Kimo (Ky-mo) is a 7000 acre working sheep and cattle farm. It is one of the oldest properties in this region and it’s history is filled with interesting people. From illegitimate french royalty to legitimate Australian royalty the history of Kimo is a fascinating tale and especially interesting is the obvious power that existed in the emerging colony in agriculture and land ownership that brought simple farmers to be in elevated positions of power, fraternising with politicians and even Governors, all on the lawns of Kimo Estate….
The Murrumbidgee river was home to the predominant indigenous tribe in Australia; the Wiradjuri. Whom obviously had became such a successful tribe in both population and area due to the bountiful food and water that the river lands held. Whilst not confirmed, “Kimo” is said to be an indigenous name for “mountains” and makes reference to the large hills of the now Kimo Range, the name has been a mystery to the current owners since purchase and the family continue to research its etymology. The name, however was adopted by the squatters that arrived in the district who arrived, even before the first Explorer, Charles Sturt passed through. In Sturt’s journal he declared that the [river] “banks were too precipitous, and the ranges too abrupt”, forcing them to cross to the southern side of the river.
Kimo (circa 1830-1832) was first used by several squatters who seemed to have no official ownership of the land. So to talk about the very early history has much to do with who used the land rather than owned it.
Mr William Guise was one who laid claim to the an early parcel of land beginning at Mt Kimo and existing downstream of the of Stuckey’s Ford and the area of Gundagair (an old name for Gundagai). William Guise was a professional squatter at the time and occupied many early runs including Bywong station. Richard (his brother) and William expanded their holdings rapidly in the 1830’s to include properties at Gunning, Gundaroo, Yass, Benenborough, Walwa, Bong Bong, Burra, Twofold Bay, Williamsdale, Hay, Groongal Station as well as properties further south at Buluko and Cunningdroo at the junction of Tarcutta Creek with the Murrumbidgee. This run was soon after merged into their ‘Borambola’ holding. The need of defined boundaries in these days is well indicated by a claim made by Guise to the possession of “all the country between the Murrumbidgee and the Murray above Albury” which takes in hundreds of thousands of acres. Of note is one particular property at Khancoban (or better known as swampy plain at the time) South east of Fringembrong on the Swampy River. It was first formed by William Guise in 1838, it then passed to Mr John Hay who we hear about later in the history of Kimo. It was rumoured that William’s Father, Richard Guise (or De Guise as they were known in France) was the illegitimate son of French royalty and that he was related to Mary Queen of Scots through his well connected family.
The oldest building on the property, which was built at around that time is the original slab hut on this part of Kimo, it is debated as to whether this hut was the hut that housed another set of custodians in the Thompsons who are rumoured to have occupied a slab hut near Nargoon (before the great flood). Nevertheless the hut (circa 1850) which has been lovingly restored and was active, operating the dairy that was set up on Dairy Creek (now known as the long tunnel creek – named after the future gold mine). This charming piece of history in now used as the office of Kimo Estate.
Charles Thompson (Who Thompson St in Wagga is named after) arrived at the foot of Mount Kimo in 1830, after hearing of rich alluvial flats from Sturt’s exploration and steaked his claim to the land on the north side of the river. Later he laid claim to all the land from there to Wagga Wagga and in 1837 a formal government licence scheme for squatters was introduced with Charles very keen to apply. Charles was hereby granted licence no.155 (later no. 42) for his stations: Kimo, Oura and Eunonyhareenyha. Soon after a series of “dry spells” (or droughts) ensued across most of the country over the next decade, compounded by a recession that hit the colony in the 1840’s, Thompson fell into financial trouble and was initially forced to sell all of his Kimo stock (in total 5471 sheep). He re-organised his holdings, deciding to hold onto Kimo and early in the spring of 1841 moved his family here. The site of their simple slab hut residence is said to be at Mickey’s Corner (opposite Nargoon) and this is where their fourth child Elizabeth Anne Thompson was born thought to be the first white baby to be born on the Murrumbidgee. Late in 1843 with worsening economic conditions for both the colony and Charles himself, the lease and improvements at Kimo were sold.
Joseph Andrews , considered by some as one of the founders of Gundagai, established the first public house in Gundagai and also took up a post office as well as various other businesses in the area, known at the time as Stuckey’s Ford. “Major” Joseph Andrews (who was in fact not a major but a sergeant – it seems he gave himself a promotion or two and a commission upon his Australian Adventure) got wind of Thompson’s impending economic downfall (the overseer of the Kimo Run drank at Andrews’ inn) and as the adjoining run-holder (A run initially called Brodribb’s Run, but changed by Andrews to Gundagai) he saw an opportunity to pounce. The price of sheep was so low at the time that Thompson was ordered to sell his sheep, that combined with the fine quality of the animals (that were of Macarthur’s bloodlines from the Nangus run next door), Andrews bought the sheep. Just days later he also purchased a series of lot’s in the “paper town” of Gundagai, which set him on a path to his amazing future. He also expected that the Kimo Run may, in the near future, become available.
