Police Trooper Robert Whitbread was stationed at Mount Freeling Police Station, which was situated on the Mount Freeling cattle and sheep station, on the main track between Umberatana and Blanchewater stations, all owned by Thomas Elder. Opened in 1866, the police post had very poor accommodation and for a while troopers Whitbread, Powell and Raymond lived in a tent. They had an extensive area to patrol and were often away from the station for weeks at a time, sleeping under the stars or occasionally in shearers quarters when on a pastoral property.
On 21 February 1869 Whitbread left for Kopperamanna to collect Agricultural Returns. This round trip took him only two weeks. In August of the same year he was at Umberatana to explain to the recently arrived Afghans the nature of arrest if not living according to the South Australian law. Later that month he was instructed to go to Blinman to attend the police court and act as interpreter in the case of Elder & Co. vs Afghans.
If not patrolling, or on other duties, Whitbread, Curnow and other troopers stationed at Mount Freeling, had to make regular trips to Umberatana to pick up their mail and other supplies. During the winter of 1869 several reports were made, and investigated by Whitbread, into the matter of sheep stealing by Aborigines from such places as Mount Fitton and Umberatana.
Although stationed in sparsely populated areas, it did not mean that the troopers had no contact with other parts of the colony. Even before the Overland Telegraph was in use they had their regular newspapers and mail from Adelaide. They were well informed and knew what was going on both in Adelaide and the Flinders Ranges. Naturally they had heard about the Sliding Rock mine, and many of the other mining ventures, which promissed good investment opportunities.
In 1870 Whitbread bought five shares in the Sliding Rock Mining Company and was not the only trooper to do so. Both William Gregory of Blinman and J.B. Porter of Clare bought two and five shares each.
In March 1873 Whitbread left far away Mount Freeling Station for the smelters at Bolla Bollana, to investigate a report of sly grog selling. After a lengthy trip on horseback and numerous interviews he had to report to his superior in Melrose that he had been unable to obtain sufficient information to make an arrest.
While visiting these mining camps or infant towns, Whitbread began to wonder if he could not make a lot more money from almost any business activity, rather than from enforcing the law in the north of South Australia. His friend George Curnow had resigned and was doing well. On 29 August Whitbread also resigned and handed over to Porter who had come up from Clare.
Although he had resigned Whitbread did not leave the area for he had secured the appointment of postmaster at Mount Freeling. By December he had bought the store at Bolla Bollana and become involved in the pastoral industry as well. In January 1874, Whitbread bought a block of land at Sliding Rock for $25 and a month later ten blocks of land in the newly established town of Beltana.
Later that year Whitbread expanding his business at Bolla Bollana and went into a partnership with TJC Hantke. Both were well known to each other through their interest in the pastoral industry. Hantke had been employed previously at both Beltana and Umberatana stations. Whitbread also tendered successfully for the mail contract between Blinman and Kopperamanna via Umberatana for 1874-6 starting from 1 April 1874 for the sum of $680 per year.
During 1875 Whitbread and Hantke planned for reorganisation and expansion of their mutual business interests. First of all they advertised some of their pastoral properties for sale, probably to raise the necessary money to finance their expansionary activities. They put almost three hundred square miles of land near the Strzelecki Track on the market. Next came the decision to move their business to Beltana.
In July 1875 they sold their Bolla Bollana store to Thomas Neaylon and opened a store in Beltana. Several newspapers carried this notices
Whitbread & Hantke, in Removing
their Store from Bolla Bollana to
thank their Friends and Customers for their
support, and hope that they will favour them with
their orders in future as hitherto, which will
always have their very best attention.
A year later they bought the Braddock business at Blinman. However on 30 September the Whitbread-Hantke partnership, storekeepers of Blinman, Beltana and Sliding Rock, was dissolved.
Whitbread kept the Blinman store whereas Hantke continued in Beltana and Sliding Rock. In October 1876 Whitbread sold some of his land to TJC Hantke, and on 6 December transferred his store to Curnow.