The Munro's of Weebollabolla
The name Munro is synonymous with the breeding of Shorthorn cattle, not only in Australia but throughout the world and in fact many countries continue to record Shorthorn cattle as being registered as Weebollabolla Shorthorns.
However the Munro family exerted considerable influence in arenas other than livestock circles long before they came to Australian shores. The family which is spread to every corner of the world, has long and distinguished lineage of forebears comprised of former Irish mercenaries who were recognized as a clan of Scotland as long ago as 1067 when they were granted lands in Ross by a grateful King in return for driving the Vikings from the north.
The clan seat of the parish of Urquhart and Logie Wester in the Black Isle of Scotland was the birthplace of Donald Munro in 1817, with whom the story of the Munro family of Weebollabolla begins.
Donald grew up with a determination to improve his place in the world and no task was beyond him. Feeding animals, milking cows, ploughing fields and harvesting crops as soon as he could walk, made Donald an exceptionally strong man standing well over six feet in height but there was little reward for hard work in the early 1800's.
In 1830, Alexander, a distant cousin of Donald, migrated to Australia and in doing so encouraged other family members to follow.
In 1842, Donald married Margaret Macpherson who gave birth to four children between 1842 and 1848, the first of which was Alexander George Forbes (AGF) Munro. Two weeks after the birth of their fourth child, Donald and family boarded the square-rigger 'John Gray' on April 12th, bound for Australia.
Five long and arduous months of cramped accommodation and poor food saw the family disembark at Sydney and almost immediately step aboard another vessel which sailed to Morpeth where cousin Alexander greeted and escorted them to Patrick's Plain, now known as Singleton.
Wagons were loaded with supplies from Alexander's stores and the frustrating journey over the black soil plains drenched by recent rains began. Through Invermein (Scone) and Murrurundi they travelled before climbing the range to Currabubula and turning north-west over the Namoi River to Alexander's property Tariaro, near the present-day Narrabri, where Donald Munro remained for five years repaying the debt of passage for his family owed to his kinsman Alexander.
In 1851, Alexander sold Donald land, a house and a store in Singleton. During the decade Donald moved to the Turon goldfield at Bathurst, where he traded goods to the miners on the field in return for gold, which in-turn, he sold for a higher value in Sydney. His entrepreneurial spirit ensured that Donald grasped opportunity wherever it appeared and he eventually sold the store and land back to Alexander in 1860 for more than twice what he had paid for the property.
Following several successful trading years at Turon, Donald returned with the family, including a fourth son, one year-old Donald, to Tariaro in 1854. Donald was then able to purchase a half-share in the property from Alexander and following the birth of daughter Isobel Sophia a year later, sold his share and moved north-west to lease Boggy Creek between Narrabri and Moree on which he grazed 200 cattle.
Donald moved quickly to purchase a newly established store at Moree where the family settled in 1857 and in 1858 added Booligar to his landholding to make up fifty square miles of grazing country. Less than a year after purchasing the Moree store it was sold to provide Donald with sufficient funds to buy Keera at Bingara from the Macpherson family.
Alec (AGF Munro) was removed from high school in Maitland at the age of 16 to manage Booligar in 1860 and following the sale of the property, he moved to Keera as manager in 1866.
In 1862, the low quality and high cost of flour from South Australia and America moved Donald to build a flour mill at Tamworth which was enormously successful, ultimately being purchased by Fielder Milling (now Goodman Fielder). The mill still stands in Tamworth today. It was during that year that another son, Hugh Robert, was born.
In 1866, at less than fifty years of age, Donald Munro died from ptomaine poisoning from a tin of contaminated salmon. On his deathbed, a will was drawn up appointing his wife Margaret, kinsman Alexander and his eldest son Alec as executors of his estate. Alec ran the business for the next six years when, in 1873, he married Mary Constance Hare, who ultimately bore him ten children.
As a young man, Alec had visited Dartbrook, the Hall brother's home property at Scone and a lasting impression of the large-framed, robust, Durham herd had remained with him. The Hall brothers were descendants of Thomas Hall, a leading breeder of Shorthorn Cattle in England and owner of the renowned cow, 'Tripes', root dam of the famous 'Princess' family, the first female line documented in the Coates Herd Book, the world's first record of beef cattle pedigrees.
Hall Brothers adopted the style of their forefathers with the purchase of breeding stock from John Lee of Bylong in 1848. The Lee family had since the early 1930's, imported a number of bulls from England, including 'Napoleon', a bull bred by Queen Victoria at the Windsor Stud Farm. To this day, the Lee family continues to breed high quality Shorthorn cattle on their Bylong Properties.
