Mt Weld Station

© Janet Lane. All rights reserved. Image is from The Sun (Kalgoorlie), 23rd July 1929.

Read our history of Mt Weld Station to understand more about the history of our foundation generation Walers. A list of the Mt Weld Walers we know about can be found here.

Mount Weld since 2011, has been a mine site in Western Australia leased by Lynas Rare Earths. It’s still a pastoral property too, this has been its history for over a century. The property is located about 30 km south of Laverton and 120 km east of Leonora; approximately 1,000km north east of Perth. It’s one of the richest major rare earth deposits in the world.

At the Laverton country races in 1914, one race was the Mt Weld Cup. All horses at these races were station horses, no Thoroughbreds. Wood Bug won, closely followed by Blue Gum and Mrs Pankhurst. Horses from Mt Weld station usually entered these races.

Mr George A. McOmish owned the station from the 1890’s and sold it in 1920, he had cattle and very good horses there. The new owners – the Repatriation Department – would not agree with him about a price for the stock. McOmish had thought selling them the property would benefit returned soldiers. He was quickly disillusioned but left the stock behind for them for nothing – but was told to have them all off within 6 months (unable to discover if he managed this).

McOmish moved into one of the two pubs he owned, the Hotel Australia, in Laverton. The other he owned there was the Palace Hotel, better known as McOmish’s Palace. He’d found rather a lot of gold in his mining efforts. He also had mining and pastoral interests – primarily sheep – at Burtville. George took ill at home at Laverton (the pub where he lived) in 1921, after six weeks he recovered – but then a horse kicked him in the arm. He contracted pleurisy at the hospital and died of it a few weeks after returning home. He left a widow and 18year old son, also named George.

McOmish was a Scot who came to Australia aged 17. First to NSW then to WA, fossicking. He worked hard. He moved to the Laverton area – pretty much the first colonial there – spending a few years looking for gold, striking it lucky in 1896. He was one of the people who established Laverton, and the first to take the lease of Mt Weld Station – first for his British Flag mine then for a pastoral lease. In fact, Laverton was first called British Flag after his British Flag Gold Mine, then renamed for a good doctor, Dr. Laver. He was astute about buying the best and strongest horses he could.  He did a lot for his community, and for miners and pastoralists, and was on the committee of the Laverton Board of Health, the Mt Margaret Road Board and the Laverton District Racing Club and Northern Goldfields Racing Club among others, for years. The government appointed he and two other locals to care for the Laverton public sports ground.  

Norman Bilson, a good horseman, worked for McOmish until he left, then Norman worked for Billy (William) Hill- also known as Barbwire Billy as he was good at getting cattle fencing done – on another station, until Mr Hill died. A stockman and drover, Norman also worked for others and in the sandalwood trade. When he was aged a friend applied for a Native Affairs pension for him as he was going blind and unable to work. The last station he worked for drove him into Kalgoorlie and abandoned him there.

In the 1930’s there were 7,500 sheep plus cattle (can’t find a number) on Mt Weld and Mr and Mrs Guy Bateman were managing it for the Mt Weld Pastoral Co. There were several employees including Frank Mottrim, Mr Bennett and C. R. Darbyshire. P.D. Hutton and the Bateman brothers were the Mt Weld Pastoral Company and took the property up for pastoral uses. Presumably from the Repatriation Department. Miners had been operating on there for some time. The company fenced about 120,000 acres soon after gaining the lease, and ran a lot of cattle (no number but said to be more than sheep) and about 4,000 sheep to start with.

Hematite was mined on Mt Weld before pastoral leases, some mines there were ancient, it being a primary source of ore for the Aboriginal people, who had a lot of stone mining tools there and mine galleries. Daisy Bates recorded some facts about that. Early colonial miners needed tough horses to carry ore out and were working there before pastoral leases. Most early mine leases on Mt Weld were about 12 acres.

Due to gold and metals being found in the greater area and a lot on Mt Weld, coach services to and from Laverton, Menzies, Leonora and Kalgoorlie became frequent by the 1890’s with a good demand for tough coach horses. These coaches also ran from the Weld range area to Cue and thence to the coast. Many of these were owned by Jules Gascard and his powerful coach horses, pulling an average of a ton of ore on each run as well as passengers and mail and supplies, were said to be the best coach horses in the world. Cobb & Co also ran coaches there, and others. The rail coming to Laverton in the early 1900’s cut out some coach routes however wool, cattle and ore still needed to be taken to the railhead by strong horses. Some coach routes continued well in the 1920’s, and local coach drivers were famous, such as Frank Banks, Jimmy Todd, Dick (Richard) Daley, Jim Richards and Jimmy Nicholas. In 1893 Jimmy – who’d been driving coaches in the toughest country for many years – had to buy several hundred horses in a hurry to set up a coaching run from Coolgardie. The company he was buying for soon sold out to Cobb & Co who then sold out to Kidman and Jimmy, in partnership. They did well out of it. Jimmy said the best driver of them all was Jimmy Foy. Kidman went up to Owens Springs and bought 2,000 horses for half a crown each which he took to Adelaide then out to the goldfields for the coaches. So the Owen Springs Suffolk Punch blood went into the local horses including Laverton and Mt Weld.

The Hill family who had Murrin Murrin, Bandya and Lake Wells in the Laverton area, took up the pastoral lease of Mt Weld from the 1950’s (?) and ran 8,000 sheep and cattle. Sheep were given up by the 1960’s due to predation by dingos; after turning solely to cattle, there were problems with dingos taking calves too. Excess feral camels caused some problems to infrastructure. They actively farmed for biodiversity. It is tough country and good horses were bred for coaching, wool wagons, droving and station work.

Posted by Janet Lane

Rare breeds advocate, and Waler researcher and owner/advocate since the 1980s.