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Mapping Australia's transhumance: snow lease and stock route maps of NSW.

Australia's squatters and early pastoralists developed a number of ways to maintain their high stock numbers through the hot dry summers and the inevitable droughts that creep across the continent. Graziers in New South Wales had two solutions to maintain their stock. One method was to depasture the stock in the alpine grasslands of the Snowy Mountains area, for those fortunate to hold land adjacent to this area. Squatters and graziers living in the northern areas of the state quickly developed routes, known as Travelling Stock Routes, to allow movement of stock between properties or in times of drought when seeking an alternative feed source.

This paper looks at the development of both forms of pastoral land management through legislation and their record in the specialised maps that were created.


The romantic image of the tall, browned Australian stockman or woman droving a mob of sheep or cattle has captured the world's imagination, being immortalised in poetry, song and film, such as the legendary Man from Snowy River, or The Drover. However, it belied a grim awareness of the harsh environment of the Australian continent with unreliable rains and pastures and the necessity to move stock to ensure physical and economic survival.

By the 1830s squatters moved south into the Monaro, west down the Murray and Murrumbidgee, and north into New England regions of New South Wales. Over the next three decades squatters and graziers alike came to terms with the hot, dry summers and the inevitable droughts.

One solution to maintaining their high stock numbers was to depasture the stock in the alpine grasslands of the Snowy Mountains area, for those fortunate to hold land adjacent to this area. Squatters and graziers living in the northern areas of the state quickly developed routes, known as Travelling Stock Routes, to allow movement of stock between properties or in times of drought when seeking an alternative feed source.

This paper looks at the development of both forms of pastoral land management through legislation and their record in the specialised maps that were created.


Stockmen arrived in the Snowy Mountains, around the Kiandra area, as early as 1834, less than fifty years after the landing of the First Fleet. However, it was not until the gold rush of the 1850s and a severe drought in 1855 that saw the establishment of a regular pattern of summer grazing in the high country. By the middle of the next decade the high country land was seen as a relief, if not a survival resource, from the regular droughts that crossed the landscape. In 1865 W. Davis Wright, sheep manager for William Bradley's northern runs, commented on driving cattle and sheep into the mountains: 'My idea was quite untried at the time although now it is one of the commonplace incidents of every station'. Over the next two decades regular press statements reported on this activity during the summer. Local graziers, such as the Litchfield family with extensive acreage around Cooma, managed their properties and economic returns based solely on the ability to move older wethers into the high country for summer fattening. This removed pressure from the home pastures while at the same time allowed use of the home pastures for more valuable stock. (1)

An amendment to Section 36 of the NSW Crown Land Act 1889, was the first indication of government awareness and subsequent legislation concerning this use of the land:
 Snow leases may be let, by auction, or after--auction
 tender, of Crown lands which are not
 held under conditional lease, and which are
 usually covered with snow for a part of each
 year, and are unfit for continuous use and
 occupation. The minimum area is 1280 acres and
 the maximum 10,240 acres, and not more than
 two leases can be held in the same interest.

 A lease has a term of seven years commencing from
 the date of sale, or of notification of approval of an
 after-auction tender, and withdraws the land from
 any annual lease or licence under which it may be
 held. During its currency the lease is exempt from
 sale or lease of all kinds.

 The only lands in the State at present classed as
 'snow lands' are those on the main range in the
 vicinity of Cooma, Kiandra, Tumbarumba and
 Tumut. These lands could also be applied for as
 Scrub or Improvement Leases if the land is scrub
 land or inferior land capable of improvement. (2)

One of the oldest surviving maps of the period was published in 1893. Titled: Plan of snow leases lots numbered 61 to 69 inclusive, Parishes of Murray, Cooleman, Long Plain, Nattung, Yarrongobilly, The Peaks and Peppercorn, Counties of Cowley and Buccleuch (Fig.1) it clearly indicates the large tracts of land required for summer grazing. At this stage most of the leases had not been taken up, demand being low due to the imposed costs of survey, rent and improvements together with the very limited lease of seven years.


