History of Ilfracombe
650 kilometres from the coast, located between the towns of Barcaldine and Longreach, lies the town of Ilfracombe.
In the 1890s, an Ilfracombe Divisional Board was created under the Divisional Boards Act 1887. With the passage of the Local Authorities Act 1902, Ilfracombe became a Shire Council on the 31st March 1903. The entire shire, covering an area of 6,575.5 square kilometres (2,538.8 sq. miles) was administered from the Council Chambers located in the centre of town. It existed as a local government entity from the 1890s until 10th August 2007, when forced to amalgamate, along with the Shires of Isisford and Longreach, thus forming the Longreach Regional Council.
The landscape rests on soils which are the eroded remnants of a large bed of freshwater inland sea. Water which had once submerged the district, has now left a mantle of tussock grasses, and the sedimentary basins left from past geological times, now supply water to the surface through artesian bores.
It is a remarkable and attractive landscape, with seasonal variation and great productivity. Sheep are nourished by the grasses, allowing the wool production to continue.
In 1846, the first white travellers passed through what is now the Ilfracombe district. By the middle of the nineteenth century, exploration of Australia's interior was a subject of interest and frenzied activity. Loyal men of Empire considered the blank spaces on the map to be an insult to the supremacy of the civilisation on which the sun never set. New land seekers were emerging and were beginning to scan the explorers journals for clues as to where the good grazing land was.
In 1872, Alexander Buchanan acquired one million acres of land which became Wellshot Station. Partnerships were formed with Scottish and New Zealand financiers in order to develop the property and build permanent water holes. To this day, visitors can still see the flagstones that were cleverly placed to not only catch water, but to reduce erosion.
In 1893, modern technology made it possible to sink a bore one kilometre deep underground. Precious water flowed across the country and made it possible for the land to carry more sheep than ever before. Because of this, Wellshot Station was the largest sheep station in Australia.
The railway arrived in 1891, and the town was renamed Ilfracombe to avoid confusion with the station. The irony is, this outback town was actually named after a little seaside village in England.
The town was thriving in its day, and a forward thinker by the name of Patrick Finn from Barcaldine, decided to pull down his pub in Barcaldine and cart it by bullock teams to Ilfracombe where he rebuilt it before the railway actually arrived. He called it the Wellshot Hotel, which still stands today.
Another famous building is the Langenbaker House. Harry Langenbaker was one of the first teamsters to move his house to Ilfracombe, but because of ongoing droughts and introduction of modern transport, there was no longer a need for teamsters as a method of transport. The Langenbakers then settled down in Ilfracombe and raised 11 children.
In 1921, a tragic accident occurred, leaving one of the children, Les, blind. The house and contents were kept unchanged to allow Les to find his way around the house.
Ilfracombe Shire Council purchased the cottage so visitors could enjoy a glimpse into the pioneering past.
During 1900 - 1901, there was a severe drought in the land and the Wellshot Station lost over 220,000 sheep. It was subdivided and by 1926, drought and depression had reduced the flock to 40,000. It was no longer the largest sheep station in Australia.
'A Rush For Grass' by Peter Forrest, is a great book full of the history of the Ilfracombe Region, and is available for purchase at the price of $35 per copy, plus postage from the Longreach Regional Council Ilfracombe Branch by contacting them by phone or email at:
07 4658 2233
It is also available at the Wellshot Centre and Post Office.
Information supplied by the then Ilfracombe Shire Council and excerpts taken from 'A Rush for Grass'