The Lee sires were used extensively by the Hall brothers to improve the nations fledgling beef herd which was comprised of primarily wild, Zebu-infused 'run-out' animals, being originally imported from the Cape Province in South Africa.
Thomas Hall had sufficient water and feed on his Hunter Valley properties to maintain a substantial income during several years of widespread drought and bank balance which allowed him to purchase land at Manilla (Cuerind) and Moree (Boolooroo and Weebollabolla).
The name Weebollabolla is the Aboriginal name for 'end of the great fire', where the timbered country of the western slopes of New South Wales meets the open vastness of the plains. In 1848 Weebollabolla carried 1,300 cattle on the 44,800 acres, much more of it regarded as having little value due to sparse water, limited to small pools in the numerous creeks.
In 1873, the vast Hall Brothers estates were offered for sale. Included in the sale were 500 of the Durham cows 'given-in' on Weebollabolla and Boolooroo Stations. The cows had been relocated from Dartbrook Station due to a severe drought in the Hunter.
The following year, a partnership of Alec and his brother William Ross purchased Weebollabolla from the Hall brothers. The property was a conglomerate of freehold head-station and adjoining conditional-purchase blocks and other leases.
On a Wednesday afternoon, Ross received a telegram from brother Alec in Sydney, saying that they had been successful in purchasing Weebollabolla at auction. However whilst the sale had been agreed upon, a change of ownership meant that the leased land attached to the freehold was vulnerable to public selection and conditional purchase offer prior to survey being completed.
Ross immediately saddled a horse for a 130 mile ride to reach Warialda court house before it closed on Thursday afternoon. He arrived at Barraba at midnight, exchanging his horse for a second mount to complete his journey. Upon arrival at the township of Bingara, it was obvious that his mount could not continue at the necessary pace for the remaining 25 miles. The problem was solved when the Bingara publican, whom Ross knew well, offered him his race mare 'Topsy' to gallop to Warialda where he laid claim to the two crucial main block of Weebollabolla to enure the property remained a viable size.
At the opening of business the following day, claimants who by then had become aware of the opportunity provided by transfer of ownership, were astounded to learn of the breakneck ride of 130 miles in 24 hours.
Nearly 140 years ago, Alexander George Forbes and his brother William Ross Munro assumed ownership of Weebollabolla and to this day the property has remained largely intact in the ownership and stewardship of the same family.
To finance the purchase of stock and fence the newly acquired property, many of the livestock on Keera, the property which was managed by brother Hugh, were sold and a mortgage was given to secure borrowing which, through extensive livestock trading and expansion of the business, were repaid by 1880.
The Munro's stocked the property with sheep in addition to the 200 stud Durham cows and 2,500 herd cattle and horses and flock numbers eventually rose to number 12,000 in what was at the time, primarily cattle country.
From 1878 to 1880, the property was expanded with the addition of 7,894 acres through conditional purchase legislation and it was during this period that the homestead was moved from the flood-prone banks of the Mehi River to a ridge of red earth some fifteen feet higher from which gangs of Chinese laboured had cleared timber at the rate of seven shillings per acre.
In 1881, the partnership was dissolved and Alec paid William Ross £15,000 for his share of Weebollabolla and the stock were divided equally. Ross then purchased Boomba, carrying 10,000 sheep and 5,000 Shorthorns on the Baloone River at St. George for £35,000. Ross sold the entire herd apart from the best 200 cows with which he founded a stud using Weebollabolla bulls as herd improvers.
In 1883, the brothers decided to sell Keera, which at the time consisted of 172,800 acres of freehold, conditional-purchase and leasehold country. Keera ran 3,500 cattle, 10,000 and 120 horses and Hugh Munro remained as manager for the new owners led by Thomas Cook of Turanville. The sale was completed in 1887 by which time, Alec and Mary had a family of ten children. A condition of purchase was Hugh retaining the right to re-purchase the property which he exercised following the death of Thomas Cook.
William Ross Munro died in 1946 at 96 years of age.
During 1885, Alec borrowed £21,250 to finally pay out Ross and mortgaged Weebollabolla to restructure the business and purchase more Boolooroo country. At the time, the home property carried 34,000 sheep, 3,500 cattle and 120 horses which provided opportunity for Alec to engage in large-scale trading of stock to repay the debt incurred through additional land purchases by 1895.
The same year proved tragic for the family as an epidemic of diptheria struck. Despite the property foreman Kane standing knee deep in a dam to collect leaches which were prescribed as a remedy to heal the children, Edith, William Clifford and George, died on the way to a Chinese doctor at Narrabri.
