, and in some of the large paddocks the cattle, unable to find a rubbing-post when changing their coats, have pushed down the fences, so that they have now been replaced with a top line of barbed wire. Along the river banks, however, there is a fringe of timber, blue gums, mallee, pines, and groups of sugar gums, and the homestead has been made picturesque with plantations. At various sites on the river the Messrs. Bowman put up dams at a great cost, but they were all swept away owing to the porous nature of the river banks, allowing the water to percolate behind the structures and thus to sap their stability. As water is obtained on the estate, however, at depths varying from 7 ft. to 35 ft., there is no difficulty in watering the stock, and for irrigation purposes a 6-in. centri fugal pump has been erected, throwing 35,ooo gallons per hour with portable fluming. There are aleo two windmills at the wells, and another well at which there is a waterlifter and horse works for the garden. Balaklava being 223 ft. above sea level there is a gradual fall down to Port Wakefield, the outlet of the river. On the station barley, grass, and clover form the early winter feed, followed by spear grass and canary in summer, while in some places there is a liberal growth of the perennial tussocky black grass, which serves an excellent purpose in affording shelter for the young lambs and providing a bit of green feed at their roots, besides keeping the plains warmer for the sheep in winter time. Away from the home stead, southwesterly, there are fine grassy plains, and of this land 1,200 acres were this season under crop, yielding of wheat 8 bushels and of hay 16 cwt. to the acre (some of the crop was grown on halves by neighboring farmers). Four new haystacks, combining 320 tons, have been built, besides the old stacks, which are sometimes used for chaffing, for which there is a steam plant in one of the sheds. Several large lucern paddocks are now wearing a beautifully green appearance, and from one of these at Whitwarta 16 tons of hay were cnt in six months, besides feeding lots of sheep and horses. Another paddock was recently fed down by 4,000 sheep, and now the lucern is '9 inches high, having made a growth of 1 inch per day, and this without irrigation, affording ample proof of the rich character of the soil. Attached to the homestead is a garden of 10 acres, in which fruit and vegetables of every kind are grown. Luscious peaches, nectarines, and plums are now ripening on trees some of which are only two years old, and grapes already ripe enough for the table. I'umpkins, melons, and equanhes are there in profusion, and one of last season's pumpkins grew to nearly 2 cwt. There is a spacious shade-house, a nursery plantation, and stacks of beehives, and the bees give a very liberal quantity of honey. The fruit and vegetables grown here are a boon to the district, people from the township and the farms getting their supplies from the gardener. Mr. C. Bowman, who built the homestead, expended a much larger sum in bricks and mortar than the present proprietor would have done. It is a spacious villa of 11 rooms, all large and lofty, with two sitting rooms and a billiard room underground, which certainly form a very cool and agreeable retreat during the summer season. Here, as well as in the spacious hall on the ground floor, Mr. Ralli has a collection of sporting trophies and of pictures and curios relating to his earlier youth, including protraits of favorite hunters and photos of the St. Albans coaching team. From the windows and broad verandahs of the house beautiful views are obtained, com mencing with sloping lawns, ornamental shrubs and trees, the swing bridge over the river, and continuing until the eye is carried beyond the broad pastures of the estate to the vari-tinted bills in the far distance, while the atmosphere is freshened in the later afternoon with a welcome sniff of the briny, St. Vincent's Gulf being only a few miles away. Crossing the river by the footbridge we come to the woolshed and sheep-drafting yards and the kitchen and men's cottage. The latter build ing is so large and well constructed that it would suffice for any ordinary squatter's residence. ?The woolshed with appliances for
shearing 40,000 sheep, is fitted with Wolseley's shearing machine, and is a lofty and spacious structure. There are also buildings and eheds in which machinery is stored, including a steam thrashing plant and one of McConnick's twine-binders, and a big collection of farming imploments. Large iron tanks collect the rain water from the roofs. Besides a big range of stabling and coachhouses, there is a dairy, slaughterhouse and pigstyes, and everything needed for the comfort and convenience of the working staff, as well as the keeping up of a much larger domestic establishment than is required by the present bachelor proprietor. Referring to the stock I shall first mention the flock of come 10,000 sheep. Of these the bulk are merinos, originally bred pure by the Bowmans, but Mr. Ralli has introduced a number of Lincoln