(Leader Newspaper Saturday 3rd March 1883)
A railway journey from Prince’s bridge station to Frankston and thence by a pleasant coach ride of 15 miles to Hastings takes the visitor into a portion of the district of Western Port – so called from having been discovered originally by explorers coming from the Sydney or eastern side. Farming has never been very extensively carried on, but there are a few fine properties in the locality, first amongst which must be mentioned the Coolart estate, which is the property of Mr. John Benn, one of the principals in the firm of Grice, Summer and Co. Mr. Benn’s place lies on the shore of Western Port Bay, 5 or 6 miles distant (round the coast) from Sandy Point, towards Flinders. The townships of Mornington, or Snapper Point, and Hastings are distant – the former 16 and the latter about 7 miles. Coolart was the original homestead of the first run taken up in the district, and the pioneer, Mr. Merrick, who first ventured into what then must have been a howling wilderness, exercised a wise discrimination in selecting it, as it contains the pick of the land to be found in the Western Port district, and is one of the pleasantest sites that could be wished for as a marine residence. The run was taken up about the year 1845, and soon afterwards changed hands, Mr. Merrick selling out to Mr. J. Payne, who, in turn, sold the station to Mr. J. Hann. The latter gentleman kept the property for some years, but eventually sold it to Messrs. Sumner and Benn, who entered into possession in September 1862, taking over the stock, consisting of horses and cattle, at the same time. Up to about this period the only other settlers in the district were Mr. J. Barker, at Cape Schanck and a Mr. King, who had a run near where the fishing village of Hastings now stands.
Coolart at present consists of rather over 2000 acres of land, of which nearly 500 have been cleared and cultivated, the remainder being bush land, having all large timber rung. The principal stock kept at present is sheep. For years past the name of the owner and also the property itself have been associated with shorthorn cattle breeding, but, owing to the great fall in prices of of this class of stock, breeding them on an extensive scale was discontinued and more attention given to sheep. There are about 2000 at present on the state, some being pure Cotswolds, obtained originally from the flocks of Mr. Calvert of Colac, while the rest are crossbreds from merinoes to Cotswolds.
The Coolart horses have always been of a good sort; 128 were bought with the place 21 years ago. Of these two are yet on the estate, one of them still doing his daily share of work and looking as fresh as ever. There are about 45 breeding mares, which have been selected and bought for the purpose of suiting Tempest. Well bred mares, possessing size, style and substance, are the sort chosen, as Mr. Benn’s object is to breed carriage horses, for which there is a permanent and increasing demand. A pair of carriage horses with good action will command a high figure, and anyone who can successfully breed them will certainly find it profitable.
Shetland ponies have been bred on Coolart for some years past, and have always paid fairly well. The strain kept is pure Shetland, the original ones having been imported by Messrs. Sumner and Benn. They do so well that it began to be noticed as a fault that the young stock began to exceed what is considered to be the proper size of Shetlands, this increase of size being ascribed to climatic influences. With a view of counteracting this, Mr. Benn has recently imported a very small entire from Skye, who has been christened Jumbo.
The house and buildings at Coolart are situated in a pleasant position on a bluff, about 300 yards from the shores of Western Port Bay. They are sheltered from the cold winds by blue gum trees and hedges of a variety of ti-tree.
(This is an edited version of the article published in 1883 and now available on line at http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article197992143 To read the full article J BENN article ex TROVE Leader 1862-1918 Sun 3 Mch 1883