In 1888, the year Alec turned 43, Roland Forbes (RF Munro) was born. Educated at Moree in his primary years, he attended secondary school at Warwick and later Newington College. Roley closely resembled his father in character, was an excellent horseman and renowned as an astute judge of cattle and horses from a young age.
The highlight of 1894 was possibly their red-necked, white roan Weebollabolla Charmer being awarded the Champion Shorthorn Bull sash at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney.
In 1898, with debt cleared, Alec turned to Queensland where the laws regarding purchase and lease of lands differed from New South Wales, to seek further investments. His experienced with variation of rainfall within a given season and within a district was not a forgotten lesson and for this reason he had used stock routes to both move livestock and spell paddocks.
Alec purchased the lease of Goodar Station, a property of 100,000 acres north-west of Goondiwindi in Queensland and Boonal on the heavy black soil plains north-east of Moree on the Macintyre River.
Three years later, in 1901, Alec's eldest son Donald, purchased Rugby, a 22,000 acre holding bounding Goodar, where he developed a Shorthorn stud bred from 500 Weebollabolla heifers joined to Goodar bulls. From 1908 Donald sourced poll bulls from his brother Charles at Arcot.
Following the end of the war in 1945, a half share in Rugby was sold by Donald's eldest son Keith to avoid resumption under the Returned Soldiers Land Settlement Scheme and the balance of the property was disposed of by the family in 1974.
During the early years of the 20th Century, notwithstanding the worst drought since European Settlement which gripped the country, Alec continued to improve the quality of his Shorthorn herd. 'Lord Weston', the Royal Melbourne Champion was purchased in 1902 and a number of notable sires, 'Bovril' and 'Grand Duke of Ruddington' were imported from Mr Mill's herd of Nottingham and 'King Jubilant' was imported in 1908.
Simultaneously, Alec converted 12,000 acres of Goodar to freehold for £60,000 and found himself deeply in debt. A heavily stocked property named Tomo, near Bollon in Queensland was leased, however the stock were of no value as drought had embraced the nation. Soon after, as in all stories of good fortune on the land, it rained, and the stock was sold for a welcomed profit.
Alec was sixty years of age when he returned the lease to the State Government. Prior to departure, he dug up several bottle trees on the property and returned to Weebollabolla, where he cleared his debt and vowed never to enslave himself to debt again.
The bottle trees thrived and remain at Weebollabolla today.
A.G.F. (Alec) Munro was a practical man who was free of procrastination and devoted himself to the implementation of his ideas which were based on experience and logic. He evolved the style of beast which was capable of giving the highest return to the breeder and at the same time, was capable of dealing with adversity associated with the Australian environment.
High carriage of head, laid-in shoulder blades allowing an animal to walk long distances, good length between hook and pin with the pin bones themselves set wide apart to facilitate ease of calving. These were all practical observations that were, and still are, the hallmarks of the Weebollabolla herd. Alec refused to believe that the very thing for which a breeder was paid, carcass weight, could be maintained breeding smaller framed cattle.
The somewhat unique style of Weebollabolla cattle was set in stone by AGF Munro and was continued by his son Roley when he assumed classing duties. Durham cattle have a traditional propensity to have a coarse, heavy coat and during Roley's stewardship a softer, finer hair type was selected within the sires and breeding cows.
Alec's sons, Donald, Alfred, Charles and Roley were employed as managers for the properties, which he placed in trust, however they received no distributions. Alec insisted on his buggy and two ponies to get about years after the introduction of motorised transport and he retained control of the operation until his death.
In 1919, 76 years of age and under considerable pressure from his sons, Alec formed the AGF Munro Partnership. The company assets were consisted of stock only, no landholdings.
Donald received 5,813 acres of Tareelaroi the year he married Clementine Chesworth, 1913. His father had purchased the property in 1901 soon after buying the adjoining block, The Junction from John Macdonald. He also acquired Black Jack, a block south of Moree in 1929 which was part of Weebollabolla. Donald and Clementine's eldest of two sons, Donald Arthur Ronald, enlisted on the RAAF and was shot down over North Africa in July, 1942, at aged 24.
Today, Donald Munro's grand-daughters Wendy (now Bunce), Cate (now Pearse) and Abbey (now Dixon) still maintain an interest in Tareelaroi. Their father Keith Munro died in 1977 and the Tareelaroi stud soon after dissolved. Donald's wife Annie continued managing the property until her death in 2005. Over the years Wendy and Cate have purchased bulls at the annual Weebollabolla sale.
Alfred received 3,865 acres of Boonal on which he lived, unmarried until he died in 1974 at 100 years of age.