Prior to the amending Act of 1917, which extended the leases to fourteen years, efforts were made to develop a more uniform and manageable system. In the meantime alternative tenancies were also offered, ranging from improvement leases of a few thousand acres to scrub leases at tens of thousands of acres. Well-placed Western Division graziers took advantage of the agreements to acquire vast tracts of land under a complex network of licenses to the exclusion of smaller local graziers. This complex arrangement is shown in a survey of the working copies of the second editions of the maps of the various parishes which made up the snow lease territory, compiled by the Goulburn regional office of the NSW Lands Department. A small number of graziers did take up the seven-year option, such as Thomas Millear of Peppercorn parish with two adjoining leases of 9480 acres on 7-year terms from 1893, and A.B. Triggs who had gross land acreages of almost 80 000 acres.

Whether it was due to improved lease arrangements, drought or competition for more land, demand for snow leases increased during the 1920s and with that came a regular pattern of renewal, particularly from Monaro graziers, which was reflected in the parish maps. A 1931 map issued by the Lands Department to promote the sale of snow and permissive occupancy leases shows that much of the southern end of the country was now under long term snow lease either from local graziers, such as Hazeldean Ltd and Rose, or by Western graziers such as The N.Z. & Aust. Land Co. Ltd (Fig. 2). Permissive occupancies, the occupation or use of crown land leases, flanked the high country generally to the west and south of the snow leases.


An examination of the Goulburn regional office working copies of parish maps for Jugungal and Gungartan, County Selwyn, for the period 1920-1974 shows a dominance in lease ownership by the western graziers but there was also a trend over this period for local graziers to take up the leases, rather than western graziers. Furthermore, successive generations of families, such as the Hain family, were taking up the leases. Acreages under lease subsequently became smaller, dropping from around 5-7,000 acres down to about 2000 acres. This reflects the 1944 revision of snow leases by the Lands Department to set limits not only on the intensity of grazing but also to move the western graziers out of the agreements and to lower the size of the blocks. Whether this intensified the pressure on the land is not certain, as the records are poor.

About the same time, scientific concern about the impact of stock movement and grazing practices, such as control burning, still practised today on the Victorian side, began to emerge.

Researchers such as the foresters C.E. Lane Poole and B.U. Byles began to examine the fragile ecosystems of the high country and were later joined by conservationists such as Myles Dunphy in advocating tighter controls, if not exclusion, of graziers and stock from these areas. The proclamation of the Kosciusko State Park Act in 1944, along with Lands Department controls in the same year, saw the beginning of the total exclusion of graziers from the area.

The initial concerns leading to the enactment of the State Park Act were more about maintaining and protecting the quality of the water catchment potential of the High Country rather than pure conservation values. Controlled use of the park for pastoral purposes was still permitted. The biggest impact on the area in terms of its effect on the snow leases and grazing activities was the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric scheme which began in October 1949. This was also a time when snow lease activity was at its most active with the regular issue of a two-sheet map titled 'Map showing lands available for snow leases and permissive occupancies'. Surviving copies of these maps issued between 1943 to about 1955 show both the issue and size of leases and their commencement during this period. (Fig. 3)


Sir William Hudson, the first Commissioner of the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Authority, saw summer grazing and snow lease arrangements as a threat to the water channels and storages of the scheme. Over the first seven years of the 1950s lobbying by various interest groups led to a series of major reports culminating in the Academy of Science's Report on the Condition of the High Mountain catchments of New South Wales and Victoria in 1957. A NSW Cabinet meeting that year agreed to the termination of snow leases in country above 4500 feet, on the recommendation of the Catchment Areas Protection Board.

However, while the leases may have been terminated, grazing continued despite the ban, due to lack of enforcement by staff in the State Park. The appointment of an outspoken young forester, Neville Gare, as Superintendent in 1959, coupled with a move in 1963 by the Kosciusko State Park Trust to set aside a primitive area of seventy square miles--essentially the top area of the high country--together with a disastrous bushfire in 1965, all helped to bring matters to a head. Droughts followed the fires and graziers sent stock--both legally and illegally--to graze the high country. In 1967, following the enactment of the National Parks and Wildlife Act, the State park was renamed the Kosciusko National Park with the superintendent (Gare) directly responsible to the Director of the NSW National Parks Service, who in turn was responsible to the Minister for Lands, T.L. Lewis.

In 1969 the Minister announced a full investigation into controlled grazing and longer-term leases within certain areas of the park. Known as the Edgar report, it recommended a total abolition of grazing in the Park. Every recommendation of the report was accepted by the government and all grazing ceased. One fragment of the second sheet of the Map showing lands available ... (Fig. 4), unfortunately undated, clearly shows elimination of snow leases in the High Country, a special form of land tenure which had endured for eighty-five years.



