Ilfracombe, named after a small town in Devonshire England, originated in 1891 as a transport nucleus for Wellshot Station, the largest sheep station in the world at the time (in terms of stock numbers). The town had three hotels - each with its own dance hall, a soft drink maker, a coach builder, two general stores, a billiard saloon, a dressmaker, three commission agents, a couple of butchers, a baker and a saddler. Today there are just 350 people living in a region which covers 6,500 square kilometres.
Another record to be claimed by the region is the moving of the largest mob of sheep as a single flock. In 1886 a mob of 43,000 sheep were moved through the area by a droving team of 27 horsemen. That doesn't include the cooks, blacksmiths and hands which would have been needed to accompany the drovers!
Transport was once the lifeblood of the area. Long before the railway reached as far as Ilfracombe, wagons drawn by up to 30 horses took three months to carry the wool to the nearest port, Rockhampton, 650 kilometres away.
Driving into Ilfracombe, you can’t miss ‘the Great Machinery Mile’, an amazing line-up of historic machinery stretching for more than 1km along the highway. The display is a graphic timeline of mechanisation in the west and for those mechanically minded, it’s even more fun to look at some of the changes that have been made to agricultural machinery over the years.
The trail of machines leads you to the Folk Museum, a replica of an early station residence and chock-a-block with memorabilia. Also situated within the museum complex is Oakhampton Cottage which has its own historical significance and offers tangible glimpses into early outback households and Romani Hall, a memorial to the young men of the region who answered the call to arms. The memorial is dedicated to the Australian Light Horse and houses thought-provoking memorabilia and information on the Light Horsemen and their battles.
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