rams with tho object of breeding first-class crossbreds for the Adelaide market. Mr. Ralli acted wisely in going to the fountain head for his first lot of 25 rams of the long-woolled breed, as he obtained them from the celebrated stud of Mr. T. Bath, of Learmonth, Victoria, who for many years past has been the leading prize winner in bis class at the Ballarat ram shows, and in Mel bourne and other places. Some of the Xar rung Lincolns are also in use here, and this large-framed and long silky-woolled animal lias given a marked character to the Werocata flock during the four years that the crossing plan has been in vogue here. Mr. Ralli's plan is to breed as far as possible early lambs for the Adelaide market, and what are not sold are quitted as " fats" in the following season. He is now introducing some Shropshires with the view of breeding a small flock pure, and of introducing some of the rams to merino wethers. The Sbropshiros are a big square-framed sheep of excellent quality, with a black face like the Southdowns, and with better wool. The rams were obtained from his Honor Chief Justice Way, the original importer of this sheep, and for the purpose of procuring early lambs they are likely to answer even better than the Lincolns. Owing to the absence of early rains the lambing this season has not been so good as usual at Werocata, 78 per cent, being considered poor. The average rainfall of about 14 in. has been maintained, but the rains have come too late for the lambing, although the sheep were watered at the wells. Next season it is expected the shearing, including lambs, will be at least 10,000. In cattle Mr. Ralli has given up his purebred Hereford stud, there being no demand for bulls, and now be has allied his Hereford bull to a small herd of shorthorn cows. The heifers are spayed, and the young bulls added to the list to be sold as early beef. By speying the heifers as calves when sucking their mothers the deaths have been almost nil, as out of 107 heifers spayed there has not been a single loss. If left till they are bigger, however, the operation is attended with considerable risk. The Queensland breeders have made a prac tice of spaying, and have thereby greatly in creased the value of their herds. A few milk cows are kept for private use, but Mr. Ralli has to a great extent gone out of cattle in favor of horses. I now come to the main object of my visit, the horse stock, but I happened to arrive at the least interesting time of year, as all the past season's broken colts and fillies have been sent to India, and the busy time is when the mobs are being driven into the yards to be broken and educated for the Rajahs. The extent of this firm's trade with lndia can be understood when I state that 1,200 horses have been broken and dispatched from Werocata by ship from Adelaide within the past five years, and Mr. Thomson and Mr. Clark are now in Calcutta disposing of the last consignment. The horses sent to India must be handled and educated to a certain extent, as they cannot be delivered there in the condition in which horses are driven in mobs to our local markets. Although Mr. Ralli is a breeder he is a greater buyer of half-breds, and from all quarters these are brought in to the Werocata paddocks at the proper season, and are there subjected to the handling and breaking which fits them for the Indian market. The drafting yards are the best in the colony, being designed and built on Mr. Ralli's own plans, and their capacity can be gauged when I state that by the aid of two men and two boys 150 horses per hour can be drafted with perfect ease. To the uninitiated the yards look like a labyrinth of alleys, gates, and enclosures, with substantial rails 6 in. deep and 3 in. thick raised to the height of 6 ft. 6 in and let into posts stout enough to be the jury masts of a ship. Here the unbroken colts—some of them fighting bitterly against their captivity, are subjected to the first roping and handling they receive in their lives. There are two " crush" pens, one of which is used for putting the tackling on the colts, and the other for ex amining them for physical ailments, paring their hoofs, &c. In once running through the yards a mob of horses can be drafted into six different lots, according to size, condition, and quality, but when they are afterwards tackled by the roughriders then the "scenes in the circus" commence. It is wonder ful, however, what the quiet daring of the experts can accomplish in a limited space of time with the number of high spirited animals who pass through their hands. In the season, when hours are of consequence, there is no time to waste or fool round with hot tempered youngsters. They all have to be brought under submission as speedily as possible, and this without cruelty, or any thrashing, or ill-treatment that would spoil their temper or injure their physiqne. They are tanght from the moment they enter the yards that they are in the hands of their superiors, and their sub mission is only a question of a brief period of time. Occasionally a desperate dash