Happy Birthday Charles Sturt!

Had I stepped into an episode of ‘Cranford’?  No, I was attending a very special historic birthday party.  We were celebrating Charles Sturt’s 217th birthday on Saturday at his former home in Grange, now the Charles Sturt Memorial Museum, where members of the Victoriana Society certainly brought this early colonial style house in Adelaide’s western suburbs to life.

In the presence of Senator for South Australia, the Hon Don Farrell MP, former SA Premier and the museum’s Patron, the Hon Dean Brown; and Mayor of the City of Charles Sturt, Kirsten Alexander, celebrations began literally with a bang.

Members of the Fort Glanville Historical Association started the proceedings by firing a two pounder cannon, honouring the man who played a key role in mapping the Murray Darling river system and opening up Australia’s inland for settlement. Soldier, farmer, explorer, statesman – Charles’ other legacies include the Sturt Desert Pea, our State’s floral emblem, and samples from his Central expedition are preserved and displayed in the museum.

After the formalities a very pleasant afternoon tea was served in a marquee on the museum lawns. Charles’ annual birthday party on 28 April continues a tradition which began in 1967 when the Jetty Road residence known as The Grange was reopened as a Museum.  Sturt’s mixed farm of nearly 400 acres had been subdivided by the end of the 19th century to create the village of Grange, now a beachside Western suburb of Adelaide. More photos of Saturday’s event can be seen here

The Charles Sturt Memorial Museum is a registered member of History SA’s Community Museums Program.  It is kept open by a dedicated crew of volunteers on the first and third Sunday of the month from 2- 5pm.

Rev heads and Rock & Roll at the Parade Ground

Last Sunday I was involved with helping to send off a large number of classic fifties, sixties and seventies vehicles from the Torrens Parade Ground to the annual Rock and Roll Rendezvous up in the hills at the National Motor Museum.

After an early start, the vehicles began to arrive on the expanse of grey tarmac, broken up by swirling autumn leaves, beneath an equally grey sky. Fortunately, the rain clouds desisted and we were soon toe tapping to the R&R music from the PA system, (conveniently drowning out the sound of the Oval being demolished in the background), tucking into breakfast and buying raffle tickets from event sponsors Coast FM.

Such an event isn’t the success that it is without the help of enthusiastic volunteers such as the CFS who were on parking duty and members of the Vietnam Veterans Association who were putting on the BBQ breakfast. Great job and much appreciated.

It was a real nostalgia fest of FJs, MGs, VWs, V8s and much much more, all polished paintwork and gleaming chrome, while many of the drivers and passengers had taken the trouble to dress in some very innovative retro costumes.

Enthusiastic rev heads huddled over engine bays and engaged in technical talk.  But it was the social history of the vehicles that caught my attention – for example, Steve Annear’s white Ford Galaxie convertible which had been used to ferry the Beatles around Adelaide on their 1964 visit.  It can be seen in the You Tube clip here.  Imported brand new from Canada, it had been previously owned by entrepreneur Sammi Lee who it is said drove Frank Sinatra around in it during his Australia tour.  The car was later owned by sixties and seventies Sydney disc jockey Ward Austin and still has his personalised WA number plates.  It was the envy of many but as Steve commented, all the cars gathered there were unique, with a special history of their own.

With the raffle winner announced, the cars were waved off with Coast FM flags with much panache and directed to where the real fun was to begin up in Birdwood with live entertainment from legendary Little Pattie and many more motoring memories. If only cars could talk!

See more photographs from the breakfast send off here

Robe on DVD

The Robe Branch of the National Trust of South Australia held its opening of the Customs House Museum DVD Project on Sunday, 1st April, 2012 in conjunction with a commemoration of the Baudin and Flinders meeting at Encounter Bay in 1802. The realisation of this project enables us to show historic photos of Robe dating from the late nineteenth century. Themed music and captions have also been developed to give the projected photos life and relevance, thus lifting the modern, interactive component of the museum’s displays. At the opening, we were able to project 30 minutes of old photographs. With the equipment purchased, the Branch has the potential to collect and catalogue more old photographs of Robe and District, store them electronically and project them in the Customs House Museum.

The Branch was fortunate to receive generous funding under the auspices of the SA175 Grant Program. This funding enabled us not only to purchase a laptop computer, monitor, speakers, a DVD player, scanner and hard drives but also to conduct a ‘Historic Photo Scanning Day’ last October. Many local residents brought their old photographs to this session and we were able to scan them, provide a scanned copy and return the original photograph to the owners while they filled out a cataloguing and permissions form. The great advantage of this process, which we will repeat, is that the Branch develops a collection of historic photographs provided with their owners’ permission and without any risk of the originals being lost.

