"Gundy" Webster

‘Gundy’ Webster, the Merino king, looks back

“You are destined for a career as a hewer of wood and carrier of water”, the frustrated headmaster of Newington College once told a young pupil called Garnet Webster. 

Little was the headmaster to know that his undistinguished pupil would go on to establish in the Crookwell district one of the most successful dynasties of recent times. 

Nor could he have guessed that the name “Gundy” Webster, would become almost as much a byword in the world of Merino wethers as the name of Sidney Kidman became synonymous with bullocks. 

Today, the Webster pastrol holdings comprise the 1840ha home property, “Kenilworth”, two other Binda properties, “Garraroo” (680ha) and “Chatsworth” (760ha), plus the vast “Yarraman” (3000ha) at Bigga.

Mr Webster bought his first grazing property when just old enough to hold a title, and it set the pattern for his later dealings. 

“It was remnant of a deceased estate at Bigga”, he recalls. “The block was rabbit-infested and unimproved, but on my father’s advice I bid £125 for it and got it. 

“I borrowed £400 from the bank, fenced the block and cleared it and put 300 wethers on it, and sold it a bit later for £1500.” 

Appropriately, it was also at Bigga, nearly half a century later, that Mr Webster embarked on his most ambitious property development with the purchase and renovation of the 3000ha “Yarraman”. 

When he bought it for £8.10.0 an acre, “Yarraman” was virtually one rabbit-infested paddock, running 4000 sheep on the unimproved pastures the covered the steep granite country. 

Since then it has been transformed into one of the biggest sheep runs in the Crookwell district, carrying 16,000 wethers in more than 60 paddocks of improved pasture. 

The initial merchandise order for the “Yarraman” project reads like an annual sales budget for a country produce supplier, calling for seven tones of clover seed, hundreds of tones of super, 84 12foot gates, 11 miles of netting and 11,000 iron posts. 

That his hunches proved to be nearly always correct is testimony to the man’s ability to pick a good investment – an ability acquired during a lifelong “second string” career as a stock and station agent.

Starting his agency career with the one time famous Goulburn-based firm of W.H.Wheatley in 1923 after several years of woolclassing, “Gundy” Webster took to the stock work like a duck to water. At the time, he relates, W.H Wheatley brothers, was the biggest firm of stock auctioneers in Goulburn and “possibly in NSW”. 

“They used to bring in stock from all over NSW to their big special sales in Goulburn. On one occasion we yarded 66,000 sheep, and cattle yardings went as high as 6000 head”, he said. 

As a stock salesman for “Wheatley and later for Pitt Son and Badgery, Mr Webster had the opportunity to rub shoulders with some big operators. 

He recalls the chance luncheon meeting he once had with Albury cattle dealer, Tom Norman, at which he was asked “Do you know where I can find some cattle?” 

As it happened, he knew where he could find no less than three trainloads – about 1600 head of Queensland-bred steers within walking distance of his lunch time companion. 

The steers were running on “Ellerslie”, Adelong, a property then owned by the New Zealand and Australian Land Company, and a subsequent inspection resulted in a tidy sale at £8.10.0 a head. 

Mr Webster said that during his Pitt Sons years, he bought close to 70,000 sheep for one client alone, Andrew Glenn, whose family at that time owned “North Yathong” and “Goree” Jerilderie. 

Nearly half this number were accounted for in one private sale (his biggest transaction) in the early 1940’s involving the whole of the first-cross lamb drop of 28,000 ewes on Edgeroi Station, then owned by the New Zealand and Australian Land Company. 

In the dealings with men, “Gundy” Webster has earned himself a reputation as a man who drives a hard bargain, whether cast in the role of a party to a business transaction or of an employer. 

But here another parallel can be drawn with Kidman, who bore a similar tag. Both men roughed it in their early lives, and built their respective empires largely on their wits. 

Both have always placed a high value on fairness, loyalty and hard work, but neither man has ever been over-tolerant of fools, welshers and loafers. 

Perhaps that is the secret of their success. 

PETER AUSTIN THE LAND