A young man with a very relaxed Brahman bull was greeting people outside the front of the building. He was inviting people over to give the animal a pat. The children were fascinated with the animal. I did wonder how many fathers told their children “this is where hamburgers come from” as they walked away?
We had seen a farmer arriving at the hall on a motorbike with a dog on his lap. When we had turned away from the bull the dog was waiting for us and a friend had joined her. We started to walk past them and one barked at us. She wagged her tail and looked eager for a pat. She looked like someone whom was happy to be at work.
The museum was packed with information. The first part gave information about the humble horseshoes. The first shoe I looked at, looked like a large thong. Horseshoes started out like a sock and were made out of rawhide or leather. No one really knows when people started to give horses shoes. Some give credit to the Druids but there is no great evidence to support this claim. Horseshoes have been found dating back to around 400 years BC, although ones like we have now with nail holes appeared about 1000 years AD. It wasn’t until the Crusades (1096-1270) that the humble horseshoe became widespread. I never realised the shoes come in so many different types. Not just to fit the different horses but for the different conditions like mud and snow or if the shoe is for riding or working. They can be made out of different materials as well. I know I would have worked it out eventually but lets face it, who thinks about horseshoes? Nowadays the shoes can be made out of almost anything. Steel is used when a strong longwearing shoe is needed but for others aluminium, copper, magnesium titanium or even plastic and rubber can be used. In 1835 a patent for a horseshoe machine was lodged. It could manufacture up to 60 shoes an hour. Impressive.
I didn’t realise horseshoes could be so interesting and we weren’t even in the museum as yet.
The museum was dark; don’t they want people to see everything? Sorry, just having a little whinge, I don’t like dark museums.
The museum isn’t just about stockmen it is about the lives of the people who lived in the outback and their achievements.
Walls were filled with personal stories about the people of the area. Unfortunately the walls are connected to the walkways. If you wanted to read all the information and took the time to stop, other people had to weave their way around you or you had to weave your way around them if they were reading.
Glass cases were scattered around the hall filled with all things bush. I made my way round the room going towards the light of each display.
To keep themselves occupied on long drives, drovers would often make carving. If they could sell the items at the end of the drive it was a bonus. Drover Jack Green of Western Australia carved these Boab Nuts in 1966.
There was a section on the Kidman Empire. Sidney Kidman acquired more land and cattle than any other person before or since him. When he was just 14 and with nothing but a few coins to his name he left home on a horse he had saved hard to buy for 50 shillings. He worked hard and saved even harder giving him the ability to buy his first property at 23. He steadily extended his holding untilled his land totalled over 200,00 square kilometres. (Kidman lands were bigger than England, France and another country I can’t remember the name off put together.) Kidman became a legend. It was said ‘if Kidman bought a drought-stricken property the skies would open.’ Having so much land scatted around Australia gave him the freedom to move his cattle out of a drought area and onto grassy fields.
Even as an Australian and used to the vast open land of ours, I still find it had to imagine one person owning and managing so much land. Amazing.
With all that land dedicated to cattle you would think Australia would have been filled with cowmen but you would be wrong. It is hard to believe there were more shepherds than any other group of workers. New South Wales alone boasted of 13,500 shepherds in 1846. Some shepherds were responsible for mobs of up to a thousand sheep. Often these men would only have their dogs for company and they could go for weeks without seeing another person or until the ration cart arrived. This could be up to six weeks. The rations were often ten, ten, two and a quarter. What does that mean? It would have been ten pounds of flour, ten pounds of meat, two pounds of sugar and a quarter of a pound of tea. Everything else he would have to gather from the land itself.
In 1821 Australia shipped almost 80,000 kgs of wool to England. The wool clip continued to grow in value and by 1832 the exported wool clip was worth £2.5 million. Australian wool was highly sought after as being some of the best in the world. Not bad for such a new industry.
With so much invested in sheep, solutions had to be found to protect them from the native dogs and the introduced rabbits. To start with trapping and shooting helped keep their numbers down. It was a brutal business so a more permanent solution needed to be found. I could only imagine the look on the faces of the government when the idea of building a fence was given, “and where will this fence be?” “Well right across Australia of course.”
The fence was started in 1880 and it took five years to complete. It is one of the longest structures in the world and is the world’s longest fence. It stretches 5,614 kilometres (3,488 miles.) They started on the rabbit proof fence in 1893 and it was extended through the years until 1997.
If you are wondering why rabbits were such a problem as they are so cute and fluffy and surely something so sweet wouldn’t be a problem to a bigger animal like a sheep. When the rabbit was first introduce to Australia in 1859 there were just 24 of them. They took to Australia like a fish to water and thrived. It is said that in just a few short years the number had grown to be over the million mark. (I guess they breed like rabbits.) In such numbers it wasn’t long before they started to compete with the sheep for feed. The rabbits will eat plants down to the ground, both native and cultivated so the plant has a problem regrowing. This along with their habit of burrowing causes massive erosion problems turning large areas of good farming land into a small desert.
I can remember watching old news film clips where the rabbits were herded to the rabbit proof fence and when they were cornered they were slaughtered. I can remember there looked to be thousand and thousands of rabbits. It wasn’t until 1936 when the CSRIO released myxamatosis (which is a disease that affects rabbits) into Australia that the numbers started to decline. Unfortunately by 1980 the rabbit population started to rise again as the rabbits had started to develop immunity to the disease. Nowadays most farming areas will have a poisoning program carried out under strict rules. It does sound harsh and cruel but so is life in the outback.
After the harsh reality of the land then came something remarkable. The museum had a great section on the Flying Doctor Service. The service began in 1928. That was the year Charles Kingsford Smith became famous for crossing the Pacific. The service started with only one plane leased form Qantas and was based at Cloncurry. Now the Flying Doctors have over 60 planes in the air from 21 bases across the country. It must been an amazing sight seeing the Flying Doctors coming in to save the day.
The Flying Doctor Service has had a great impact on the lives of people living in the outback. A system to communicate to the doctor had to be developed. Of course the answer was radio. A cheap, light, portable and simple radio, which could be used with mains power or batteries was needed. In 1926 a young Adelaide engineer developed a pedal-powered radio.
With the introduction of the radio, people in remote areas could reach medical help quickly. There were other benefits. Now people could communicate with their next-door neighbours who could be hundreds of kilometres away. This gave great relief to the problem of isolation for the women of the time. The School of the Air also developed. The system has greatly changed now with the common use of the telephone and the Internet yet large areas of the outback still cannot lay claim to great telephone service. As we have travelled around we have stopped at lots of places where there is little to no telephone service. I get frustrated with this lack of service and I don’t live in the area. I can only imagine what it is like to live with the isolation. I know I shouldn’t get frustrated as I am only at the spot for a day or two and no one really calls me anyway but that is not the point.
We really enjoyed the museum even though it was a dark place. If you go see it give yourself plenty of time you will need it.