A Breath of Fresh Eyre: day 3

Today was a day to take in some more of the community history around Port Lincoln before heading home this evening.

First up I headed for the local RSL whose salmon pink club rooms have a large and varied collection of war memorabilia on display which include some unique souvenirs such as a small rock from Gallipoli’s Anzac Cove and a piece of a Burma ‘Death’ railway sleeper.

Then it was a dash up the hill to Flinders Park which has a wonderful view of the bay, a prime site for building a home which is just what Captain John Bishop did for his son Joseph in 1866. Built of local limestone, Mill Cottage originally had 2 rooms but was extended as Joseph and his wife’s family grew to 6 children. The cottage is now the home of the Southern Eyre Peninsula Family and Local History Group and proved to be full of interesting treasures: a giant whale bone in the garden, some extraordinary early daguerreotypes of Aboriginal men from the nearby Poonindie Mission dressed as ‘gentlemen’; and ‘Mr Breeze’, a toy monkey dating from 1893 belonging to one of the Bishop children.  It was a delight to be shown round by Rose, Rae and Jackie and witness a group of primary school students trying to fathom out the use of a chamber pot!

Also in this picturesque park is Settlers Cottage although only built in 1987 and housing the Port Lincoln Pioneers and Descendants Club’s collection.  Most intriguing amongst the pioneering memorabilia was a small wooden box with a wind up handle containing the Magneto-Electric Machine for Nervous Diseases. Shocking!

The afternoon was spent at the Port Lincoln Railway Museum, the home of the Eyre Peninsula Railway Preservation Society, where I learnt there is so much more to railway museums than just trains! There were poignant stories of the shunt horses that carted goods to and from the ships, particularly how some sadly drowned when they toppled from the jetty; there were examples of station bikes that were used to take urgent messages to railway workers; the numerous sports clubs arranged by the railway institute; and I loved the controller’s chair on its own set of rails so he could slide up and down the length of his desk whilst working on the railway map.

As always another great day for putting faces to voices and email addresses. It’s been a successful three days of networking and now it’s back to the office to follow up all the questions I’ve been asked and download all my photos!

A Breath of Fresh Eyre: day 2

Day Two on my Eyre Peninsula field trip. This morning I left both Tumby Bay and the bitumen and wound my way gingerly inland on an unsealed road to Koppio.  The landscape was dramatic – the deep blue rain-filled sky contrasted with the biscuit coloured hills and every so often there were flashes of green as Port Lincoln parrots with their distinctive black and yellow ring necks flew across the road.

Today I visited the Koppio Smithy Museum, then cross country to the Tod Reservoir Heritage Display, housed in one of the original 1922 homes built at the reservoir when the renowned water scheme was first established; then back to the highway heading south to Port Lincoln to visit the Axel Stenross Maritime Museum and the Kotz Collection of Stationary Engines.

It was a day of meeting more enthusiastic volunteers and passionate collectors; but was it me or did everything start with B today?  Blacksmiths, boats, Byron’s carriage, a barbed wire collection, bag lifters, Black Tuesday Bushfires, a chair from the Buffalo, Blackstone engines … then at my last port of call, I met Brian and Barry.

Newly-built meeting rooms seemed to be another recurring theme.  The one at Koppio museum, courtesy of an arts grant and a lot of hard work on the part of the committee, is a beauty and will be a great boon to them.   The Boys at Stenross have also nearly completed their new meeting space at the top of the stairs next to their office – in fact the work they have done throughout the museum with little outside funding is incredible and a credit to them.

Today was definitely a day of boys and their sheds.

I’ll be downloading more pictures from this trip on to Flickr very soon.

A Breath of Fresh Eyre: day 1

Today I took the ‘red eye’ from Adelaide to Whyalla and headed south by hire car avoiding both emus and giant grain trucks that indicate it’s harvest time on the Eyre Peninsula.

Over the next three days, I’m visiting as many community museums as I can over here to photograph and help members write up their profiles for our SA Community History site as well as catch up with those who are currently working on History SA-funded projects.

It’s been a marathon run …

I’ve seen a lot of tractors including a fully restored 100 year old Ruston Proctor Traction engine in Cowell while the town also turned up some exquisite embroidered fundraising tea cloths of the same vintage; I’ve discovered cues or bullock ‘shoes’ and giant jam stirrers in Cleve; I’ve learnt about Tumby Bay’s famous Brattenising plough and the town’s connection with the Mortlock family; and I’ve walked in the footsteps (and driven in the tyre tracks) of some great pioneering women – author May Gibbs of Gumnuts fame who spent her early childhood outside Cowell where there is a memorial close to the location of the original homestead; and the amazing Sylvia Birdseye, intrepid female bus driver of the 1920s who is now immortalised in the Birdseye Highway running from Cowell to Elliston.

… but most of all I’ve enjoyed meeting all the passionate people who look after these community museums and diverse collections and hearing their stories …

Jo and Merle at the Franklin Harbour History Museum plus John and John down the road at the Agricultural Museum in Cowell; Else at the Cleve National Trust Museum; Pat and Jean at the Tumby Bay National Trust Museum; as well as Community Development officers Pam and Christine at Cleve and Tumby Bay respectively.

Wonder what treasures I’ll discover tomorrow?

Back from the Museums Australia Conference

Earlier in November I attended the Museums Australia National Conference in Perth. I gave a paper about the South Australian Community History Website and caught up with lots of interstate colleagues about community museum matters. The conference was in conjunction with interpretation Australia, so there were lots of interpretation focused sessions to go to and a whole stream of the conference dedicated to education and curriculum topics.

