Shearing shed with a view pressed into service as unique marine science lab
The shearing shed at Ningaloo Station. Image: Gary Cranitch
By Angus Livingston
Monday 25 May 2009
WORKING in a shearing shed half a century old certainly has its charms.
The smell of ancient sheep dung in the morning is one of them. A full basket of sheep dags is another.
The shed has seen thousands of sheep come to be relieved of their fleeces – but now it is being used to reveal secrets of marine life.
Hi-tech DNA sampling equipment sits a metre from an old wool press. Samples of coral rubble sit in stalls designed for grading fleeces.
And just 40m out the main door is the beach.
The scientists here at Ningaloo bring their samples up the beach and into the makeshift lab for examination.
Forty years ago, bales of wool travelled in the opposite direction down a tramway into the sea, where they boarded a flat-bottomed lighter and were transported out past the reef to waiting cargo ships.
Founded in the 1890s, Ningaloo Station is one of the iconic shearing stations along this section of the Western Australian coast.
Marine scientists at work inside the shearing shed. Image: Gary Cranitch
In 1923, two whalers came down the coast and ran aground on nearby Fraser Island, which housed a lighthouse at the time.
One of them escaped, while the other was marooned – until a cyclone came through and wiped away the entire island.
Now divers can swim through the wreck of the whaler and the downed lighthouse, which sits on the bottom of the ocean.
Marine samples from the ocean floor will be brought back to the shed, where they will sit next to chalked up tallies and hand-crank-operated doors.
At dusk, the rusty tin shed filled with 21st century equipment sits juxtaposed among the sand dunes.
Remote, isolated and separated by a strip of sand from the Indian Ocean, this agricultural outpost has become a scientific centre – for a month.
Then it will go back to being the shearing shed with the best view in the country.