Monday, April 22, 2024

Historic Northcote family woolshed reveals its storied past

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What they found underneath Highfield woolshed when they lifted the building tells a tale of its own.
The shed on the Northcotes’ stations was built in 1887 after giant North Island rimu beams were hauled in by sea and overland, and the building saw the first use of machine shears, in 1892.
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This article was one of the most popular articles on farmersweekly.co.nz in 2023.

By Emma Blom, AgriHQ/Farmers Weekly cadet

The Northcote brothers, Michael and Hugh, own an inherited station that has been in the family since 1884. Hugh runs Whalesback Station and Highfield is Michael’s. Their great grandfather and uncle built the historical woolshed in 1887 shortly after migrating from England and it is still cherished today. 

The shed is mostly made from North Island rimu that was shipped into Lyttelton and made its way to the salt creek. The 10m-long beams and trusses then made the challenging journey to just shy of Waiau township by  horse and cart – a “mean feat in those days”, Michael said. 

The Northcote family were the first to instal machine shears, in 1892. Stories of the old days have been passed down and it is believed that shearers “chopped and changed between machine and blades a lot in the early years”, Michael said. The old hand tech wasn’t ready to be retired. 

Damage to the woolshed during the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake. Photo: Northcote family

In 2016, the Kaikoura 7.8 earthquake caused significant damage to the Whalesback and Highfield farming operations. Every building on the two properties was damaged and required rebuilding or repairs. Several minor buildings and the family home on Highfield still need to be rebuilt. 

Damage was also done to the woolshed, resulting in the back wall falling out, several internal features being damaged and the entire building shifting several meters north because the piles were not attached to the woolshed. During the repair process, the building was propped up and, conveniently, fell back into shape. After consultation with a Heritage architect, the wooden building was restored to its original state. The shed was inoperable for two years and during this time the Northcotes’ sheep were shorn on a neighbouring property. 

Repairs underway. The shed officially re-opened in late 2018. Photo: Northcote family

The 24-stand woolshed has not only shorn thousands of sheep over the years but served another purpose for the community. When the building was lifted for repairs it was “interesting what we found underneath in amongst the sheep shit: we cleaned out combs, cutters, blades, various types of footwear, including high heels, dancing shoes, and a lot of various bottles”,  Micheal said. 

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