Andrews was a close personal friend of Fred Thompson (Charles’ Son who frequented the inn) and it was his suggestion to his father that Andrew’s be encouraged to purchase Kimo at the auction and on the 5th November 1844 Mr Joseph Andrews became the owner of the Kymo (as he preferred to spell it because it was how it was pronounced) lease. Over the years Joseph became more and more enamoured with the life of a farmer that he eventually gave away his inn to his soon to be Son-in-law and daughter and while still maintaining a house near town moved to Kymo. In 1847 the land laws were to be amended and Andrews definitely sought to secure his two Runs. In 1848 the application was formally gazetted as consisting of an estimated area of 9,800 acres, bordered by and including the Gundagai Run (where the town of Gundagai now sits) to the east and the Nangus Run to the west (owned by Sir William Macarthur and his brother James – Sons of John).
In April of 1848 Andrews began to have his luck turn, a successful decade had seen him build an impressive wealth but when his flock developed a catarrh outbreak, his luck took a turn for the worse. Of the flock of over 9000 at the beginning of the year , only 700 ewes and 400 weathers survived the onslaught of the disease and yet another crippling drought. Andrews sought an extension of his loan from the bank, which was granted, however a stipulation of the loan was that the run leases be transferred into the name of Mr J Black (the bank accountant). Another blow at this time was the successful claim from a rival squatter (O’Brien) of his Kymo and Gundagai leases, it would take more than a year for the matter to be disputed through the courts. By January the entire flock of Kymo had perished, Andrews was struggling financially and his bank was increasing the pressure on him. He moved into cattle and immediately struck problems, the animals he purchased took it upon themselves to continually return to their home, made easier due to the unfenced run. He also struck another drought and lost stock from malnutrition. One shining light however was it was announced that the boundaries of the Kimo and Gundagai Runs were reinstated to Mr Andrews. Finally in July 1850 the properties were sold, Kymo to the Collins Brothers and Gundagai to Colin McDonald. Andrews settled his debt with the bank and had a healthy surplus of funds which made him a wealthy man.
Granville Collins and his brother Alexander purchased the Kymo property, in 1855 the Gundagai Run was also purchased by the Collins brother and the property was once again joined. Almost immediately their sheep flock struck trouble, the disease was said to be so severe that he lost as many as 4 out of 5 sheep from the disease. He later turned to cattle but apparently ran into trouble again “…it was the 1870 flood which practically ruined Collins of Kimo, for it swept his cattle past Wagga”. The Collins brothers sought to sell Kimo to move onto other agricultural pursuits elsewhere.
A transfer of the runs in 1860 occurred from Granville and his brother Alexander Collins to a Mr John “Swampy” Hay (who married into the Robinson Family from the Upper Murray), he was also the neighbour of William Guise and was also a brother-in-law of the next owner James Robinson. It appears that this may have been some sort of rouse to acquire land- without actually acquiring it if you know what I mean. In any case by 1865/66 the owner is listed at the Bank of New South Wales.
It was purchased by James Robinson (formerly of Coppabella in the Upper Murray) in 1870 and after moving to Kimo in 1872, he set about improving the land and buildings. He was the first person on the Murrumbidgee to ringbark trees as a way of clearing the land (he probably learnt the technique on his previous farm) and is credited with most of the improvements that still stand today. Most Notably the Wool shed, the Grain Shed and the old two parts of the current Homestead. He was the first to fence Kimo and reportedly had hundreds of people working on the place, a massive boost to the local economy. It is at this time that the name seems to change from Kymo (as listed in many official documents and changed by Joseph Andrews) to its current and original spelling of Kimo.
Privately James experienced a tough life. His first wife Edith died in a terrible carriage accident in 1888 at Fernberg house in Bardon. Edith was the daughter of John Brown of Colstoun, Upper Paterson who was a pioneer of New South Wales. Fernberg House is now known as Government House in Brisbane. James’ sister was married to the owner, a very prominent Queensland politician, Mr John Stevenson. Mrs Robinsons sister was married to another prominent squatter and politician W. H. Walsh and they had been visiting their relatives when the accident happened. Some horses were spooked causing the carriage to overturn down an embankment instantly killing her, James and his Daughter were both there also. Mrs Robinson body was buried in Toowong Cemetery and James returned to Kimo along with his daughter to break the terrible news to their other 3 children. James eventually remarried Miss Martha Evans of Wangaratta.
