Cowarie Station was first taken up and stocked by William Benjamin Rounsevell of Corryton Park. His application, no 654 of 1875 resulted in a twenty-one year lease, number 2568, being granted on 31 December 1875 over an area of four hundred square miles known as Cowarie. The name comes from Cowarie Hill, an Aboriginal word for a marsupial rat.
The station was started in February 1876 and within a very short time other leases were taken up in the area. This resulted in a large increase in the number of pastoralists, workers, shearers, drovers, station hands, wellsinkers, fencers, hawkers and travellers along the tracks between these northern stations. The main track later became known as the Birdsville Track. There were enough people in the area for a post office to be opened at Cowarie in 1877. During its first year of operation it received 342 letters.
As early as 1878, Rounsevell sold some of his properties. On 23 August both Moolooloo, near Blinman, and Cowarie were sold. Cowarie had increased in size to about 1,300 square miles and carried 2,000 head of cattle, all Durhams. Additionally it had about 140 horses. The Head Station had a good residence, men's huts, storerooms and two sets of drafting yards. Prospective buyers were also told that with a very moderate outlay in dam building the property could easily carry from 8,000 to 10,000 cattle.
The Cowarie lease was later transferred to William James Paull, August Helling, Walter David Hewer and William Pulsford. Helling was later involved with W.J. Paull in 1878, with a lease of 700 square miles near Goyder's Lagoon. Both these leases were worked while the Hellings stayed at Sliding Rock. In 1880 August Helling leased an additional block near Cowarie, which made his holdings in that area quite impressive. The whole Helling family now moved to Cowarie.
Isabella Helling must have accompanied her husband many times on his travels, even at an advanced stage of pregnancy. She certainly was a great woman, who deserves as much credit and recognition, if not more, than some of the male pioneers of the Northern Flinders Ranges. Isabella was neither afraid of new adventures nor of isolation. At Cowarie she ran the post office, issued blankets, rations and medical supplies to Aborigines, catered for drovers on their way to or from Birdsville, the station workers, and the growing number of her own children.
This was all achieved without the benefit of female company or indeed any other company, the nearest station being fifty kilometres to the east through sandhills. The nearest township (Marree) was 180 kilometres south. Unfortunately for the Hellings and thousands of others, drought during the 1880s drove them out of the north, out of work, and often into bankruptcy.
The 1880s were hard times at Cowarie. Several deaths occured at the station during these years. On 14 July 1885, twenty-six year old Charles Gould, the station cook, died. A year later both Louis Dupuse and William Garrety died at Cowarie. On 13 January 1887 twenty-four year old Eugenie Patterson died.
In 1888 Cowarie station received only sixty-five points of rain, and by 1890, after the birth of their daughter Mary, the Hellings moved back to Sliding Rock. However in 1893 the Hellings were once again at Cowarie, where Isabella provided meals for travellers along the Birdsville Track.
One such meal was served at Christmas to Dr Hoche and his young family who had left Farina and were on their way to Birdsville to take up his new appointment. During the 1890s there was a slight improvement in the Helling fortunes. There was no doctor at Cowarie when on 5 October 1892 Minnalinna, an Aborigine, was speared. He died the same night. His attacker was arrested by Mounted Constable Edward Napoleon Buonaparte Catchlove of the Diamantina Police Station.
In 1892 Helling sold his mailman's plant to Sidney Kidman, who had successfully tendered for the mailrun on the Birdsville Track. In 1894 Helling acquired a lease of Wilpena Pound and sold Cowarie Station a year later to the Kidman Brothers. On 4 April 1895 he took out lease no. 403 over 3,116 square miles with William James Paull for twenty-one years in the Cowarie area near his old station he had pioneered.
After the turn of the century conditions improved substantially at Cowarie. In 1901 Helling was back and running cattle. Later managers or owners were E. Pratt-1915, Neal-1923, George Morley, ex-Kidman drover, owned Cowarie in 1936 and John Otto Watt managed it in 1938. During 1940 George Morley sold out to Claude Oldfield and on 25 April 1942 The Mail published this article;
BROTHERS' £10 GROWS TO THOUSANDS IN 3 YEARS Three years ago two brothers, CH and EJ Oldfield, left Marree with their wives and families and less than £10, to take up 500 square miles of country 200 miles north of Marree. Today they have built assets worth several thousand pounds. The area taken up was originally part of Cowarie Station, and some time earlier had been abandoned by the previous lessee.
There were no improvements on the area taken up by the Oldfield brothers, which is now known as Mona Downs, and on arrival there they and their families had to sleep under the trees. They built a home of mud and coolibah logs near practically fresh, permanent water, and in a year, with the aid of their wives, they were growing many types of vegetables.
Soon after their arrival on the property a neighbour offered to buy a mob of cows and run them on the property, the Oldfields to keep a percentage of the progeny. The brothers grasped the opportunity, and so successful did it prove that there is now a herd of 400 to 500 cattle on Mona Downs.
A few months ago the brothers dissolved partnership. and this week Mr CA Oldfield. now the sole owner, was represented at the Abattoirs by 171 prime young cattle which were a credit to the country and their breeders. Mr Oldfield, who is a comparatively young man, said he had been in the back country all his life. When it was suggested to him that it was a pity to send such splendid, immature cattle to market, he said, 'Oh. in that country we don't often get our cattle fat, and when we do we find it a wise policy to market them as soon as possible. Mona Downs, he said, consisted mainly of sand hills, many thousands of acres of which in good seasons were flooded by water from the Diamantina and Kalahpoo Rivers.
There was always water in the beds of these streams, he said, and some immense pools. But in dry seasons the water of the Diamantina became salty. So did some of the pools in the Kalahpoo, but fortunately some remained fresh enough for stock. 'Since we took up the country seasons have been good. That applies to much of the country in the area, although in places it is patchy he concluded.
In 1943 Claud and Dora Oldfield, nee Scobie, moved from Mona Downs to live at Cowarie. The homestead had been rundown and required some time and effort to be made liveable. Goats who had previously considered the house their home were most reluctant to move out and tried several times to reclaim it. Eventually the homestead was completely renovated.
Claud Oldfield, born in Marree and educated at Quorn, was considered a professional pastoralist and created history in 1974 when he employed haymaking contractors. Later he even bought his own baler and produced many thousands of bales of hay at Cowarie. It was the large flood of 1974 which caused considerable stock and property damage and eventually filled Lake Eyre. The Oldfields had seven children and after the death of Claude, senior, his eldest son Claude, and wife Barbara, took over the running of the station.
During the early 1990s Cowarie was run by Grant Oldfield who later married Sharon, a former nurse from Sydney. Since the death of Grant, in an aircraft accident in 1994, Sharon has run the station successfully on her own. She too has earned the respect of station people for the manner in which she operates and as a mother of three children. She also has attracted the admiration of people across Australia for her efforts in rangelands management, rural land conservation and general environmental issues. In July 1999 she was awarded the Commonwealth Bank IBIS award.