A more enduring and older form of pastoral land management, with wider, national application, is the Travelling Stock Route and Reserves, more commonly known as TSRRs or the 'long paddock'! It can be more precisely defined as either a chain of Crown land parcels, known as Travelling Stock Reserves linked together to form a route, or a particular route taken by travelling stock, which may be along a public road. In NSW travelling stock are permitted, subject to conditions or restrictions imposed by legislation, to move or graze on a Travelling Stock Reserve or a public road. (3)

TSRRs began early in New South Wales in response to the simple and vital need to be able to move stock from one area to another, including to markets. The direction of the tracks was largely north-south following the course of the Darling River and the general movement of stock to Victorian markets. By the 1860s demand for the use of these tracks was so great that legislation was required to protect the rights of both the adjacent run-holders and the drovers themselves. The Occupation Act of 1861 determined that stock should not stray more than half a mile either side of a perceived line of travel while crossing unfenced land and should move at a certain rate each day. Scab districts were set up following concern over the spread of this sheep disease, with a related act, passed in 1863, enacted to control the movement of sheep. District administrators were appointed, paid from taxes levied for prevention of the disease. Mapping of stock routes at this stage of their development is not precise, although maps such as 'Owen's Map of New South Wales including the Riverine district with squatting runs' of 1868 (Fig. 5) indicate routes which generally follow the courses on subsequent stock-route maps.


In 1880 the Pastures and Stock Protection Act was passed with several amending acts in the following years. While a number of changes were made to the administration of the sheep scab districts, the basic structure remained the same, although the districts were transformed into Pastures and Stock Boards, whose functions included the management of native and introduced noxious animals. Over time the Pastures and Stock Board districts also took over administration of stock routes and reserves.

Parish plans now started to show the stock routes. An example is the Parish of Waradgery, Co. Waradgery, 1880 plan (first ed.) (Fig. 6). A map of stock routes was included in the annual report of the Chief Inspector of Stock for 1880 and specialised maps were also published, such as 'Map of New South Wales showing stock routes, tanks, wells and trucking stations', by D. MacDonald. (Fig. 7) This particular map was published in the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia in 1886 and is significant for a number of reasons. It shows the complex and well-established routes already flourishing in the Western and Central divisions, not only following a general north-south direction, but also moving to the east utilising the major rivers, particularly in the Central division. Interestingly, few if any stock routes are evident in the Eastern division except around the central north area, but there is evidence of the use of the rail network to move stock to the Sydney and Newcastle markets.


During the 1880s and 1890s significant improvements were made to the administration of the routes and reserves, notably the listing of the condition, improvements and obstructions to be found, and marking and surveying the reserves. Various enactments had also been passed to improve the legislative power of the boards and districts, leading to a complex web of legislature relating to the stock routes. The most significant enactment to come out of this was the creation of the Pastures Protection Districts and Boards by the Pastures Protection Act of 1902.

The Pastures Protection Act of 1902 amended and consolidated all previous legislation relating to the TSRRs and led to the establishment of Pastures Protection Districts which are still largely in place, although reduced in number to 48, under their successor, the Rural Lands Protection Districts. The primary responsibilities of the Board were to manage livestock diseases, noxious animals and travelling stock. Regulations were put in place to ensure stock were moved through the reserves and routes at a certain rate a day depending on the type of animals involved. Over the next thirty or so years further legislation was enacted, leading to the Pastures Protection Act of 1934. With amendments this remained the governing legislation for the next fifty-five years until the enactment of the Rural Lands Protection Act of 1989.

The PPBs, as they came to be known, were a series of 66 boards comprising eight, unpaid district directors. A number of paid staff including veterinary officers were appointed, depending on the prosperity of each area. Each board was responsible for raising funds to carry out its responsibilities with the majority of funds raised from rates levied on stockowners. Other funds were also levied against stock travelling or grazing the stock routes. The Boards, while autonomous, were broadly administered by the Department of Agriculture, and which consequently handled both their finances and specific administrative requirements.