Another great benefit of this project is that it has served to expand the Customs House displays into the audio-visual area. This more interactive medium will be of direct interest to primary and secondary school students who visit the museum from time to time. The historic photographs connect the themes of the existing displays and the project has been set up to make the production of future DVDs easy. Cataloguing and storing the old photographs also helps to preserve them for posterity and generates considerable local interest in the Customs House. The Robe Branch of the National Trust of South Australia acknowledges the support provided to this project by the SA175 Grant Program and thanks the program for its generosity and willingness to give the project a go.

News story contributed by Michael Slessar, Chair, Robe Branch National Trust of South Australia.

Luhr’s Cottage Working Bee

On a warm sunny day this week I got to work outside at Luhr’s Cottage Museum in the Barossa Valley. The Cottage houses a large number of books, framed prints and photos, textiles and a variety of other objects and the management group asked for a hand in working out how best to look after the items on display.

So where do you start?  With cleaning of course!

Not as boring as it might sound, cleaning in museums is a VIT (very important task) and it’s always interesting to see the differences between museum cleaning and cleaning in own home.  We talked about and tried out various cleaning techniques and everyone in the group had a go at carefully wiping ceramic and glass objects, vacuuming books and textiles and a very ornate leatherwork picture frame using the micro-attachments.  I thoroughly enjoyed showing the group some useful collection cleaning skills and appreciated the warning gasps from them each time I narrowly missed bumping my head on the very low verandah beam!

Also great to hear that the rising damp problem in the floor of one room of the cottage appears to be caused by a leaking pipe, so should be able to rectify fairly soon.  It pays to keep an eye on water bills, as a higher than usual one tipped the group off that a leak may be behind the damp problem.  Until the floor dries out properly, we also used some pieces of Mylar to create a barrier between the brick floor and items displayed on the floor.  The museum is considering reducing the number of items on display and storing them instead, which would help a lot with ongoing cleaning and collection maintenance.

The museum is open every day, so why not break up a Barossa wine trip with a spot of local history?

A Picnic in the Park

The Sunday before Easter I was invited to a picnic in the Adelaide Botanical Gardens; but not just the usual Aussie BBQ.  This was the annual picnic of the Adelaider Liedertafel 1858, the longest continuing male choir in Australia.  Amounting to 44 members, at full strength, it is also probably the second oldest choir of any type in the country.

Families and friends of these illustrious songsters gathered under the dappled shade of the London plane trees and beside the giant buttressed roots of the Morton Bay figs.  With the smell of bratwurst and the chatter of German voices in the air one felt one had been transported to a park in Stuttgart!

Dressed more informally than when they give public performances such as at the annual Schutzenfest, Christmas concert or other cultural events in Adelaide and beyond, the group enthusiastically entertained the gathering with excerpts from their repertoire, mainly German operatic works and folksongs although some pieces in English also featured.  As usual, songs were performed a cappella (without instrumental accompaniment), almost unique amongst male choirs.

Delving further into their past, I discovered that the ALT have a fascinating history, which can be found on their website http://www.alt1858.org/ along with some historical photos. Antecedent choirs that eventually became the ALT date back to 1844, only 8 years after European settlement in South Australia, but it was in 1858 that a committee established the choir which is why this year is included in their official title. I was fascinated to learn that their first conductor was Carl Linger, the composer of Song of Australia, which in fact they had first performed at White’s Rooms, King William Street on 14 December 1859. He had led another ALT forerunner which had rehearsed in Wiener-Fischer’s café in Rundle Street during the early 1850s, and he continued as conductor until his death in 1862.  The ALT always performs at the Carl Linger Australia Day ceremony at West Terrace Cemetery at the gravesite of their first conductor.

Despite the average age of the choir being around 78, the choir members all seem to have a sense of fun and youthful joie de vivre and it was a delight to share with them a bit of South Australia’s German heritage.

Based at the South Australian German Association (SAADV)’s Clubrooms at 223 Flinders Street, the choir meet every Tuesday evening.

About Time is on its Way

At last, it’s time for About Time, South Australia’s History Festival.   The program is out, the website is live. An amazing 513 events will be happening during the month of May ranging from walks to websites, talks to tours, and exhibitions to special events.

In addition, the festival has a new element this year: Open House Adelaide. In partnership with Open House Worldwide, the program will see almost fifty of Adelaide’s most interesting buildings open to the public, free, over the weekend of 19 and 20 May.

The program is many months in the making processing and entering registrations, designing and proofreading, culminating in a frenetic packing process.