Charles Alexander, a popular and capable man and the third of Alec's sons, received 3,064 acres of Boonal. He established a Poll Shorthorn stud at Kondar, Goondiwindi with poll cows from the Goodar herd which he selected as part of his entitlement.
Charles purchased his own property Arcot at Inglewood in 1908 and in later years added Weymo and Jellicoe to his holdings. He married in 1909 and with his wife, Winifred Turbayne raised five children before his untimely death at the age of 51 in 1927, when his pony fell on him whilst warming up for a polo match. His son Charles and wife Margaret still live on Jellicoe today and continue to purchase bulls from Weebollabolla.
Roley, the youngest son, married Ruth Macdougall in 1914. Roley was gifted with 3,332 acres of Weebollabolla and later owned the entire property. Ruth gave birth to their first son in 1915, Bruce Alexander who was killed fighting in Malaya in WWII. Another son, Wallace Forbes Munro and two daughters, Joan and Penelope followed.
Alec died in 1919 at the age of 66, leaving his estate to be managed by his sons Donald, Roley and Alfred. Redbank, a subdivision of the Boolooroo aggregation which belongs to Alec's daughters, was transferred to Roley's family and the remainder added to Tareelaroi.
Roley was an exceptional camp drafter and in 1920 organised a team of men, including many Aboriginal stockmen, to travel to the Royal Easter Show in Sydney to demonstrate the skills of the Australian stockmen. From this exhibition evolved the RAS night time programme including the rodeo which he judged, always mounted on his horse in the ring. Weebollabolla horses made up a large component of the NSW Mounted Police force in the early 1900's.
At the 1934 Sydney Royal Show the compact, very early maturing 'Scotch Shorthorn' which was fetching enormous sums of money in Argentina at the time, was all the rage in the judging rings. At the completion of judging, Roley Munro stated that he would continue to breed cattle of the old type because any experienced breeder should know that:
It is a continual battle when breeding cattle to keep size in herd.
If you deliberately bred small cattle, they will continue to get smaller.
Once your herd loses scale it takes a long time to breed size back into your cattle.
If you sell your fat cattle by the estimated lb (kg) weight, why not breed a heavy beast to sell at any age?
When the Poll Shorthorn Society was formed, Roley Munro selected the best of his polled females and established a separate herd which he ran independently from the horned herd. The breed society had established a 'foundation' register for commercial females which allowed their female progeny to be upgraded to the Herd Book or 'stud' register at the time and Roley took the opportunity to enrol 100 of his Poll Shorthorn Weebollabolla cows in the Society's foundation register.
In 1939, Wallace enlisted in the 24th Light Horse regiment and was promoted to Sergeant and later Lieutenant in 1941. He was transferred to the North Australia Observer Unit, serving at Wyndham, Burketown, Normanton, Darwin and in Arnhem Land for much of the war. The NAOU was to remain behind Japanese lines should Australia be invaded from the north.
Wally was gifted with an eye for a fine beast, a good horse and profitable piece of dirt. He was acknowledged as having an extremely astute business mind in the same vein as his Grandfather Alec (AGF) Munro.
Wally married Moira Finlay in 1948 and they had one son, Alexander Forbes (Sandy) and three daughters, Jane, Susan and Mary.
The Queensland Country Life of August 1953 noted the Australian record sale from one entity to another of 410 Boonal Shorthorn herd bulls valued at £30,000 to the North Australian Pastoral Company's Alexandria, Monkira and Glenormiston Stations. This sale brought the total number of AGF Munro bulls sold to NAPCO to well over 2,000.
In September, OCL recorded the sale of 530 Munro Shorthorn four year old bullock, bred at Goodar and fattened at Boonal to Q.M.E. Co. Ltd, which paid £60 for 330 and £50 for the remaining 200. Roley Munro was quoted as saying 'the size for age of these cattle is a special significance for the Shorthorn breed in Australia as they were bred to a programme which deliberately avoided the introduction of Scottish cattle lacking scale'.
'There's no reason at all why we can't breed two year old Shorthorn steers carrying 700lbs (320kgs) of beef equal in quality to that of the 500lbs steer of the smaller type', he said.
In 1962, Roley died aged 74 and Wallace assumed control of the AGF Munro Partnership. Five years later Sandy returned home from secondary education at the Kings School in Sydney to commence work on the family properties.
Due to the popularity of Munro cattle, the private selection of bulls which was the norm since 1880, had developed into something of a problem for Wally, with clients making the earliest appointments for inspection having the choice of superior bulls. So in 1968, the first Weebollabolla on-property sales was conducted.
Following restructuring of the family partnership between Wally and his sisters in the early '70's, the AGF Munro partnership, which was now between father and son, purchased Mittiebah Station in the Northern Territory, a former subdivision of the vast Alexandria Downs.
