A submarine is a workplace like no other; intensely isolated, highly technical and unbelievably cramped. Submariners, the staff of Navy submarines, leave the comforts of their homes and families for long stretches to live and work beneath the ocean in a claustrophobic steel cylinder with an average ceiling height of 180cm. It is a world beyond the imaginings of most of us who take the freedoms and space of our landlubber lives for granted. Submariners share a unique and universal bond, born of service, camaraderie and mental toughness. Unsurprisingly, many submariners from around the world have journeyed to visit the Holbrook Submarine Museum for a chance to connect and share their own experiences.
Submarines are the favourite form of transport of the Commando Unit when undertaking raids in foreign territory. Submarines can surface to dispatch or collect Commandos at highly classified ocean coordinates quickly, stealthily and under cover of darkness. Australian submariners were trained in England right up until the 1980s where keeping warm in the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean was a priority. Around the time of WWII, Australian submariners were issued with woven wool mesh vests also favoured by the Commandos. The vests were worn as a thermal under layer, designed to trap pockets of body heat close to the skin before adding more layers of clothing. This need for extra warmth may have lessened once Australian submariners were trained and kitted out in Australia, as the vests were then replaced by Tshirts. This may have been in response to the submariner who wore his singlet on his 4 hour look out duty on the conning tower of the HMAS Otway while cruising through Indonesian waters. Sadly the mesh singlet proved no match for the punishing equatorial sun, and afterwards his torso resembled a cross between an enflamed road map and a rare tropical disease, much to the hilarity of his crewmates.
When submarines are heading home, celebratory ‘channel parties’, where submariners celebrate the end of their mission and sometimes dress up, are legendary. Who knows if it was a dress up compilation involving one of these mesh singlets that went on to inspire civilian street fashion in the 1980s when they became part of another kind of uniform, worn over the top of fluorescent Tshirts teamed with big hair and big loop earrings? It's possible, of course, but that’s another story.
Woolpack Inn Museum
A whole generation of rural Australians called rabbits ‘underground mutton’ as a nod to their staple form of protein in tough economic times. ‘Rabbiters’ were employed on rural properties to eradicate the plagues of rabbits which caused damage to crops and pastures. Rabbiters were hardy, selfreliant country blokes who lived a spartan nomadic life, roughing it out in rabbiters’ huts with their dogs, known as packs. These horsedrawn huts were parked on a property while the rabbiter set to work bringing down the rabbit population, paddock by paddock, bullet by bullet and trap by trap. The timber floor, thin tin walls and corrugated iron roof would have made for blistering summers and icy winters, with the only insulation being an occasional hessian sack nailed to the wall. The huts had a small fuel stove probably to cook an endless diet of rabbit stew a simple stretcher bed, a table and a kerosene lamp. Minimalist living by any standards.
From 1918 a local legend circulated of a particular rabbiter at the back of ‘Hillside’, north of Holbrook. This rabbiter tied his dogs to his hut and headed to town with his pay cheque. He stayed in town drinking, his dogs forgotten, and didn’t return to his hut for some days. The story goes that on his return the dogs were so starved they turned on him, mauling and eating him. All that remained of the rabbiter from Hillside, the story goes, were his feet, still in his boots. As gangs of rabbiters followed the rabbit plagues across rural Australia, no doubt they shared this story across fences and around campfires, all the while keeping a steady eye on their pack.
Culcairn Station House Museum
The Commonsense Cookery Book was first published by Angus and Robertson in 1914. It was initially used as a home economics text book in secondary schools but it soon found a much wider readership in homes everywhere and was a popular wedding gift. It has been constantly revised to reflect the times and the publishers of the 2008 edition claimed that over a million copies had been sold. A centenary edition was published in 2014.
This undated copy was bought from Blake’s Busy Book Bazaar in Albury for 1/6 (one shilling and sixpence.) The stained cover is so thoroughly wellused as to be now barely attached. Recipes have been added in steady copperplate to the margins and any spare spaces. Newspaper cuttings on topics ranging from ‘Medical uses for Hydrogen Peroxide’ through to ‘Recipes to Gladden Housewives’ Hearts and Husband’s Palates’ have been carefully glued on top of pages. This cooking bible is a moving record of a lifetime someone’s steadfastly loyal friend in navigating the challenges of the kitchen and household domestic expectations, always nourishing, working, learning and creating.
Tucked away carefully between the pages was a yellowing newspaper advertisement for an 'Accountant Machinist in training Position with the Commonwealth Service.’ Somewhere between perfecting the white sauce and boiling the corn beef was the dream of something more – the possibility of escaping the purely domestic for ‘an interesting and responsible career’ in ‘friendly surroundings.’ That dream may well have stayed hidden between these pages, unspoken and unrealised, or perhaps it blossomed into something else.
Henty’s own Headlie Taylor (18831957) was undoubtedly one of Australia’s greatest agricultural machinery inventors. His ‘Headlie Header’ revolutionized the way grain was harvested in Australia, and formed the foundation of modern grain harvesting techniques today.
