The Brooklands Story 1877-2022
In 1877 Richard, a son of the Methodist patriarch Thomas Southwell, began clearing a 220-acre block of land on the other side of the hill from the family home at Parkwood. His brother James took an adjacent block. By 1882 Richard's Brooklands was well established. In that year he married Amelia, the sister of his neighbour Ellis Smith of Woodgrove and, with an eye to the future, built a school When it was officially recognised in 1890 he donated its two acres to the Department of Public Instruction. For nearly thirty years it educated his children and those of the neighbourhood.
He grew wheat and oats and grazed sheep and cattle but, finding his acreage inadequate, added to his holdings. The property grew but in the early years of the twentieth century its viability was threatened by the arrival of rabbits in the district. Hares were bad enough but could be kept under control by regular shooting drives, which combined sport with community service. Richard turned the rabbit threat into a business opportunity. In the winter months he bought 2000 pairs a week from local trappers, carted them to Queanbeyan and sent them by rail to the Bungendore freezing works. Even when the market was unprofitable there was no relief from the labour: the rabbits had to be kept down.
From his youth Richard was an accomplished ploughman, winning several prizes in competition in the 1880s. A stalwart of the Wattle Park church, he was prominent in local affairs as a Justice of the Peace. In the endemic disputes between large landholders and smaller neighbours he had successfully sued Everard Crace of Gungahleen for trespass on land at Weetangerra in 1889. It would have been with some satisfaction that when Crace resigned from the Yarrowlumla Shire Council in 1916 Richard was elected to the vacancy. He held the seat until his death in 1933.
Management of Brooklands, and eventually ownership of the property, passed to his youngest son Cedric, who stepped into his father's shoes in many spheres. He had purchased Baroona, 970 acres on the Murrumbidgee, in 1923 but sold it in 1950 to finance the expansion of Brooklands which grew to 1900 acres. Like his father he was a JP and succeeded by election to his father's seat on the Council, which he held continuously for 44 years. He also served on the Pastures Protection Board. The agricultural show at Hall, later the Canberra Show, was a particular interest. His long and dedicated service to the community was recognised by the award of an Order of Australia Medal. Cedric's enduring involvement with the Wattle Park congregation was as secretary and superintendent of its Sunday school for over fifty years. His wife Beryl became the Southwell family historian.
In the 1970s Cedric was succeeded by son Kingsley, who was also elected to the PPB and held a seat on the board until 1989. At its maximum extent the property could carry 3500 sheep and 150 Murray Grey cattle, which were run together for most of the year. By the time Kingsley retired in 2008 Brooklands had been farmed on the same annual cycle for over 120 years. In his words:
- In February-March we put in blackbutt oats for stock feed and wheat for the chooks.
- Before the autumn break the merinos were drenched.
- Lambing was in May, with the ewes supplemented on the previous year's oat crop for the six weeks prior.
- Six weeks after lambing we turned the sheep loose on the green oats but took them off at night to minimize trampling.
- In spring they were drenched again and put out to grass.
- Shearing was in October-November. For 49 years we employed the same family of contractors; at the peak they were shearing 3500 sheep over 12 days. Most of the clip was AAA fine and it topped out at 100 bales (17 tonnes) in the 1980s.
- The oats were harvested at Christmas and it all began again, fire and drought permitting.
In retirement Kingsley and his wife Cynthia devoted themselves to an impressive range of hobbies: his of collecting railway memorabilia, cars, farm machinery and the artefacts of a life on the land; hers of creating stained glass, jewellery and dolls.
The property is in NSW and so was not directly impacted by the creation of Canberra but the city's growth created a demand for rural residential properties and hobby farms. Subdivision became an attractive proposition and at the time of sale in 2022 Brooklands was only one-tenth of its maximum acreage.
It had always been a struggle to make a good living out of grazing a few hundred acres, particularly in the absence of external income. Throughout the district traditional farming and grazing are in decline. Sheep and cattle are making way for grapes, olives and the like.
[Contributed by Kingsley Southwell and Allen Mawer, March 2022]
Click on the caption (⧉) to view photo details and attribution.