Over the past two days, the Drill Hall at the Torrens Parade Ground where History SA is based has been transformed into a makeshift mailing office.  Working in shifts, as many as 14 people from the CEO to volunteers and other members of staff from History SA’s museums, formed a production line – wrapping, sticking, stamping and piling up boxes and parcels ready for removal by Australia Post.

30,000 programs, 3000 posters and 660 Corflute signs have been sorted and packed and are now on their way
to numerous  libraries, museums, schools, council offices, even golf clubs and aged-care facilities.

From Adelaide CBD to the outback – to the far flung edges of the State – to Ceduna, Coober Pedy, Bordertown and Port Macdonnell, across the water to Kangaroo Island and all points in between, the About Time programs and posters are wending their way to promote what promises to be another great History Festival.

Look out for the striking program, the Welcome signs and four posters with different backdrops and the words OUR STORY or YOUR STORY designed by We’re Open.

It’s all happening from 1-31 May 2012.  Check out the website, or follow on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.

Connecting up in Canberra

Last week I attended the inaugural conference of the Australasian Association for Digital Humanities “Building, Mapping, Connecting” at the Australian National University in Canberra.  The conference ran over 3 days and was largely attended by almost 250 academics largely from worldwide universities.

However History SA was well represented.  I gave a paper on our Community History website, Senior Curator Mandy Paul spoke about the new History Hub soon to be part of History SA’s overall website while our CEO Margaret Anderson gave a joint paper with our website project director Darren Peacock on the successful Bound for South Australia website.

Much of my own interests and research is in the digitisation of historical collections and how Web 2.0 technologies can build online communities in the museum or history context.  However it was refreshing to get new perspectives within different disciplines of the humanities such as literature, music, archaeology, art history and the performing arts.

As is often the case, there was a tantalising smorgasbord of papers on offer, often running simultaneously so that making the right choice was an art form in itself while the sprint between rooms served as good exercise and made up for the calorific but delicious morning and afternoon teas.

So for 3 days I self-indulged in blogging, crowdsourcing, data management, digitisation, e-research, mapping, developing online communities, semantic tagging, transmedia storytelling, text mining and virtual reality to name but a few; as well as getting my head around all the acronyms that were banded around – TEIs, PIs, GIs etc.  And although it was fun and useful to be part of the Twittersphere, nothing can make up for what is always the best part of conferences – networking between papers.

So it’s back to work now and some time to be spent putting into practice what I have learnt as well as updating my Outlook Contacts.

For more information about the Australian Association for Digital Humanities, go here

SA winemaking pioneer Thomas Hardy honoured

A bronze plaque honouring South Australia’s pioneer winemaker Thomas Hardy was unveiled on Monday 26 March by his great great grandson Thomas K. Hardy, at the former Adelaide Wine Cellars, now Temple Christian College, in Mile End.

This public recognition of both the founder of Thomas Hardy & Sons and the State Heritage listed building which had been the company’s bottling and wine production plant for 90 years from 1893 to 1983 was organised by Thebarton Historical Society and funded by the Primary Industries and Regions SA.

Speeches took place in the front reception area of the school beneath the castellated tower that had once held the wine company’s blending tanks.

Thebarton Historical Society’s president Kevin Kaeding who had instigated the project, was Master of Ceremonies and Temple College’s principal Marcel Rijken began the official proceedings. There were speeches by Councillor Sandy Wilkinson, North Ward on behalf of the Lord Mayor of Adelaide, City of Onkaparinga Mayor Lorraine Rosenberg, City of West Torrens Councillor Toni Polito and City of Charles Sturt Mayor Kirsten Alexander. Vice President of Thebarton Historical Society and former City of West Torrens Councillor David Crossing also spoke. Thomas K Hardy also reminisced about his days working in the company during the 1960s when he was known as ‘Young Tom’.  His mother, pioneer of the Australian conservation movement, Barbara Hardy and his uncle David Hardy were also in attendance.

The event continued at the nearby Thebarton Theatre where an official toast honouring the late pioneer and father of the South Australia’s wine industry was given.

The imposing 2 storey red brick building on the corner of Henley Beach Road and James Congdon Drive still bears the words ‘Thomas Hardy & Sons Ltd’ and ‘Adelaide Wine Cellars’ along the top edge of the facade.  Designed by architect William Anderson, it was built on a 1.21 acre block in 1893 by James King & Son at a cost of £2,850. During its heyday, the building stored nearly 300 wooden vats and casks containing a million litres of wine. The complex also once had stables and a six roomed manager’s cottage.

In 1983 Thomas Hardy & Sons relocated to the historic wine-growing suburb of Reynella and Temple College purchased the building and began its first school term in 1984.

More photos from the event can be found here

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