Hi stories

There are a few projects taking shape at work that suggest histories I need to research.

The first is learning about the varieties of late 19th Century horse carts and technologies that appear, such as pneumatic tyres. There's a display that's required to make sense of a collection of sulkies and buggies. I'll need to oversee the restoration of a some but it's little details like this foot-operated bell that are capturing my attention. Was it fitted to the buggy after sale?

Another area that I'm being directed to explore is the tractors distributed in Australia by International Harvester. Pioneer Park Museum has recently been given a working T20 tractor, which is distinctive for the use of caterpillar tracks rather than oversized wheels. It would've been built in the mid-1930s and it was while looking at two others we have that I noticed this plate on an older tractor that I think was inspired by Clayton and Shuttleworth or Aveling and Porter.

It's surprising to see the leather belts on the older tractor are still intact, given it's displayed in the open air.

The final direction is to learn more about Warangesda Mission, which was started at Darlington Point in 1880 and marked a change in the treatment of indigenous Australians. Many of the remaining local Wiradjuri people have connections to this institution, which sought to protect Aborigines from exploitation by white Australians. While it was founded on Christian values, it's difficult not to see the beginning of the paternal attitude that led to the Stolen Generation.

I was surprised to find the font bowl from the Mission is on display in St James Church, which was moved from Hanwood to the Museum in the 1970s. The Church isn't open to the public, so it'd be good to put this somewhere where it can be seen by visitors. Warangesda was mentioned by the younger Stan Grant recently.

Yay for Australia Day

Regular readers may recognise the sarcasm in the title above. I am patriotic about being Australian but it's a love like that of a parent who is not reluctant to chide their child. We need to find another date to acknowledge a common day of celebration.

The solution to finding a day to celebrate Australia through a national public holiday can be solved by becoming a republic. Then we can celebrate the day that came to be.

Growing old

When I ride into town I go over the train tracks outside the Rice Coop. There are two sets of tracks and often I’ll lift the front wheel or, if I’ve got enough speed, attempt to bunny-hop over.

Yesterday I was riding home and the wind wasn’t in my favour, so I only popped the front. A car passed between the first and second tracks and I distinctly heard a woman’s voice say "Grow up!"

It prompts me to reflect on how few parents I see joining their kids in the public pool or on playgrounds.  They're missing out.

Return to Scenic Hill

The novelty of the New Year wears off soon after returning to work. As I resume commuting from Leeton to Griffith, I’m reminded that it was immediately after the school holidays that I most felt like wagging.

The drive up Scenic Hill toward Pioneer Park Museum isn’t as blinding as it was a couple of months ago. The angle of the sun has changed so it no longer shines directly through the windscreen. As I park the car I can smell the chlorine evaporating from the water being sprinkled on the beautiful gardens. Local birds seem to know when the sprinklers are due to start. Apostle Birds and Grass Parrots can be seen showering outside the Italian Museum in the morning.

Last week when the temperature rose above 45 degrees there were many birds around the water tanks. Crested Pigeons were hanging around the tank by the working windmill, while next to ‘Fairview’ Cottage I saw a couple of Pardalotes diving into another tank. Up the hill were a mob of thirsty-looking Black Jays.

While 45 isn’t the hottest day Griffith has seen — a record 46 in 2001! — it’s a new experience for me. I still remember when it first got above 40 after moving to Wagga Wagga about a decade ago. Since moving to the Riverina it now doesn’t feel warm enough to swim until it gets to 30 degrees. Even then, if you’re swimming in the Murrumbidgee, it can still feel cool. Despite spending more than a week travelling down from the nearest dams, the ‘big waters’ of the ‘Bidgee feel like snowmelt until the creeks and channels allow the sunlight to better penetrate the murk as it flows into the MIA.

The landscape has paled under the summer sun but it doesn’t look like it’ll get to the point where it’s varying shades of beige, as it was during the drought last decade. The rain in the Western Riverina has been regular enough to ensure there are cracks of green weeds along the edges of paddocks and roads.

There are signs of optimism among farmers, if I’m not mistaken. The plumes of smoke seem to indicate preparations for the sowing of summer crops. While passing a blackened paddock last week I observed one farmer watering the power pole on the edge of his land while fires remove debris. It’s entertaining to think that he’s growing electrical infrastructure.

It’s not just smoke that means the dry air on the summer wind has lost the fragrant scents of spring. As the weather warms, the road melts and becomes shiny and smells like fresh bitumen. Hot wind has an effect of stealing my breath, a sensation that makes me wonder if this is how a vacuum would smell?

On the really hot mornings Cicadas make their shrill music from the trees. As I drive past there’s a Doppler effect as the screech reluctantly seems to pitch down, as though grasping to keep ahold of my ears. They are deafening in places, like down by the Murrumbidgee River or near the Peppermint Gums up the road from my house.