Demand for the use and growth of stock routes peaked during the two world wars, influenced by the seasons and the lack of other forms of transport, and extended into the post war period, particularly during the droughts of the late 1950s. An examination of the stock route maps issued regularly from the turn of the century reveals the extension of the routes into the eastern division, as demonstrated on the 1932 map of the state (Fig. 8--Eastern section). Use made of the routes together with the geography and water availability across the state has seen variations in the pattern and function of the TSRRs. In the Western Division reserves are often linked, forming a stock route with established watering areas, known as Stock Watering Places. In the Central and Eastern Division TSRRs consist of more isolated parcels of land, usually camping reserves where most of the grazing and watering--from waterholes or rivers--occurs. Stock may then be driven along roads to the next reserve.


Since the late 1950s there has been a decline in the use of the routes, except during drought years. Motorised transport, particularly the development of road trains, saw a gradual move to recreational use of the reserves as well as ongoing use for drought relief, while at the same time acknowledging the considerable conservation value inherent in these lands. Subsequently, in 1970 the Department of Agriculture introduced a rationalisation program with each Board surveying its requirements. Since that time parcels of land have been ceded back to the Crown, particularly with the enactment of the Pastures Protection (Amendment) Act of 1951. Nowhere is this more evident than on the working copies of the New South Wales Lands Department's Parish plans, such as those of the Parish of Dubbo, County of Gordon (1962-) where a number of reserves were closed during the late 1960s to mid 1970s (Fig. 9). At the same time, some new reserves and routes were opened, such as in the Gunnedah area. (4)


The decline in use of the TSRRs and growing concern for the conservation values of these areas may well have contributed to a new enactment, the Rural Lands Protection Act 1989, which saw the Pastures Protection Boards changed in name to Rural Lands Protection Boards. In 1998 a new act, the Rural Lands Protection Act 1998 replaced the 1989 legislation, saw a reduction in the number of Boards to 48 and recognised two types of Travelling Stock Routes:

* Controlled TSRRs where the care, control and management of the TSRR has been vested in the local Board

* Managed TSRRs where the care, control and management of the TSRR has not been vested in the local Board. This type is typically found in the Western Division where TSRRs are layered over Western Lands Leases. (5)

The Act also saw the establishment of a State Council of Rural Lands Protection which has elected members from each Rural Lands Protection District and employs staff including a conservation officer. The Council is responsible for both the preparation of policy and the management of the Boards.

A special purpose rate which can be levied by the Board for new initiatives was introduced, such as a biodiversity conservation initiative. Function Management Plans for TSRRs for the benefit of travelling stock, appropriated stocking practices, wildlife conservation and protection against soil erosion and diminution of water quality were also introduced. Related legislation such as the Native Vegetation Conservation Act 1997, the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and the Rural Fires Act 1997 are now influencing the management of the TSRRs along with the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 which monitors clearing of native vegetation. (6)

In 2001 the Rural Lands Protection Boards in association with NSW Agriculture published 'The Long Paddock: a directory of travelling stock routes and reserves in New South Wales'. For the first time in over seventy years an accurate, up-to-date and easy-to-handle format of existing stock routes, reserves, RLPB boundaries and stock watering places was available, replacing the large, out-of-date and often fragile sheet maps.

Further amendments to the Rural Lands Protection Act of 1998 were passed in May 2003. The year also saw the extension of the worst drought in NSW for one hundred years, covering every corner of the state. For the first time, many of the Boards refused agistment rights or simply closed the routes to travelling stock unless they could name an outside destination. (7) Opposition claims in March 2003 that the Labor Government would hand the management of travelling stock routes over to the National Parks and Wildlife Service if reelected has added considerable uncertainty to the future of the TSRRs. (8)


Relatively unknown except by the graziers and the families who utilised them, the snow leases and permissive occupancies of the High Country of New South Wales served as a valuable form of pastoral land management. Better stock management practices and an appreciation of the impact of this form of land use on a very fragile ecosystem led to its passing. The parish plans and the few special thematic maps documenting their use remain as a testament to this unique, Australian way of life. More research of NSW government records, and the recording of oral histories to document this way of life, are urgently required.

TSRRs are not unique to Australia but their form and use have a distinctly Australian flavour, particularly in NSW and Queensland. Established early as a logical way to move stock across vast tracks of land, they have endured threats to their viability and tenure with more recent recognition as valuable tracts of land for recreation and conservation purposes. Unlike the snow leases it seems likely they will survive, although most likely in a modified and more carefully managed form. Careful documentation of their location and use in government records, including cadastral and thematic maps and wider recognition of their existence and value in the community, will ensure their survival.