The house itself has been built in three very distinctive eras, the first section in timber (1872) by James Robinson, The next section in hand made clay bricks (with clay from Kimo) (late 1890’s). It is believed that Jame’s Wife Martha had the wing added onto the original house while James had been travelling overseas purchasing sheep and he returned home to the new addition. The third section was added by its current owners, in double brick (1985) and in keeping with the second section.
James Robinson was an amazing business man and he set about creating one of the finest properties in the state. Under his tenure the property grew in productivity. The land remained roughly the same size 22,500 acres (stretching from and including Abingdon all the way into and including Gundagai). In 1902 Kimo Carried close to 30,000 sheep, 1000 cattle and 200 horses. The Wool Shed (still in use today) was 17 stands and they turned off an average of 500-600 bales of wool annually. A news clipping from 1906 recalls a new record for shearing at the Kimo Wool Shed; “its board of 17 shearers shore 2588 Sheep in 8hrs 15mins, an average of 152 per man with the ringer shearing 208 personally.” This is comparable to modern shearers today at Kimo however the shed now is 6 stand, shearing over 800 per day.
Gold was found on the property in 1894 when James Robinson teamed up with a bloke called Rice. There is a story of the discovery of the reef. Rice and a young 15 year old boy (maybe a son of James) were digging at the head of the valley on the “Long Flat”. Gold was struck and Rice rode a horse back to the homestead to wake Mr Robinson and tell him of the discovery. A horse was summonsed and Mr Robinson rode with Rice to the find. It was now quite late, and the boy had discovered more gold in the meantime which “was described to me as looking like a jewellery shop”. The boy was given a shotgun and told to guard the new mine as they were retiring for the night and would return at first light. The ensuing Gold rush saw a population of 4000+ people living up the back of Kimo in the goldfields. I assume thats when his Dairy, 3Ha Vegetable Garden, tobacco, piggery and other business made him a fair amount of money. That is of course in addition to owning the mine itself. A mine which became the 2nd most profitable mine after the broken hill mine at the time. It was that gold rush that also lured a future US President to live on Kimo, Herbert Hoover. Hoover was a mining engineer on the Prince of Wales mine around 1900 later visiting Broken Hill where he made his fortune, then returned to America to successfully run for President.
James Robinson was a tough man but he was also kind, a philanthropist of some note, donating land for the new (now old) hospital and overseeing the building works a president of the hospital society. He also donated land for one of his great passions. Horse Racing. One interesting story of James Robinson was of his involvement in a syndicate of a dozen or so men that organised for the famous Phar Lap’s body to be returned to Australia following his mysterious death in America. Phar Lap’s famous saddle cloth can still be seen at the local Gundagai museum along with many artefacts donated by Mr Robinson and his family.
In 1911, James Robinson sold Kimo in its entirety to the Hogan Brothers (M & T) from Wangaratta. The Hogan Brothers were well known subdividers of properties who have left their mark all over the Riverina and northern Victoria. It looked like the end of the Robinsons at Kimo but to add another twist to the tale James purchased the Kimo Homestead and 4000 acres back from the Hogans just weeks after it had been sold to them. Wallace (James’ eldest son) purchased Abingdon Station and 5000 acres also.
Wallace was a big strapping man, he dwarfed his father James. In Daleys cottage there is a picture above the mantlepiece of the two of them on the lawn at Kimo Homestead. Wallace was the manager of Kimo through early 1900’s. After an accident that left him missing one eye, he became ill, the decision was made to sell the majority of the holding. One thing to note at the time was that one of the worst droughts in Australia’s history was lingering on, the Federation drought. Combine that with Wallaces health problems and you can pretty much assume why they decided to sell. An article refers to his illness lasting for 6 years. 4 years after the sale, in 1915 Wallace died aged 47 “after long suffering from a chronic cause.” Wallace was a great community man in his roles as Mayor of the town and, following on from his farther was President of both the Hospital and Racing club. His great love for horse racing and breeding horses saw him purchase and breed from Caulfield/Melbourne Cup double winner Dunlop and other great horses as Beaumont and Penury which “greatly improved the bloodstocks of the district”. One of Wallace’s last acts on earth was to transfer his ownership of the famous “De Mestre” Colours to Fred Merton. These were the colours worn by Archer who was trained to the first two (and third if they’d let him run), Melbourne Cups by the most famous horse man in the colony, Etienne Livingston de Mestre. “You will oblige me greatly if you hurry this matter along, as my time on earth is nearly up, and I would not like to die and allow the colours of the finest sportsman Australia ever knew to get into the hands of some pony doper.” James was present at the funeral along with Martha (widow) and the 5 children of Wallace. It is interesting (and so far unexplained) to note that the executor of Wallace’s will was a Mr T Hogan who had bought Kimo from James just a few years before.
