Uncovering Gems at Crystal Brook

I headed north last week through the just-budding vineyards of the Clare Valley and towards the Port Pirie smelters to spend some time at one of the 61 registered museums in our program, the Crystal Brook Heritage Centre.  Located in the centre of this small country town, close to the Big Goanna, this National Trust museum is housed in a former butcher and baker’s shop built in 1875.  It’s not hard to miss, the huge red and yellow Rosella Pickles sign painted on the side of the building stands out in the sunlight.  The shop was the first 2 storeyed business house in town.

With long-time volunteer Ken as my guide, we wandered through the store and the various buildings in the grounds as he uncovered some unique treasures from the barrage of memorabilia that lined every room and shed – a cradle handmade from a packing case with an ‘extension’ for when the baby grew; a 19th century ‘time capsule’ consisting of a message in a bottle found in one of the fireplaces, left by the original butcher’s daughter; a cash register from the first roadhouse in the area; a wonderful chrome washing machine from the United States, the first of its type to be imported to South Australia in 1914; a small prefabricated iron building that had once been a policeman’s hut and had come all the way from Scotland;  and a forerunner to the Stobie pole lying amongst the numerous agricultural implements in the grounds.

What I love about so many volunteer-run community museums around our state is the wealth of knowledge and fascinating stories as well as passion and pride for their history that pulses within the stone walls and corrugated iron.  So much potential, if only there were more resources for more interpretation perhaps although it is amazing what one can do with just a few funds and some creativity.  We are always here to help with suggestions for displays and other projects and how to access grants to achieve your goals.

More photos of some of Crystal Brook Heritage Centre’s amazing collection are here

A Polish Picnic

At the beginning of October I was invited to a very special picnic. Since 1974 the Polish Hill River Church Museum has been holding an annual picnic but this year it was in honour of the 140th anniversary of their church – and the 175th anniversary of the founding of South Australia.

After a 2 hour drive from the city, I drove down iconic Annie’s Lane, and soon spotted the small stone church on the hill, set amongst old gum trees and surrounded by the rolling vineyards of Clare Valley. With spring now upon us, the gnarled vines were just beginning to sprout leaves. Named after the patron saint of Krakow, the St Stanislaw Kostka Church was built in 1871 by the Polish migrants that had first arrived in the area nearly 20 years previously.

A century later the building was restored by second wave post WWII Polish migrants and a museum was established in the 3 room school attached to the church which was eventually registered in our Community Museums Program.

The changeable sunshine to showers weather did not appear to have deterred the throng judging by the 5 huge coaches and collection of cars parked in the church grounds.  Around 300 participants gathered in the huge corrugated iron meeting hall next to the church, firstly for Mass, then speeches, then a Polish style lunch, served amidst the hum of enthusiastic Polski chatter and recorded music.

Then at last what everyone had been waiting for – the floor was cleared for the colourful folk dancing troupe who performed a medley of high spirited traditional dances with tremendous skill and vitality. The museum committee cleverly made the most of their captive audience and did a roaring trade selling special anniversary wine and calendars as well as second hand goods.  And no community event would be complete without a raffle!

With lunch over there was time to wander.  I loved the magnificent beribboned sunflower and corn sheaf decorated hay cart – is this a distinctive spring tradition? Then on to the museum although with so many visitors it was a bit of a squeeze and it wasn’t long before I could say “Excuse me” in Polish!

What a wonderful community event!  There are more photographs from the day here.  I would love to know more about the Polish traditions and the items in the museum. Please feel free to add to the descriptions or make some comments.

Up in the sky at the Aviation Museum

I took my two year old son Cameron to the Aviation Museum which was open for free during the Port Festival 8 to 9 October.  What a great, lively family atmosphere!  Heaps of kids and Mums and Dads milling about, going up the steps into the big plane and the Vietnam helicopter.  Cameron had a go pretending to fly a plane and we spent some time in the paddock adjacent the museum watching Barossa Helicopters taking people for short sight-seeing flights.

Fantastic too that the museum was open both days of the festival from 10am until 6pm.  We didn’t get there until after 4.30 and there were heaps of people walking between the Railway and Aviation Museums and at least 100 people in the hanger at the museum checking out the displays.

