From the start, Stock and Station Agents were a vital part of the process of running a property, large or small. While their primary purpose was to arrange for the buying and selling of stock and land, they often also financed these transactions, acting as bankers for the landowners.
While this was often a benign role, with many a farmer telling with gratitude of the help given by his agents at a critical time, there are those who still recall more ruthless actions when debt grew too big.
A transaction from a letter written by James Affleck of Kybybolite station to is relative, Thomas Guthrie of Rich Avon in the Western Districts of Victoria, gives some insight into the problems that were sometimes encountered. He writes first of Henry Jones, of Binnum, a client of Ormerod and Co., of Robe.
“Poor Jones from Binnum had an accountant from Adelaide going over his books and declares that he has been paying 25 percent per annum. Mr. Jones told me he had sent a duplicate of this to Grice Sumner Melbourne, (another well-known stock firm) and also to his brother Heighway. The latter he states advised him to get an accountant. From this it appears that Heighway may take him in hand if there is any prospect of clearing the station out…which I very much doubt.”
He then turned his attention to the Robertsons of Struan, and an agent he refers to as ‘Connor the Coursing Dog’, along with William McIntosh, a failed squatter who turned agent following his bankruptcy.
“Connor the Coursing Dog has turned traitor to the Robertsons and possibly more in the district, and they have sworn against him and Portence Macintosh by putting everything like commission past them.”
It seems that the action of these agents in ‘talking up’ the value of some of the land for J. Robertson had affected his chances of obtaining further selections when they were offered by the government.
Many agents, like Ormerod of Robe, also acted as wool brokers. The wool was a security against debt. Ormerod had begun life in the South East as the first Squatter on Naracoorte Station. He was only 22 years old at the time, an energetic, ambitious, confident young man. He sold to Macintosh 15 years later and established himself in a stock and station agency and wool shipping business at Robe, using his extensive network of fellow squatters to build his business up to be the biggest in the colony. On his death, Grice and Co. bought his business.
Lucas DeGaris’ first move into the stock business came to an end when larger firms, Elder Smith and Co., and Bagot Shakes and Lewis, set up in Naracoorte. He became manager for the latter, and when it closed down, once more set up in his own right. The firm grew, opening a number of branches and it was not until 1947, when it merged with Elder Smith and Co., that the name disappeared form the region’s sale yards.