In 1889 the enterprising Joseph Barracluff and his wife Jane established an ostrich farm at South Head. The farm covered 11 acres (4.4 ha.) of sandy land, and by 1902 was agisting 100 ostriches – a substantial flock. The birds consumed a ton of food a day and Barracluff fed them with refuse from the railway depot at Darling Harbour as well as markets and large hotels. In exchange for the removal of the waste, Barracluff was permitted to have the leftovers for free.
South Africa was the centre of ostrich feather farming for fashion items such as hats and fans. Some farms had been established in Victoria and South Australia in the 1870s and 1880s, so Barracluff’s farm was not an Australian first. But it may have been the first to be established in New South Wales.
Over the years Barracluff’s farm became a well-known tourist destination where patrons could select feathers to be cut directly from the flock. A ride on an ostrich was also a novelty for children visiting the farm, as indicated by some photos that survive.
No doubt the farm’s fame was assisted by a royal visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York in 1901. In honour of the visit, two birds were renamed ‘Duke’ and ‘Duchess’.
Afterwards, the farm was permitted to use the words ‘Under Royal Patronage’ and ‘Under Vice-Regal Patronage’ – which Barracluff exploited in all his marketing.
As the business grew, so too did the public profile of Joseph Barracluff. He became active in local community life and he was an alderman of Waverley Municipal Council for 10 years, and was elected mayor twice.
The business thrived until the outbreak of WWI, when the ostentatious statement of ostrich feathers fell out of favour. Joseph Barracluff died suddenly at his ostrich farm in 1918 aged 57 years. Soon after his death, the farm folded.
Although a partial subdivision of the land commenced in 1917 just prior to Joseph’s death, it was not until 1925 that the farm was completely subdivided. Today, a street and park bear his name.
Dr Lisa Murray is the Historian of the City of Sydney and former chair of the Dictionary of Sydney Trust. She is the 20201 Dr AM Hertzberg AO Fellow at the State Library of New South Wales and the author of several books, including Sydney Cemeteries: a field guide. She appears on 2SER on behalf of the Dictionary of Sydney in a voluntary capacity. Thanks Lisa, for the many years of unstinting support of the Dictionary! You can follow her on Twitter here: @sydneyclio
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