No stone left unturned to save historic Cordillo Downs woolshed

Roof repairs protects iconic Cordillo Downs woolshed near Birdsville

Sheep
PROTECTING AN ICON: Work gets underway to repair a section of the Cordillo Downs woolshed roof ripped off during a storm in 2017.

PROTECTING AN ICON: Work gets underway to repair a section of the Cordillo Downs woolshed roof ripped off during a storm in 2017.

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The Brook family was thrown a curve ball in more ways than one when part of the roof of the historic Cordillo Downs woolshed was blown off in a storm late in 2017.

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The future of one of Australia's most iconic rural buildings - the stone woolshed on Cordillo Downs Station south of Birdsville - looked bleak late in 2017 when about a quarter of its roof was blown off in a fierce storm.

Cordillo Downs in the far north east corner of South Australia was bought by the Brook family in 1981 from Beltana Pastoral Company which had owned the station for almost 100 years.

Anthony Brook and his wife, Janet Crommelin, moved to Cordillo Downs in 1998 and didn't want to lose the famous old woolshed under their watch.

"When that roof was off it was a real worry because when you take roofs off buildings they don't last, so we were pretty nervous about what was going to happen," Janet said.

When that roof was off it was a real worry because when you take roofs off buildings they don't last. - Janet Crommelin

Peter Waite, one of South Australia's most famous pastoralists and businessmen, bought Cordillo Downs on behalf of Beltana and commissioned the building of the woolshed, homestead and other stone station buildings in 1883.

Janet, Anthony Brook, Rod Marshall, Harry Brook, Niall Tonagh, Marg Schull, Cam Rae, Alix Jarvis, Dave Marshall (front) Emma B., Algie Marshall.

Janet, Anthony Brook, Rod Marshall, Harry Brook, Niall Tonagh, Marg Schull, Cam Rae, Alix Jarvis, Dave Marshall (front) Emma B., Algie Marshall.

Many of the buildings have survived and all feature curved corrugated iron roofs.

Timber was in scarce supply around the property and the roof design was probably aimed at minimising how much was needed to construct the roofs although the station's early records have disappeared.

The timber framework in the woolshed's roof features just two purlins which stretch the length of the building.

Sheep were replaced by cattle in the early 1940s but the heritage-listed woolshed has remained a drawcard for increasing numbers of tourists making the 425-kilometre trip from Innaminka to Birdsville via the Cordillo Downs road.

HALF DONE: Pictured is Cordillo Downs woolshed halfway through the repair of a damaged section of its roof.

HALF DONE: Pictured is Cordillo Downs woolshed halfway through the repair of a damaged section of its roof.

The Brook family (headed by David and Nell who live in Birdsville) are among central Australia's largest and best-known pastoralists and pioneer organic beef producers and marketers.

Anthony's grandfather, Bill, who bought Cordillo Downs, had worked on the station before he bought his first property in 1939 which was another strong reason to protect its landmark woolshed.

Janet and Anthony set to work raising money to replace the roof and repair damage to the walls.

They applied for $20,000 under the South Australian Heritage Grants Program and after a frustrating and lengthy application process were given $15,000.

They had to engage a structural engineer to push the application across the line.

A GoFundMe campaign raised another $20,000 to $25,000 which helped towards the total cost of restoration of around $100,000.

The Brooks have had to dig into their own pockets for the rest even though they don't use shed because they don't have sheep and can't store anything of value in it because it's open to the travelling public and they want to keep it that way.

The original corrugated iron which blew off the roof couldn't be re-used so the Brooks went searching for a similar product.

ON YOUR BIKE: Shearers with water bags strapped to their bikes pictured in 1921 making a 600-kilometre journey from Farina Station to Cordillo Downs.

ON YOUR BIKE: Shearers with water bags strapped to their bikes pictured in 1921 making a 600-kilometre journey from Farina Station to Cordillo Downs.

Their prayers were answered when they discovered Revolution Roofing in Adelaide had a range modelled on corrugated iron from the early 1900s.

Then came the complicated job of providing the company with the exact measurements for the length and curvature of the iron sheets (three per each run over the shed).

Next came the biggest hurdle. The Brooks were in the cattle industry and knew little about building and even less about repairing a heritage stone building.

TARTAN TALENT: Scottish stonemason, Niall Tonagh, who cut his teeth repairing castles, at work on Cordillo Downs woolshed.

TARTAN TALENT: Scottish stonemason, Niall Tonagh, who cut his teeth repairing castles, at work on Cordillo Downs woolshed.

Janet was luckily able to track down Niall Tonagh, a heritage stonemason from Scotland now living in Melbourne.

Niall already knew about the historic woolshed and couldn't wait to get to Cordillo Downs.

He visited last May to do some preparatory work and returned in the middle of this year with his former apprentice, Cameron Rae, who also now lives in Melbourne.

The Brooks and a group of volunteer friends also helped complete the project over about a two week period.

FINISHED JOB: The section of The roof of Cordillo Downs woolshed blown off in a wind storm has now been replaced.

FINISHED JOB: The section of The roof of Cordillo Downs woolshed blown off in a wind storm has now been replaced.

Niall will return next year to do more restoration work and is also keen to find where the limestone for the shed and other station buildings was originally quarried. All searches so far have proved fruitless.

He believes lime for the mortar would have been made on the station but there also isn't any sign of the remains of a kiln.

"Without Niall on the job we wouldn't have been able to make those repairs and get the roof back on," Janet said.

"But to to have that roof back on, I am quite proud of our achievement. It was a big undertaking considering Niall and Cameron were the only qualified people," she said.

"Niall is planning for small volunteer groups to come up next year for about a week at a time to undertake more stone work repairs as there is a large amount of work that needs to be done to maintain the structural integrity of the building.

CORDILLO COMPLEX: The old stone buildings at Cordillo Downs Station feature curved roofs. The historic woolshed is in the backgrouind.

CORDILLO COMPLEX: The old stone buildings at Cordillo Downs Station feature curved roofs. The historic woolshed is in the backgrouind.

"The woolshed has important heritage value for its style of construction, its remote location and when it was built within about 20 years of the Burke and Wills expedition."

CUSTODIANS OF HISTORY: Janet Crommelin and Anthony Brook were determined not to lose historic Cordillo Downs woolshed under their watch.

CUSTODIANS OF HISTORY: Janet Crommelin and Anthony Brook were determined not to lose historic Cordillo Downs woolshed under their watch.

Cordillo Downs covers 780,000ha and is roughly midway between Birdsville and Innamincka.

Despite the isolation the Brooks and their four children, Harry, (18), Niamh (15), Megan (13) and Emma (10) love station life.

Harry left school last year, Niamh and Megan go to boarding school in Brisbane while Emma is doing distance education at home.

The station normally runs around 7000 Hereford and Poll Hereford cattle but numbers are now down around 4000 because of dry weather.

The story No stone left unturned to save historic Cordillo Downs woolshed first appeared on Farm Online.

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