Bumped into Nigel and Paul Daw from the museum and they said think got 3,500 people through the door on Saturday and not many less on the Sunday.  A terrific visitor result for the museum.  Congratulations to all involved on the effort that went into making a great weekend!

NOW Making Music in Magill

Last week when I drove to the Magill campus of the University of South Australia to attend part of the Narratives of War (NOW) two-day symposium, I wasn’t expecting music.

This biennial seminar program is a showcase for the NOW Group’s research based at UniSA’s School of Communication, International Studies and Languages. Headed by Professor Claire Woods, the group is concerned with the study of aspects of war, peace and reconciliation and brings together academics and research students from many diverse fields.

There were certainly a varied number of participants on the day I attended; from academics of wide-ranging disciplines, journalists and writers, members of local history groups and community museums, amateur family historians,  ex-military, and students.  And also a fascinating range of topics presented relating to the legacies of war such as the concept of shell-shock, the history of medals, art motivated by Hiroshima, the discovery of civilian air raid shelters around Adelaide and war planes at the Australian War Memorial.

However the highlight for me was Dr Russell Fewster’s presentation on his proposed Japanese folk story-inspired film in response to the Australian involvement in WWI in France.  As a former museum curator I am passionate about the use of historic objects to tell emotive stories. Dr Fewster brought along an unusual homemade stringed instrument that had been purchased in Marion but was said to have been ‘made in the trenches’.  It was to be the central focus of his film and for his session he drew upon the musical expertise of local cellist Kim Worley and tenor Robbie Macfarlane to perform two WWI pieces.  With only a few days practice, Kim ably played the strange violin – fashioned out of what appeared to be a table leg but with a crudely-made brass horn to aid amplification.  The slightly scratchy resonance was complemented by Robbie’s smooth rendition as they performed ‘Dinki Di’ followed by the very emotive parlour song of the times “End of a Perfect Day” to a rapt audience.

Like others there, I was fascinated by the violin cum trumpet. I came away thinking I had seen something like it before and I am now following up with a local museum where I think there may be a similar one in their collection.  Further research has led me to believe that it might be a homespun version of a Stroh violin, sometimes known as a violinophone, horn-violin or phonofiddle, patented by its German inventor Johannes Matthias Augustus Stroh in 1899 and popular from around 1900 to 1920, particularly in connection with early phonographic recording.

It would be fascinating to know the origins of Russell’s violin and if there are similar amateur-made examples out there. Has anyone seen anything like this before?

More photos from Russell Fewster’s presentation here

Fun on the Goldfields

On the last Sunday in September the Barossa Goldfields Historical Society holds their annual open day. Encouraged by their flyer which promised endless Billy tea and damper I set the GPS for Goldfields Road, Cockatoo Valley and hit the road. An hour or so later, a hand written sandwich board on the side of the dirt road along with several parked cars told me I’d come to the right place.

The event was in full swing inside and around Bowden’s cottage, a tiny 1930s two-roomed stone cottage which had been fully restored by Bob Swarbrick and his team from the historical society over a two year period in the early nineties. They also established a small museum in what had originally been an extension to the cottage, with displays relating to the area’s goldmining history including a family bible belonging to Job Harris, the first person to find gold back in 1868.

Welcomed by a mop-capped volunteer beside an equally welcoming log fire, I was happily ushered towards the Billy tea and freshly-made warm damper with homemade jam being served outside on the veranda.

Meanwhile in the orchard, stationary engines were chugging and puffing steam or gushing water into drums, lovinglytended by members of the Gawler Machinery Restorers Club.

On the other side of the gardens, one could try one’s hand at gold panning, watch blacksmith demonstrations or cross sawing. Children were also having fun with a metal detector with help from local ‘Constable’ Frank.

However it’s important to note that fossicking in national parks is not permitted.

It was difficult to believe that this peaceful spot amongst the gum trees was once a burgeoning township witha hotel, school and institute attracting over 4,000 people in the latter part of the 19th century.

Another little known piece of history is that the area was also the site of a WWII US army camp.  Only the foundations of some of the buildings remain but the society has put together an interesting display about it inside the cottage.

It was great to see what the enthusiasm of a small group can do in preserving our heritage.

Next time I’ll have to explore the area further and do one of the Barossa Goldfields heritage walks in the nearby Para Wirra National Park – the signs leading the way are not far from the cottage. More pictures of the day can be seen here.

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