In 1865, the NSW Government Gazette reported the sheep carrying capacities of 4 Manilla District Stations. Keypet Station it says, had a grazing capacity of 10,000 sheep, Mundowey 18,000, Retreat 7,500 and Menedebri 10,000.
Shearing Time - Roberts' Sunnyside c.1880s
When the first leasehold holdings came up for review in 1872, there was a rush for selection. This land was sited on the Manilla River in the Upper Manilla valley, the Upper Namoi, Halls Creek, Klori and Keepit. With closer settlement came greatly increased sheep production. By 1880 wool production had become the principal industry of the district. By 1896, a continuous stream of wool teams passed through Manilla on their way to the railhead at Tamworth.
Stocking up after the 1902 drought with sheep was a problem, and sheep were brought from the Riverina. Charles Baldwin of Durham Court bought 10,000 head shipped to Manilla by train. A prolific season followed the drought.
Big wool teams began to make their appearance in 1904 and shearers were putting up big tallies. At the Braes, twelve men working for Sir William Broun sheared 1,824 sheep in one day, averaging 152 sheep per man. In 1907 Manilla railway station received 13,000 bales of wool, much of it coming from the Barraba district.
Shearing Team 1900s
When auctioneer, V.J. Byrnes, after 23 years in business as stock and station agent, built his own saleyards on the northern side of the Namoi river in January 1936, the opening sale attracted a yarding of 45,000 sheep.
From 1935 onwards, Manilla developed into one of the foremost wool and sheep producing districts in New South Wales, due mainly to the merino flock sheep ewe competition conducted by the Upper Manilla Agricultural Bureau for several years; the Manilla Show; and the Manilla Ram sales. These all had a vital effect in breeding better types of sheep and producing higher class wool. The land around was well suited to the production of long wool sheep and fat lambs.
Long-haired Lincoln Ram
Lincoln Ewe c.1931
By 1939, Manilla had become the 'premier stock selling centre in the north of New South Wales with the largest and most up-to-date set of stockyards north of Sydney.' Three-quarters of a million sheep were sold here between March and December 1939 - a record for any one office in Australia, outside the capital cities. Over 100,000 of these were sold in Queensland and total sales averaged over 3,200 per day. The good years would continue on for another decade or so. Within one week in February, 1949, the turnover from stock sales at Manilla yards exceeded £60,000, one sale of sheep realising £49,600.
Wool Bales leaving "Everton" 1933
From 1950 on, wool and sheep prices boomed to incredible heights. District wool sold from 200 to 300 pence per pound, breeding ewes from £20 to £30 per head, and young wool-cutters the same. Shearing rates increased dramatically, as did the cost of shearing accessories, such as combs and cutters, grinding papers, blowfly oil, dips and drenches.
Wool was eventually priced out of competition with synthetics, and so the inevitable slump came and prices fell as dramatically as they had risen. The price of wool and stock were the only things to slump as all labour and shearing accessories continued to rise, so throwing a severe financial strain on the pastoral economy. One section of Manilla district which was formerly given over to sheep and used to truck three to four thousand bales of wool from Manilla, went entirely over to cattle and by the late 1960s, less than 1,000 bales of wool were grown in the district.
Unloading Sheep "Yackatoon" Manilla C. 1960S
By 1970, many farmers had gone out of sheep entirely in favour of beef, and when the slump came, they were left high and dry. Cattle that had been bringing $250 per head a few months before now sold for $30 and $40 per head. Many professional tradesmen who bought properties at high prices during the booms, found themselves in the position of having to go back to their trade or find work at the white asbestos mine at Woodsreef, leaving women and children to look after and run the property. In many cases women also went back to work, perhaps as teachers or nurses, to supplement farm incomes.