One session I went to was an overview of the new Australian History Curriculum and there’s plenty in it where community museums could be very useful resources for their local schools. For example, year three curriculum looks at who lived in local community, how community has changed, what features have been lost and retained; year four lends well to history of local schools (and what local museum doesn’t have items relating to local schools and schooling!); year 5 deals with life, work, social and economic development in the 1800s – lots more opportunities for museums to find links with their collections.

There was also a fair bit of discussion about the future sustainability of community museums and whether or not (and if so how) they should be fewer or different. An interesting statistic was given for Australian museums per head of population – one museum for every 24,000 people in the USA, every 17,000 in the UK and for every 7,500 in Australia. And in smaller communities that statistic could be much higher.

I also went to an interesting session about ‘Pop-up Museums’, where non-permanent spaces are used for display of usually informal and quickly put together very short-term displays. The idea is that members of the community are invited to bring along objects that relate to a theme or particular topic, write a label, and then the resulting ‘exhibition’ consists of whatever people have brought along. Might be a good way of engaging with schools? Or an outcome that’s a bit different from a community anniversary celebration or even a family reunion? A recent Pop-up Museum talked about at the conference was the North Perth Share House Pop-up Museum– take a look for a bit of an insight into what pop-up museums are about and see some images here.

Celebrations for Swan Reach Museum

I was looking forward to visiting Swan Reach Museum this week – and not just because you get to take the car across the Murray on the ferry or even because there was the promise of birthday cake to celebrate their 10th anniversary!  This would be my first visit to the museum since joining History SA and I was eager to attend the official launch of their new displays funded by CMP grants over the last couple of years.

I wasn’t disappointed. The ferry ride was fun; the cake delicious and it was terrific to see how a financial boost had taken this organisation to another level as well as how proud the committee and volunteers are of their museum and what they are able to provide for the community.  And a bonus surprise – a 1935 Dodge with original metallic tan paintwork came to the party!

I walked through the new displays with their designer Peter Templeton and Swan Reach museum stalwart Graham Barlow. Both are to be congratulated for the many innovative but simple ideas that have been utilised to counter the constraints of finance and space in the old school building. I was interested to see the use of low-cost digital frames to extend the number of images on exhibition; viewable storage consisting of sliding drawers covered in Perspex containing their collections of eggs and fossils; photos sandwiched between sheets of clear Perspex so that the stone of the original building could be seen behind; even the clever idea of hanging a large museum object (a wheelchair) from the ceiling so that it could still be viewed but not damaged, and did not take up precious floor space.

And it seems that Graham and his team don’t intend to sit back and relax after the official opening of the new displays.  There are more plans afoot to develop the land around the museum and I look forward to seeing the museum go from strength to strength. More photos from the launch are here

Weighbridge Display Launched at Stansbury Museum

Stansbury Museum’s new Weighbridge display was officially opened on Friday 18 November by Steven Griffiths, Local Member for Goyder before a large gathering of locals and others from further afield within the Yorke Peninsula.

Also in attendance were Martin Hamilton-Smith, Member for Waite and his young son Thomas.  Mr Hamilton Smith’s family has had long association with the town; his grandmother had been the local school teacher while his grandfather was involved in the establishment of Stansbury’s pioneering oyster industry.

The Weighbridge was donated to the museum by Yorketown District Council and is actually identical to the one previously used in Stansbury, at the Wheat Stacks on the cliff top where the Motel presently stands. It was used to weigh grain bags before they were shipped but was phased out of operation as more farmers turned to bulk handling.

Dating from about 1940, the Weighbridge was originally manufactured and fitted by Hawke Engineering Co at Kapunda who installed almost every weighbridge across the Yorke Peninsula.  Hawke Engineering was established in 1857 and made the first weighbridge in Australia as well producing the first Australian-designed hydraulic car hoist.  No longer in existence in Kapunda, the company eventually became Ultra Hawke, the largest manufacturers of weighbridges in Australia and operates from Melbourne.

Mr Griffiths has a special connection with the new exhibit at Stansbury – he grew up in Yorketown and after leaving school had actually operated the weighbridge during his early career with the local council.

After his official speech, Mr Griffiths unlocked the door to the new display shed which contains interpretive panels as well as a set of wool bale scales on which visitors can weigh themselves – although this was perhaps not such a good idea after the delicious and substantial morning tea served by the museum volunteers following the launch!

Stansbury Museum is a registered museum in History SA’s Community Museums Program and is open on Wednesdays and Sundays from 2 pm to 4pm and every day throughout January. More photos from the launch can be seen here

Unley Museum’s Silver Anniversary

This week I attended the silver anniversary celebrations for the museum along with a large group of museum volunteers, councillors, friends of the museum and former curators.  After drinks and finger food Unley Mayor Lachlan Clyne, spoke about the commitment of council to maintaining the museum, and Anne Milne, president of the Friends of the Unley Museum, spoke about the importance of a museum to a thriving community.  The museum’s current curator, Elizabeth Hartnell, gave an overview of highlights from the museum over its 25 year history and acknowledged the work and commitment of the strong volunteer group who support it.

It was wonderful to see so many happy volunteers and friends of the museum proud of the museum’s milestone.  As one of very few museums in South Australia to have a paid curator it is a credit to the foresight of Unley Council – and the commitment of the community and council over the years – that a curator has been employed for the whole 25 years (not the same person!).  It’s a very successful model for a community museum that unfortunately is not replicated in many other localities in this state.

Over its 25 year history the museum has acquired around 5,000 objects from the local area, which are used in regular changing displays, and well over 5,000 photographs about a variety of aspects of life in the Unley district.

The museum was registered in 1987 and then accredited in History SA’s standards program in 1994.

It was great to be invited to the anniversary do.  Cheers to the museum’s next 25 years!

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