It's April so it's time for our members to help us blog through the 2020 A-Z Blogging Challenge. Our chosen theme this year is Employment, also the topic of our Shared Endeavour where our members are encouraged to research employment within their one-place study. Today's entry is from Janice Cooper.

Thomas Behan
Thomas Behan

 Ostrich farming is not an industry that has featured in Australia’s rural history. However one of the prominent citizens of my One Place Study of the Alpha and Jericho districts in central western Queensland, Thomas Behan, was known as one of the industry’s pioneers. [1]

Thomas Behan imported a pair of ostriches from South Africa, which were transported by steamer to Rockhampton and by railway to Jericho. They arrived at his station, Garfield on 13 May 1907. For the first week they were startled by the noise of the other station animals – sheep, fowls, turkeys, cows, as well as the horse bells – and rushed from one end of the enclosure to the other. After some time they became used to their companions to feed happily among turkeys, fowls, dogs and sheep.

The first brood of thirteen chicks was born within months and a second brood by the end of 1907. The flock was growing quickly. The primary reason for farming ostrich at Garfield was for their feathers. Both adult birds were plucked 2 months after their arrival, 610 feathers taken from the male and 190 from the female. This was considered a small plucking as some feathers were damaged in their travel crates, some of the male bird’s wing feathers were stolen on the voyage and the female needed to retain feathers to shelter her eggs. A second plucking 6 months was expected to yield 700 feathers from the two birds.[2]

Ostrich Plucking
Ostrich Plucking

Ostrich feathers from Garfield were soon being displayed, promoted and sold. Both the feathers and products made from them were entered in local agricultural shows and as part of prize winning Central Queensland displays of agricultural produce at Queensland’s annual Exhibition in Brisbane. They were included among the produce included in the Australian display at the Franco-British Exhibition, opened at Shepherd’s Bush in May 1908. This approximately 2 pound (907 grams) collection of feathers was worth £30. Thomas Behan hoped to be able to sell feathers on the London market where, in August 1907, the finest quality was quoted at selling at between £22 and £33 a pound; and the firsts between £17 and £21.[3]

In 1912, a plume of feathers was presented by Thomas Behan to the wife of the Queensland Governor, Lady Mary Jane MacGregor.[4]

Plume of feathers
Plume of feathers

These early successes lasted for just a few years because the lack of facilities for the treatment of feathers for commercial purposes caused Thomas Behan to abandon the industry and he gave the birds their freedom.[5] Only since the 1970s has ostrich farming regained a niche in Australian rural industry. Ostriches were not the only birds in which the Behan family held an interest. Thomas advertised a great variety for sale alongside their main industry – sheep for the production of wool.[6]

Garfield Station
Garfield Station

Thomas Behan, born in County Clare Ireland, is remembered for much more than experimental ostrich farming. Educated as an engineer and surveyor, he played a significant role in the formation, in January 1916, of the Jericho Shire, the local government area of my One Place Study. He then served as a Councillor for 10 years. He was also instrumental in developing a continuous telephone service for the Shire by 1918.

The well-established Garfield homestead, surrounded by flower and vegetable gardens was a busy place for Thomas, his wife Mary Beatrice Landy and their eight children. 16 June 1926 was a big day with a double wedding service and reception being held for two of the Behan children – Cecily Margaret Landy and Kenneth Hollywood. Roses not feathers featured in the elaborate decorations; the wedding cake for each couple was decorated with designs and symbols of the pastoral industry, including tiny bales of wool.

[1] Photo source. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, No 111390.

[2] The Queenslander, 15 February 1908; The Week, 7 June 1913, p. 21; Photo source. Ostrich farming, Garfield Station, Jericho, Glimpses of Sunny Queensland (3rd ed), Queensland Government, 1914, .

[3] The Western Champion, 4 January 1908, p.10; Queensland Country Life, 1 November 1907, p. 3; The Queenslander 15 February 1908, p. 40.

[4] Photo source. The Queenslander, 3 August 1912, p. 27.

[5] Obituary. The Queenslander, 22 August 1929, p. 59.

[6] The Western Champion, 30 April 1910, p. 9.

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