3 years later James would once again bury a loved one. His second wife Martha died in 1918 leaving behind one son (James Robinson Esq). Old `James would barely live three more years and in March 1921 he passed away. Newspapers all over the colony carried obituaries to this wonderful man as he was laid to rest in the Nangus next to Martha and Wallace.
Young James was now in charge of Kimo. The youngest child of Old James and the only child of his second marriage, James Jnr would continue to farm Kimo focussing on the stud Romney Marsh sheep that his father had purchased from England.
Through great droughts, great floods and also through periods of prosperity these pioneers of rural Australia, James Robinson continued a near unbroken run at Kimo for over 100 years. This grand old property after a short period of decline and had been reduced to 3000 acres when it was sold to its current owners, Christine and Colin Ferguson formerly of Ruffy and direct descendants of the Fergusons and McKenzies of Flowerdale.
The Ferguson family have been in agriculture for countless generations. Coming to Australia in the early 1800’s, arriving in Port Phillip to assist John Batman with his stock in the new colony. They are the same Fergusons of Flowerdale Estate in Victoria, then Tarcombe Station and then of Strathearn in Ruffy.
The Colin and Christine Ferguson and their newborn baby (David) arrived at Kimo in 1978 and set about restoring the property which had been quite badly neglected in the latter years with no real infrastructure or maintenance works undertaken for quite some time. Many fences were replaced and the sheep and cattle yards required near replacement. The house in particular required much work which was performed over the first five years of the Fergusons arriving alongside the improvements to the farm. The garden in particular was a wreck and has essentially been cleared and started again. Most of the large trees that you see whilst wandering around the homestead were planted in the early 1980’s.
Over time Colin and Christine Managed to add land to their original purchase, in 1985 a large packet of adjoining land known as “The Brothers” became available and was added to the Kimo Holding, along with their other purchases, the property had doubled their original purchase. As with previous owners however external factors once again hit, this time interest rates spiralled out of control at one stage hitting 22.5% and putting Kimo once again at risk. Kimo again dropped in area in order to navigate the difficulties and in 1992 a large block of the original Country to the North East was acquired from the Reardon’s and the property was essentially back to its current holding.
The early 2000’s saw a drought like few others in Australia. Not since the federation drought of the early 1900’s had such little precipitation occurred for such an extended period of time and in my opinion the only reason that the outcome of the drought on agriculture was not as severe, was through the improved management learnt over the many droughts in between the two. Nonetheless, the drought certainly took its toll. Sheep numbers Australia wide dropped over 40% from 120 to 70 million with many animals having to be shot to avoid starvation. The whole of Australian agriculture experienced a hugely mentally and physically draining and extremely sad and difficult time, it was no different at Kimo. The resilience of people of the land to continue to exist and fight on is amazing and Colin and Christine did just that. In the years of 2010/11 the drought broke and they’d made it through.
In 2012 David Ferguson (the eldest son) and his wife Emelia returned home from Queensland with their first child Max and began to adapt to running a farm. Soon after returning home they renovated the two dilapidated cottages (Windies and Daleys) in 2014 which opened up Kimo to the world. Archie (David and Emelia’s second child) was born just before the renovations began and as such, he spent a fair time on his mothers back whilst she was helping to paint the cottages. In that same year they began to operate large weddings in the grain Shed with brides, grooms and their guests from Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, Kimo’s reputation grew once again. In late 2015 they finished the building of the first of the three Ecohuts – JR’s EcoHut which is named after James Robinson who is still considered in the highest regards as a pioneer and businessman by all at Kimo.
In past years the economic conditions have been strong for agriculture with the rare position of markets, interest rates, currency markets and generally weather all being helpful the farm itself has undergone a period of modernisation under David’s direction.
Kimo Estate is still home to the Ferguson’s but now a new chapter in this grand old estate is still unfolding. Emelia, David and their young boys Archie and Max now have the responsibility of continuing this great tradition of guardianship over one of the finest country properties in Australia, whatever the following years should bring. History has shown us the ebbs and flows of the Kimo Estate, it would be silly to not expect there will be more ebbs and flows to come in the future chapters of this great property.