Headlie was the second eldest of eight children and he left Henty School at 14 to work on the family farm. Young Headlie had a thirst for new ways of doing things and learnt blacksmithing to repair farm machinery – a skill which paved the way for his future inventions.
Headlie’s first prototype of the Header harvester in 1911 fell well below expectations, and saw him head back to his workshop, disappointed but determined to persevere. His second model in 191213 was greatly improved but still needed modifications, so Headlie faced yet another round of rebuilding. It was his third model, exhibited at the Henty Show in 1914, that finally garnered support. “The new machine,” reported Headlie at the time
‘was the centre of attraction at the Show and excited considerable comment among visiting farmers.” The Header Harvester was superior in that it could ‘lift’ the heads of damaged crops to collect grain that would otherwise be lost, and cut the wheat heads rather than beating or pulling them off. It went on to be massproduced and exported to the world. Despite offers from the USA, Headlie kept the manufacturing of the Headlie Header in Australia and personally oversaw its production in Sunshine, Victoria. His modified harvester was more reliable and compact than the famous ‘stripper harvester’ created by the legendary Hugh Victor McKay in the 1880s, and soon replaced it on the assembly lines at the Sunshine factory.
Headlie Taylor’s invention had a huge economic value for Australia, but like most innovations, it didn’t spring from nowhere. In those long years before his success, Headlie dug deep and clung to the Latin phrase ‘Nil Desperandum’ as his personal motto: Don’t despair. Who knows how many times Headlie whispered this to himself in the face of financial hardship and the repeated frustrations of failed prototypes. Nil desperandum. Don’t despair. Don’t give up. In the face of failure did he realise how close he was? Did he dare to consider the machine he was building in his humble Henty workshop would one day be produced en masse, with the demand so great they couldn’t be built quickly enough? Headlie Taylor was a determined, handson genius who changed the world of agricultural engineering through ingenuity, sheer tenacity and his refusal to give up. Nil Desperandum.
‘Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without’ was the mantra which settled into the collective psyche during the tough years of the Great Depression. Yet for pioneer families, ‘making do’ has always been their guiding principle, with frugality not a virtue, but a necessity.
When we first look at this double bread tin, it seems to be a fantastic example of pioneering recycling ingenuity. The precast lettering MILK 24 OZ suggests that this baking tin started life as a 24 ounce milk urn perhaps one that cracked and couldn’t be repaired, or simply wore thin, and had to be fashioned into something new again in the blacksmith’s forge.
However, this is not the case. By the 1960s bread production in Australia was highly regulated, resulting in the 1963 amendment to the Western Australia Bread Act, which stated any commercially made milk bread (a loaf where milk was used instead of water) had to be baked in custom made bread tins with “MILK 24 OZ” stamped on the side. “The bread shall be baked in a tin,” stated the regulations, “so embossed that when baked there is clearly and durably marked on a side of a loaf, “Milk 24oz” in characters not less than one inch high.”
24 ounces is the equivalent of 680 grams, the average weight of a loaf of bread. The embossing on the loaves out of this tin would clearly let the consumer know they had a 24 oz loaf of milk bread. How this bread tin made its way from a bakery in Western Australia to the Jindera Pioneer Museum is an unknown story, but would no doubt be as satisfying as our daily bread, hot out of the woodstove.
Wymah Public School opened in 1873. It was a small rural school with one classroom and one teacher (who doubled as the principal) who lived in the house next door to the school. The student population at Wymah ebbed and flowed, dwindling right down in the 1940s. The school closed between 1946 and reopened in 1952, presumably when the postWW2 Wymah babies came of school age. Wymah Public School closed for good in 1985 and was reopened as a museum in 2013.
The town was originally named Wagra (‘white cockatoo’) in 1879 but was renamed Wymah in 1912. Wymah, on the upper reaches of Lake Hume, has been linked to Granya in Victoria by a cable ferry since 1866, making it home to one of the longest surviving ferrying services.
In the early 1970s a teacher arrived who was a keen cricketer, playing for Mullengandra in the local competition. He set to work painting a wicket, bails and boundary lines on the back of the brick school building, and a group of parents helped concrete the five metre pitch. This removed the need for a wicket keeper, but possibly made it trickier for definitive decisions on being bowled out. If the ball bounced off the wall it was called ‘out’. Fortunately, the windows above the pitch were reinforced with fine mesh at the time!
It’s easy to imagine the intensity of the lunchtime games with enthusiastic country kids and a superkeen teacher intent on getting his mid week practice in. Fielders would be strategically positioned across the schoolyard while eager batters watched and waited. No doubt a triumphant ‘Howzat!” would occasionally echo jubilantly into the valley. Was there a collective groan when the students were called reluctantly back in after lunch, or did whole afternoons get swallowed up as one innings led to another? The Wymah kids may have grown up and moved on, but chances are they have carried the life lessons held within those schoolyard test matches with them ever since. Perhaps their memories of those lunchtime games echo the words of Edmund Blunden, the English poet, when he wrote:
‘Cricket was more to us than play,
It was worship in the summer sun.’