Cicadas are also among the Cyprus Pines at Pioneer Park, particularly behind the Irrigation Museum. That’s the spot where a feral Olive tree has grown under a big Grey Box. There are lots of olives growing in the Riverina and I think it’s a beaut analogy for the way other exports from the Mediterranean have thrived in the region.

Near the turn to Griffith there’s an old tractor outside a vineyard. For years it had a For Sale sign but now it seems to have blown away. I’m entertained to see this leads to a slew of photographs on Instagram as new arrivals of backpacker fruit-pickers seem to decide it’s a landmark or possibly public art.

A dead kangaroo near the railway crossing at Widgelli decomposes over the last fortnight. It goes from being bloated like a stuffed toy to being red raw and to being a flattened rug. Last week I disturbed winged scavengers, ranging from flies to a massive Wedge-tailed Eagle. It’s a contrast to the dead tortoise near the railway crossing on the Whitton Stock Route Road, whose shell remains as an outline on the dog-leg-like bend in the road under a sheen of rubber left by the tyres of turning trucks.

A little further along and there’s the Madonna of Mirrool Creek. She looks somewhat Italian, so she may be a resident of Griffith — where around half the population are from Italy or their parents were. She seems to be peering around a wattle and smiling toward someone in the scrub away from the road. It isn’t until you’re close enough to see a sparkle in her eyes and the red in her glass that one can read the text accompanying her on the billboard and learn that one in four glasses of Australian wine is produced in this region.

On the hot days before a change in the weather, I see the smoke rising in the distance as I drive down from Scenic Hill. There’s a mild but intent focus that follows. I can rationalise that it’s a paddock being cleared but the element of fire is a risk. One that is limited by the extensive clearing of the highly-flammable Cyprus Pine undertaken by earlier settlers like Alfred Hill in the late 19th Century. It was these straight trunks that he used to build ‘Fairview’ Cottage and the name is a description of the landscape he saw as he surveyed a fair view of the work before him.

As I survey Scenic Hill I see thickets of Cyprus Pine and then look at the smoking paddocks on the way home.

A river runs through me

My journey from birth to present isn’t very long and I haven’t travelled very far. My parents met in Canberra but both were born overseas, so I could claim to be a first-generation Australian.

I was born on the edge of the Molonglo River, near one of the corners of our nation’s capital’s parliamentary triangle. A hospital once stood on the peninsula between Commonwealth Avenue bridge and one of Lake Burley Griffin’s islands. That hospital was dramatically blown apart. The National Museum and a corresponding indigenous studies centre stand on the site now. It was a thrill for me at the turn of this century to be invited to play a DJ set in the foyer of the Museum, although the acoustics were terrible. Next I hope to make history there.

Looking south from the Museum you can almost see Scrivener Dam, named for the surveyor who has been characterised as “holding up” the vision Walter Burley Griffin had for Canberra. The American architect seems better placed for much of the blame here, as he’d arranged to work part-time on the city while undertaking private work — such as designing the towns of Leeton and Griffith, which are downstream in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area.

Some distance beyond Scrivener Dam is the Cotter Dam, where the river named for a banished former convict joins the Murrumbidgee. Last decade I felt surprisingly excited to meet a descendant of Garrett Cotter, when I visited his property near edge of the Snowy Mountains. I remember this Cotter had horses, at least he observed that if possession is nine-tenths of the law then the brumbies on his hilly land were his.

At university I went skinny dipping in the Cotter River with a descendant of Charles Throsby, who was one of the first white people to “discover” the Murrumbidgee River near where it now forms part of the border between New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. I’ve read that the River kept it’s indigenous name as a result of Throsby recording it in his journal ahead of sighting it for himself.

These rivers are landmarks but also part of my personal history. If the human body is around 60% water, then I must be predominantly Murrumbidgee as I have been drinking from it for most of my life.

The Molonglo River that flows into Lake Burley Griffin is tributary of the Murrumbidgee River, which in turn flows into the Murray and on to South Australia. After spending the first 27 years of my life in Canberra, I too flowed downstream. After drifting through group houses and university, I went to the country because I thought there would be better opportunities and I wasn’t wrong.

For nine years I drank the Murrumbidgee via the murky-tasting aquifer that supplies drinking water to the city of Wagga Wagga. They call it a city but, at around 40,000 people, it feels more like a country town — especially since my knowledge of country towns is informed by Canberra being described as one and it has over 300,000.

Nearly seven years ago I left Wagga for Leeton and continue to appreciate the heritage it shares with Canberra. The hill in Leeton isn’t anything like the mountains that form Canberra, but the interwar architecture and circling streets make it strangely familiar for me. This sense of deja vu continues now that I spend time working at a museum in Griffith, where Walter Burley Griffin had arguably a greater influence than his award-winning design for Canberra.

The Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area is like the national capital in capturing a whiff of the modern spirit that must have intoxicated Australians around the time of Federation. The ‘foodbowl’ of the Riverina produces a significant amount of exports, as well as local produce. Irrigation was a massive investment but one that ensured food security and allowed the population to grow.

