Groongal Station

Groongal Station (1839-)

Groongal Station has been owned by the Merrylees family since 1924; the records held by the Regional Archives relate to their ownership.

Groongal and neighbouring Benerembah (much of which now comprises the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area) were taken up in 1839 by Henry O'Brien of Yass. In 1848 Groongal comprised 60,000 acres. Subsequent leaseholders included members of the Guise, Alleyne, Harvey and Cockburn families. In 1865 the Learmonth brothers bought the lease, and between 1868 and 1875 built an imposing two storied brick homestead on a commanding site overlooking the Murrumbidgee River. They steadily acquired freehold title to some 300,000 acres embracing Groongal, Wyvern (the eastern part of Groongal) and Bringagee. In 1893 these three runs were carrying 45,000 breeding ewes. Ralph Falkiner purchased Groongal in 1911 and by 1921 held some 124,561 acres. He subdivided and sold the property in 1924, when W.A. Merrylees & Sons of Charlton, Victoria acquired the frontage portion of 37,470 acres.

Groongal has a long history of riparian irrigation; Somerville Learmonth obtaining a license in 1898 under section 12 of 1896 Water Rights Act. In 1916 Falkiner obtained a new license under the 1912 Act to water 100 acres, and this license was taken over by the Merrylees family. They would probably have followed the lead of most of their neighbours and used their pumped water for stock and domestic purposes, with a limited amount of irrigation of natural pasture to provide drought insurance for their stud sheep. However, Dr W.A. Merrylees (1900-69) was eager to diversify production and from 1928 encouraged his father, sister and two brothers to acquire increased water rights. Bill Merrylees' decision in 1935 to resign from the University of Melbourne, where he had been a senior lecturer in philosophy, was followed by the partition of Groongal between himself, his brother Joe and his sister Bell, and the creation of the new partnership of Merrylees & Co. Bill's brother Tom and their parents returned to Victoria, where Tom took over management of the family's Charlton properties. Bill meanwhile pressed on with his plan to convert Groongal into a huge mixed farm-a scheme that alarmed Joe, who wanted to concentrate on establishing a merino stud. Undeterred by his brother's opposition and their bankers' misgivings, Bill and his wife Annie formed a separate partnership in 1938 to irrigate the western portion of the property, known as Coonara (amounting to some 14,750 acres). In 1940 Bill and Annie withdrew from the partnership of Merrylees & Co.; Joe Merrylees and his sister, now Mrs Wilf Diss, formed the partnership of Merrylees & Diss to run the balance of Groongal. In 1951 Joe and Bell divided their stock and movable property, Joe forming the new partnership of J.E. Merrylees & Co. between himself and his wife Rose.

Records in this accession include the annual accounts of W.A. Merrylees & Sons (1923-36), Merrylees & Diss (c. 1941-51) and J.E. Merrylees & Co. (1951-57). The records also document the distribution of assets between Mrs Diss and her brother in 1951 and have entries relating to employees' wages, stock numbers, sheep crutching and shearing tallies, and pumping hours for Groongal (last entry 1962).

Compiled by : Don Boadle.

Sources : Merrylees, Caroline, Brave Beginnings: A History of the Carrathool District Hay, 1983, pp.16-18, 30; Boadle, Donald 'William Andrew Merrylees (1900-1969) in John Ritchie (ed.), Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 15, Melbourne, 2000, pp. 361-362; Client files 11779/81 (1935), M18 (1938), M297, M298, M299 (1940-41), Blake & Riggall records (University of Melbourne Archives); WC&IC license files (NSW Department of Land & Water Conservation).