(1) Most of this section has been sourced from Hancock (1972). Hancock remains the only documented record of snow leases in New South Wales.

(2) Brierly & Irish (1909), Section 36.

(3) Rural Lands Protection Boards (2001) Appendix A.

(4) McKnight (1977), p. 67.

(5) S. Orr (2003).

(6) Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales (2001).

(7) K. Russell (2002), p. 5.

(8) Stock routes' troubled path (2003).


Academy of Science, 1957, Report on the Condition of the High Mountain catchments of New South Wales and Victoria.

Acocks, W.G. ,1901, The settlers' synopsis of the land laws of New South Wales, C.F. Maxwell (Hayes Brothers) Ltd, Sydney.

Brierly, E. and T.W. Irish, 1909, The Crown Lands Acts of New South Wales : containing the provisions of the acts and regulations relating to the eastern and central divisions, and decisions of the Land Appeal Court, Supreme Court, High Court, and Privy Council, Maddock, Sydney.

Hancock, W.K., 1972, Discovering Monaro: a study of man's impact on his environment, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Hibberd, J.K., (ed.), 1986, The future of the Long Paddock: a study of travelling stock reserves, routes and roadside verges in the Southern Tablelands of N.S.W., Nature Conservation Council of N.S.W., Sydney.

Land NSW, 2000, Licences of Crown Land. [Online] Available at licences.html (Available 6 August 2004)

McKnight, T.L., 1977, The Long Paddock: Australia's travelling stock routes, Dept. of Geography, University of New England, Armidale.

Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales, 2001, Fact Sheet: Travelling stock routes and biodiversity conservation. [Online] Available at (Available 6 August 2004)

New South Wales. Parliament. Legislative Assembly, 1879, Forms of Crown Grants (under Crown Lands Alienation Act of 1861), Sydney.

Orr, S., 2003, [Open letter to Dr Neil Byron] Re: Submission for the inquiry into impacts of native vegetation & biodiversity regulations. [Online] Available at nativevegetation/subs/sub095.rtf (Available 6 August 2004)

Rural Lands Protection Boards in association with NSW Agriculture, 2001, The Long Paddock: a directory of travelling stock routes and reserves in New South Wales, Rural Lands Protection Boards, Sydney.

Rural Lands Protection Boards [website] [Online] Available at (Available 6 August 2004)

Russell, K., 2002, Uncertain future for drovers as drought continues, [Online] Available at s709119.htm (Available 6 August 2004)

Stock routes' troubled path, 6 Mar 2003. [Online] Available at news/03/03/article8489.asp (Available 5 August 2004)


MacDonald, D. (1888). Map of New South Wales showing stock routes, tanks, wells and trucking stations. Picturesque Atlas Publishing Company Ltd, Sydney. (NLA, Rare Map collection)

New South Wales. Department of Lands (1880). Parish of Waradgery, Co. Waradgery. 15116804

New South Wales. Department of Lands. (1893). Plan of snow leases lots numbered 61 to 69 inclusive, Parishes of Murray, Cooleman, Long Plain, Nattung, Yarrongobilly, The Peaks and Peppercorn, Counties of Cowley and Buccleuch. The Department, Sydney (NLA Rare Map collection)

New South Wales. Department of Lands. (1931). 6 snow leases, 10 Permissive Occupancies Counties of Wallace & Selwyn, Land Districts of Cooma & Tumbarumba. The Department, Sydney. (NLA Map collection)

New South Wales. Department of Lands (1932). New South Wales shewing distances along roads & routes used by travelling stock within pastures Protection Districts. Sheet 1 (NLA Map collection)

New South Wales. Department of Lands (1945). Map showing lands available for snow leases and permissive occupancies, Shires of Monaro, Snowy River, Tumbarumba, Tumut & Yarralumla. Sheet 1. (NLA Map collection)

New South Wales. Department of Lands [ca. 1960- 67]. [Map showing lands available for snow leases ...]. Sheet 2 (NLA Map collection).

New South Wales. Department of Lands (1962-). Parish of Dubbo, Co. Gordon. 14782701

Owen, William (1868). Owen's Map of New South Wales including the Riverine district with squatting runs. H. Bolton, Melbourne (NLA Rare map collection).

Maura O'Connor, Map Curator, National Library of Australia.
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Author:O'Connor, Maura
Publication:The Globe
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Nov 1, 2004
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