150 years of Undoolya station and Centralian pastoralists

The Northern Territory’s oldest pastoral leases, No. 1 and 2, were issued to Edward ‘Ned’ Meade Bagot in April 1872 to form a property he named Undoolya (Ntuyle) station, believed to have an Aboriginal meaning of ‘shade’. At that time, Undoolya covered 575 square miles and extended from Simpsons Gap almost to Ross River, and included what is now Alice Springs. Another South Australian, Joseph Gilbert, was issued with leases Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 to form Owen Springs station.

The original Undoolya homestead was built that year, believed to be the oldest building in Central Australia apart from the telegraph station. Connection of the Overland Telegraph line from Adelaide to Palmerston (present-day Darwin) was completed in August 1872.

In March the following year, sons of Bagot and Gilbert – Ned Bagot Jnr, his step-brother James Churchill Smith, and William Gilbert – arrived with the first mob of cattle for the Central Australian stations. The first well on Undoolya was also sunk that year, in 1873, near the homestead.

In 1876, Bagot sold his lease to Andrew Tennant and John Love. A severe drought in the 1890s, followed by the Australia-wide financial crash and depression in the early 1900s, resulted in a collapse of the cattle and horse-breeding industry in Central Australia. In June 1891 Tennant and Love sold their four leases – 1, 2, 16 and 17 – to D Murray, B Russell and RM Kane.

The following month, all four leases were transferred to the Willowie Land and Pastoral Association Limited which struggled on through the depression until purchased by William and Mary Hayes (nee Stratford) in 1906.

William and Mary Hayes and their five children – Mary, Jane, Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’, John and baby Edward (Ted Snr) – had come to Central Australia in 1884 with five bullock wagons loaded with stores, household goods, tools, fencing materials and steel telegraph posts. The wagons were followed by the older children on ponies and the milking cows. Sir Thomas Elder had contracted William to build fences and sink dams and bores on Owen Springs and Mount Burrell stations, which Elder owned. William also had the task of replacing the original timber telegraph poles erected in 1872, which were being destroyed by white ants, with steel poles and new wire.

Now run by a fifth generation of the Hayes family at Undoolya, Ben Hayes and his wife  Nicole, on 17 September 2022, held a celebration and plaque unveiling at the homestead to pay tribute to the pastoral pioneers of Central Australia who ‘through vision, courage and strength … triumphed over hardship to lay the foundations for those that followed in their footsteps. The plaque was unveiled by President of the Northern Territory’s Cattlemen’s Association, David Connolly.

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