Category Archives: Melanie’s Diary

A slice of sailing history

As Museum Development Officers, significance assessments of community collections are a regular and important part of our work. Responding to a request for an assessment and funded by the Community Heritage Grants programme administered by the National Library of Australia, I recently had the opportunity to undertake an assessment of the Lord Howe Island Museum collection.

The collection at the museum is diverse, and represents the island’s history from its discovery only a few weeks after the arrival of the First Fleet in Port Jackson, through its days as a provisioning stop for the American whaling fleet, to an idyllic holiday destination and hotspot of biodiversity. The museum documents these events through objects as well as an exceptionally rich collection of photographs, books, and other archival material. But one particular sub-collection struck both a personal and professional chord with me.

Sailing to Lord Howe Island has always presented mariners with a challenge. Surrounded by the notorious Tasman Sea and with the nearest land 600kms away there is nowhere to hide from bad weather. But with an increasing interest in cruising sailing from the 1920s, recreational yachtsmen began setting course for more distant shores. Tourism on Lord Howe Island was also becoming an important industry at the time, with Burns Philp running a small passenger service alongside cargo on their Sydney – Lord Howe Island – Norfolk Island supply run. Assured of an ocean adventure with an hospitable reception on arrival, Lord Howe became an alluring goal for recreational yachtsmen.

Visiting yachts would often present their island hosts with a commemorative photograph of their vessel, and a number of these are held in the museum’s collection. A frequent visitor during the 1930s was the yacht Wanderer. Built in 1928 and owned by Norman Wallis, Wanderer undertook her first voyage to the island within a few months of her launch. The museum collection includes an original scrapbook of the Wanderer, which documents her racing and cruising career through to Norman Wallis’ death in 1965.

Of particular relevance to the Island’s history is the Wanderer’s participation in the search for the missing motor launch Viking.   The Viking was a newly built vessel owned by island resident Gower Wilson. At the beginning of November 1936 she left Port Macquarie bound for Lord Howe Island with Gower Wilson, his son Jack and a crew of four Sydneysiders on board. When the Viking failed to arrive at her destination after ten days the alarm was raised, and Norman Wallis lost no time in setting out on Wanderer to assist in the search. Wallis and Gower Wilson had become firm friends during the former’s island visits. During the search Wanderer herself nearly became a victim of the sea, and limped back to Sydney with a broken rudder after 15 days searching. No trace of the Viking or her crew were ever found. Gower Wilson had been a regular host for many visiting yachts so his loss was keenly felt not only by the tiny population on the island, but also by the wider yachting community.

The museum’s collection documents more modern yachting history as well, with the local postmistress Hazel Payten maintaining a register of visiting yachts from the late 1960s into the 1980s. For those with an eye for yachting history a number of well-known skippers and vessels can be spotted, but perhaps most notable amongst these is the tiny 12ft sloop Acrohc Australis with skipper Serge Testa. Acrohc Australis stopped at the Island in 1987 during her voyage around the world, which had commenced in 1983. Serge and his homemade vessel still hold the record for the smallest sailboat ever to complete a circumnavigation of the world. Acrohc Australis now has a home at the Queensland Museum.

Way Out West

As the new kid on the MDO block, I have recently had the privilege to travel to the western areas of Central Queensland to meet groups caring for cultural heritage in the west.  In a trip that covered Nebo, Clermont, Emerald, Springsure, Barcaldine, Muttaburra, Winton, Longreach, Ilfracombe and Isisford, I encountered everything from dinosaurs to diggers, as well as meeting the dedicated volunteers caring for these collections in the often hot and harsh outback.

Daph Bashford's 1976 rich boiled fruit cake at the Barcaldine and District Folk Museum.

Daph Bashford’s 1976 rich boiled fruit cake at the Barcaldine and District Folk Museum.

A new type of object for me was a 1976 prize winning rich boiled fruit cake, preserved in its own purpose built glass dome and proudly on display at the Barcaldine and District Folk Museum.  It was originally intended that the cake would last about five years under its dome, but thirty eight years on the cake is still going strong, although the temptation to sample its rich fruity goodness isn’t hard to fight.

Possibly most famous for its role in the 1891 shearer’s strike which ultimately led to the formation of the Australian Labor Party, Barcaldine has a rich agricultural and social history which is evident in the architecture and monuments about the town.  Much of this history is eloquently told and on display at the Barcaldine and District Folk Museum.  Aside from the fruit cake above and a wealth of social history items linked to the town, the museum also has an interesting collection of WWI material, including this pair of French airman’s goggles.

French airman's goggles, brought back to Barcaldine by a local soldier.

French airman’s goggles, brought back to Barcaldine by a local soldier.

Also a central location in the 1891 shearer’s strike but now more famous for a major fossil find in the area in 1963, Muttaburra is a small town with a big history.  When grazier Doug Langdon stumbled across some unusual looking rocks on his property, it led to the first recorded specimen of one of Australia’s prehistoric giants – Muttaburrasaurus langdoni – named for his discoverer.  Affectionately known as ‘Mutt’ or ‘Dino’, the dinosaur is recreated in the park in the middle of town, and each year fossil enthusiasts visit the area in the hope of making the next big find.  Muttaburra has more on offer than dinosaurs however, with the A.A. Cassimatis Store and Cottage and the Dr Arratta Hospital Museum capturing a snapshot of life in Muttaburra in a more prosperous time.  The range of goods on display at the Cassimatis Store helps to reinforce how essential these general stores were to remote communities, stocking everything from farm and stock supplies to boiled lollies and over the counter medicines.

Dinosaurs were still on the menu in Winton, with a visit to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs.  With a dedicated team of staff and volunteers constantly chipping away at fossil deposits, what’s on offer at the AAOD is continually evolving (unlike the dinosaurs themselves!).  But as with Muttaburra, there’s so much more to Winton than dinosaurs. The heritage listed Corfield and Fitzmaurice Store not only has displays ranging from shearing to, yes, dinosaurs, but also offers a rare opportunity to see the virtually unaltered interior of an early 20th century general store, complete with manager’s office, clerk’s cubicle, and flying fox or cash railway for dispensing change.

Folding stools and the beautiful broad planks of the haberdashery counter at Corfield & Fitzmaurice Store, Winton.

Folding stools and the beautiful broad planks of the haberdashery counter at Corfield & Fitzmaurice Store, Winton.

Another rare survivor in Winton is the Chinese market garden and store of Willie Mar.  The garden, which had provided Winton with fresh fruit and vegetables since the 1920s when Willie’s father commenced operations, only ceased to produce commercially in 2000 when floods impacted heavily on the aging Willie and his garden.  Willie himself passed away in 2007, and many residents of Winton have vivid memories and engaging stories of Willie and his garden.  Although the fruit and vegetables are gone, Willie’s shop and house remain at the site, as well as evidence of the ingenious pond watering system common to Chinese gardens.  The Chinese skills and traditions of farming small patches of land with a continual crop yield became an essential part of community health and survival in many outback towns and the excellently interpreted Willie Mar site is a tangible reminder of this now extinct tradition.  The progress on this site will be exciting to watch as the Friends of Willie Mar continue to interpret and share the site.  A special thanks to the Friends of Willie Mar group and the volunteers at the Qantilda Museum for taking the time to share with us their wonderful collections.

Willie Mar's shop at the Chinese market garden site.

Willie Mar’s shop at the Chinese market garden site.