Mittiebah carried 10,000 head at time of purchase but by 1995 the herd consisted of 15,000 brood cows and a total of 38,000 cattle. Weebollabolla bulls were used in conjunction with Droughtmaster, Tuli, red-factor Charolais, Red Angus and red Brahmans to achieve a uniform herd of tropically adapted, high quality cattle on Mittiebah.
Sandy married Judith Howle in 1972 and moved to manage Redbank and raise in the coming years their four daughters Catriona, Kirsten, Jennifer and Jacquelin. In 1973 by which time the annual Weebollabolla bull sale was a fixture for every Shorthorn breeder on the east coast, 154 bulls grossed $537,758 at auction to average $3,492 and a selling to a top of $16,000.
1974 saw an incredible 631 Weebollabolla-blood bulls sold privately and at auction, as far away as Moolla Boolla Station, Halls Creek, in Western Australia. It was also the year in which a likable young man named Bruce McNeil came from Scotland to jackaroo at Weebollabolla for six months. The same likeable man, managed Mayvale which Sandy purchased in 2001 and sold in 2011, at the foot of Mount Lindesay in the picturesque Kaputar Ranges, Barraba.
During the partnership between Wally and Sandy, other land acquisitions included Tobermorey near Boulia, Lucknow Downs and Bendboi near Surat, Pipersleigh near Texas and Bryanunga near Tulloona. Commencing in 1980, the partnership began diversifying into irrigated and dry land farming, producing summer and winter crops, primarily on Boonal, which until recently has been under the astute management of Keith Clark since 1988.
1985 was the year in which Wally's wife Moira passed away. In the same year, Steve Kneipp was appointed to manage the poll herd of stud Shorthorns at Boonal. Steve's ability to consider and implement change in the breeding and management of the herd has added dynamism to the production of Weebollabolla seed stock bulls. He possessed an enthusiasm and yearning for new ideas matched by few others in the industry.
Wallace Forbes Munro was re-married to Ann Stokes in 1991 and lived for another nine years before his death at 79 years of age at the turn of the millennium.
Wally's passing in March 2000 left a son, Sandy, and three daughters Jane Munro, Susan Ross and Mary Moses. A decision was made to restructure the business, a process which was facilitated through dissolving the AGF Munro Partnership and the sale of Redbank and Mittiebah Station in the Territory. Sandy and his sisters worked very closely to achieve a positive succession plan resulting in Sandy Munro becoming Managing Director of Norland Pastoral Pty Limited. Angus Bruxner played a pivotal role in this plan and was subsequently appointed a Director of the company.
The driest continent in the world was again hit by drought in the early years of the 21st century and Mayvale had to be completely destocked in 2002, a year after purchase. The drought forced the implementation of 'drought-proofing' measures and Sandy sought and was granted a license for a 2,000 head feedlot on Weebollabolla.
The feedlot not only provides an earlier return for young cattle but also a higher price for stock meeting Meat Standards Australia specifications. Steer weaners and cull heifers are removed from pastures for short-fed programmes, allowing an increase area for cultivation or expanded breeding numbers on the properties. The facility also provides an avenue to ensure young heifers reach target weights at which they can be mated to ensure conception.
Sandy and Judy's four daughters remain a very close family. Catriona lives in Sydney with her three children: Roley, Wilhelmina and Xanthia. Kirsten and her husband Daniel Spencer live in Singapore with their three children Annabelle, Thomas and Henry. Jennifer lives with her husband John Jeffreys, twin daughters Amelia and Georgina, and son James on Delegate Station, Delegate. Jen continues to work for the family business and is a Director. Jacquelin lives with her husband Bill McCutcheon on Brooklyn Narromine with their son Wallace and also helps with the Annual Bull Sale.
Sandy Munro's approach to sustaining the Norland Pastoral operation relates to spreading risk and optimising profitability and both location of properties and selection of product are designed to achieve both. To minimise valuable time spent travelling by road or commercial flights. Sandy obtained his pilot's license in 1974.
Head office is based at Weebollabolla which encompasses the Annual Bull Sale, 250 performance recorded females, 1000 head feedlot and cropping. The family resides in the historic homestead which first underwent renovation and alteration in 1930 and has since had small improvements as required.
In a world of ever-increasing input costs and regulations the family proudly acknowledges a debt associated with heritage and hard work, foresight and heartbreak of their ancestors. However, change is inevitable and indeed change is the only thing that will sustain a family's long and distinguished association with the land and the Australian beef industry.
Kirst, Jac, Trine, Jen, Judy and Sandy