In my identification with the landscape I find it exciting to consider the water of the Murrumbidgee is becoming part of so many others. It is mind-boggling to consider the value being grown with this resource. This is part of our common wealth since before the commonwealth began and, to quote another American, we’ve all passed a lot of water since then!

Working with Matt Damon

This was an attempt at meeting a tight deadline that didn't meet expectations.

Personally I think it does an okay job of delivering a message in a semi-entertaining sorta way. I was asked to present a number of issues related to alchohol and young people, without a script or talent and had to improvise over one weekend.

Oscar visits Pioneer Park Museum

Pressing question solved

See this bottle of wine? You can tell from the crust near the neck that it's a good one and it's been cellared.

It's a 2004 Cabernet from Northern Victoria and, yeah. it's good but not as good as the 2002 I've also been drinking.

Anyway, I've been drinking these wines for around 12 years and occasionally wondered about the image on the label. I'd imagine they were exotic buildings, perhaps temples.

Then the other day I looked at this grape press at Pioneer Park and that exotic image vanished.

Is 'Fairview' a haunted house?

There are many stories at Pioneer Park Museum but I thought I'd share a recent one.

'Fairview' cottage is the oldest of the buildings in the collection at the Museum. It was built by Alfred Hill in 1887 at 'Tabbita'. Working with his sons and a carpenter they used cyprus pine in the 'drop log' style using hand-fashioned nails.

The name 'Fairview' came from Alfred, who said there was a fair view of the work ahead of him when he looked out from the front porch. Presumably the landscape was covered in cyprus pine to clear, along with a few grey box trees too I'd guess.

Three of Alfred's eight unmarried sons lived most of their lives at the house, with the last dying in 1952. The building was brought to Griffith in 1969 with the Rotary Club numbering every piece of wood and reconstructing it on the site of the Museum, which opened in 1971.

The layout is a long corridor with bare uneven floorboards and rooms off to the sides before a bolted backdoor. It's lit though.

Last year when I began working at Pioneer Park, I explored each building and tested my intuition against what I later researched on these locations.

It seems my reaction wasn't alone. Many school kids visiting the Park believe it is haunted and, as I asked the volunteers and staff about their experiences, I heard stories of shadowy figures and tapping sounds.

Then last year I heard the story of a visiting psychic who claims to have seen a ghost at Pioneer Park. She described a large bearded man who was hanging around and, when led to 'Fairview', identified him as the eldest of the Hill children. James had lived at the house all his life, so in a way it makes sense that if his spirit were to hang about it would be here.

On the way to the cottage the psychic experienced breathing difficulties and asked if someone had drowned or suffered from asthma. It turned out that a son named Daniel died from pneumonia.

I like the stories, especially since this one freaks me out a bit. I'm going to enjoy scaring myself when closing the Park in cooler months when the sky darkens in the afternoon. The building provides an atmospheric glimpse into life in Australia.

Woolies ice-cream

Normally I don't eat a lot of ice-cream but I bought some of this chocolate as a treat. It's a really satisfying chocolate flavour with a marbling of syrup through it. I enjoyed it so much as to want to try the other flavours. And that's when I came undone.

The vanilla flavour is nice with honeyed nuts but the salted caramel was irresistible. I ate half the tub one night and awoke from dreaming about it the next morning, when I finished it off and found it was all sold out at every Woolworths I could visit -- which isn't many.

It was half-price over the festive season, which makes me think that Woolies are using their inhouse brands to drive an improvement in their profits.

Make history with your story

Griffith Pioneer Park Museum invite you to put yourself into the bigger picture on Wednesday 20 January 2016, with the Museum Selfie Day.

Pioneer Park Museum Curator, Jason Richardson said Museum Selfie Day is aimed at encouraging visitors to take a self-portrait (selfie) at their local cultural institution.

"In 2015 a British blogger named Mar Dixon promoted the hashtag #museumselfie and it became a phenomenon on social media," said Mr Richardson.

"I think it's a great opportunity for people to explore photography, as well museums, and feel part of something much bigger - which taps into an emotional response that's central to the experience of studying history."

It's as simple as taking a photograph of yourself and using #museumselfie to ensure it reaches a wide audience on your platform of choice.

 "Pioneer Park is on Facebook and Instagram and we'd love to see your photos, so please tag us when you post them," added Mr Richardson.

 “The challenge is to find a location that provides context for your photograph. Obviously there are many fantastic buildings at Pioneer Park Museum and we hope that, while exploring for a great backdrop, you will learn about the history of Griffith and the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area too."

With many activities to celebrate the centenary of Griffith planned at Pioneer Park during2016, this is an opportunity for residents and their visitors to share their creativity in interpreting the collection. 

"Come and see some of the history of the region and show it to the world," said Mr Richardson.