for freedom is made, as in the case of one oolt who jumped tho 6 ft 6 in. fence, and got away with a rope attached to him. He was recaptured, and for his special jumping powers was used for some time by Mr. Ralli as a hack, but he was afterwards transported to India. There is an inveterate old buck jumper on the station, an aged chestnut mare, who is mostly used for exhibition purposes at leisure times. Many of the youngsters, however, display the same quality until it is taken out of them, and some have the most desperate struggles with their riders, but although they jump in the air or throw them selves down they must eventually submit, and they very soon answer to the bit and are useful enough in saddle. Of the more summary process of putting them into harness I was myself a witness. An unbroken filly was caught on the morning of Tuesday, and in the afternoon I was invited outside to "go for a drive." I found a steady old mare on the off - side of the pole of a stout roomy drag, and Mr. Ralli on the box with reins in hand. On the near side was the filly with a sack round her neck, to which was attached a stout rope, which an attendant was fastening to the ring at the end of the pole. The filly had winkers on, and a strong rein from her bit was attached to the drafting yard fence. When she was in the traces the signal was given to loose the running rein, and with a splash, and a plunge off we started for our drive. The filly of coarse showed fright and a bit of temper, but with the steady old school mistress by her side, and the guiding hand of the driver, she bad to keep on her legs although in some real bad cases the colts throw themselves down, break the tackling, and smash the pole. On the follow ing morning this three-year-old filly formed one of a team of five which Mr. Ralli drove with me to the railway-station, and she per formed her duties as near-side wheeler most admirably, and two of the colts in the lead were almost as new to the business as herself. After they have undergone this kind of tuition on the station some of the best of them are sent down to Adelaide to the stables in Wakefield-street, where they are put to practical work in the city until their time comes to be shipped away to Calcutta. The two roughriders who assist Mr. Ralli on the station are C. Greig and Dan Vaughan, who would be hard to beat anywhere. Greig has been three years with Mr. Ralli and three trips to India, and Vaughan has been four years on the station with only one fall to his credit, and Greig none. Considering that nearly the bulk of the 1,200 horses has passed through their bands, this is a wonder ful record. At Werocata when putting a colt into harness two men do all the work, and there is an entire absence of the usual big crowd to lend a hand and create confusion. After luncheon on Tuesday I was driven by the manager over to Whitwarta, and through the paddocks, where I saw a number of mares and foals, and Nocondra, the son of Darriwell —Eothen, who ran in the Derby at Morpnett ville, now doing duty as the station sire. He has grown stouter, but is somewhat light in flesh just now. He would not have been used as a sire for the present had not Mr. Ralli been deprived of the services of Taurus, by Maribyrnong—Habena, who was accidentally shot last season. Mr. Ralli considers Taurus to have been one of the best stallions be ever saw, both for breeding and for getting stout stock, large numbers of bis progeny having been sent to India, where they become first-class Government horses. There am many colts by Taurus now running at Werocata. Amongst the mares I saw old Madame Ristori, the ex-steeplechaser, and several other well-bred ones, but Mr. Ralli's favorites are half-breds with Fireaway blood in them, who are chiefly prized on account of the good action they give their progeny. I could go at much greater length into this part of my subject if space permitted, but will leave it for another opportunity when I can run up to Werocata again. Much of my information was obtained from Mr. G. S. Kemp, tho resident manager, who is a famous man among sheep, and who drove me over tho station, and also introoduced me to his pet sheep dog, Rhoda (bred by Mr. Robert Tully. of Lake Victoria). Besides being a prize-winner at country shows, Rhoda is one of the most intelligent and best trained animals I ever saw. M r . Ralli has kindly consented to allow the South Austra lian Coursing Club to run off a Waterloo Cup and Plate at Werocata, probably in the second week of May, and by starting from Balaklava the first day and from Whilwarta the second
day, and skirting the river flats and slopes, the dogs will have beautiful running country, which will not distress them so much as going out on the open plain. At present the hares are in the timber, but at the time of year men tioned they are always to be found near the river banks, and plentiful enough to afford first class sport so that the lovers of the leash may look forward to a real good outing when they foregather with Mr. Stirling and rally round the master of Werocata.