This blog provides information, stories, links and events relating to and promoting the history of the Wimmera district.
Any additional information, via Comments, is welcomed.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Looking back 100 years

I am aware that this is not 'local', but it is 100 years since these events of national significance occurred.
Re-posting this article from the 'Such was life' series of blogs, by the State Library's Andrew McConville, relating to the Ross Sea Party, who were planting depots for Shackleton's party (when the 'Endurance' was crushed by the ice). The whole story is told in "Shackleton's forgotten Argonauts" by Lennard Bickel - well worth reading.

Before they had even begun their trek, the Ross Sea Party's ship Aurora was carried away in a storm in May 1915 and it was then trapped in ice for ten months before struggling back to New Zealand. It was refitted and returned to Ross Island under John King Davis, with Ernest Shackleton on board, to rescue the survivors of the Ross Sea Party in January 1917.

Meanwhile: Towards the end of January in 1916, six men from the Ross Sea Party, with their four sled dogs, reached the Beardmore Glacier, Antarctica. They had been on the ice since September 1915, laying stores for Ernest Shackleton’s attempted crossing of the Antarctic continent. Unbeknown to the party, Shackleton’s ship was crushed in the Weddell Sea and his crossing didn’t ever commence.
The men were exhausted, ill and running out of food. Arnold Spencer-Smith was dying, his body ravaged by scurvy. Aeneas Mackintosh and Victor Hayward also had black gums and blue, swollen limbs as scurvy took hold.
Halfway to the South Pole and 650 kilometres from their base on Ross Island, their companions Ernest Joyce, Ernest Wild, and Dick Richards knew the party had little chance of surviving.
Ross Sea Party sledging journey, from Ernest Joyce's log "South Polar Trail"
Spencer-Smith had to be carried on a sled, Mackintosh could barely walk and Hayward’s health was failing.  Joyce summed up the situation. “The next enterprise is the long trail back. The dogs are our only hope. Our lives depend on them.”
Con, the lead dog, had been mighty. Resented by the other three dogs for his leader status, he had none the less got the party to their destination. Towser and Gunner had also performed grandly with scarce rations, heavy loads and brutal conditions, but now they were weak and hungry.
The fourth dog Oscar, though, couldn’t be relied on. He was lazy and fractious… “an unlovely specimen, a bit shambly, with a … low criminal-type forehead,” “extremely unpopular with the other dogs because of his surly ways and dirty habits”.
Camp on Great Ross Ice Barrier, (1914-1917). SLV H82.45/29
Each day was a desperate battle for survival. In mid-February they were hit by a ferocious blizzard. Trapped in their tents, their rations all but gone, they had to somehow get to their next depot. In Joyce’s words “Our food lies ahead and death stalks behind.”
Joyce, Richards, Hayward and the dogs went out into the raging storm, leaving Wild in the tent to tend to Spencer-Smith and Mackintosh. “The wind was blizzard force…snow whirled everywhere and we staggered in our traces with its force.” Hayward was near collapse, visibility was practically zero and three of the dogs were losing heart. Without the food depot they would all certainly die.
It was at this worst of times that wayward Oscar decided to step up:
In the crisis the massive Oscar just lowered his great head and pulled as he never did when things were going well, he even … tried [to] the bite the heels of the dog ahead of him to make him work….When things were going well he was inclined to be lazy, but…he alone gave that extra little strength that enabled us to finally make the depot.
Perhaps like Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Oscar thought “I’ll so offend, to make offence a skill; Redeeming time when men think least I will.”
They struggled back through the blizzard with food for their companions.
Depot and abandoned sledge, (1914-17). SLV H82.45/32
On March 9,  just short of Hut Point, Arnold Spencer-Smith died.
Once at Hut Point, in the derelict, icebound shelter built by Scott in 1901, Hayward and Mackintosh recovered.  But after two months, against all advice, they attempted to cross the treacherous sea ice to get to the main hut at Cape Evans and were never seen again.
A few weeks later Towser and Gunner turned on Oscar and savaged him. The men managed to separate the dogs, but Oscar, badly injured, crawled off in the night to find a place to die. The men searched for him but could find no trace. It was a sad end for the dog that had so recently saved the party.  
Ernest Joyce with Oscar, from Joyce's log "South Polar Trail"
But Oscar was hard to kill. A week later he was scratching at the door, sore and sorry but itching for a fight.
Finally in July 1916, Wild, Richards and Joyce and the dogs, made the ice crossing to reunite with their four remaining colleagues at Cape Evans.
It was a grim winter. Their ship, Aurora, had been carried away in a storm in May 1915, leaving them marooned. Dick Richards, who had performed so magnificently, collapsed and was an invalid for the remainder of their stay.
Then Con, the fine, intelligent lead dog, was injured in a fight with the other dogs and died, despite tender care from the men.
Ernest Joyce wrote simply: “In spite of all my care the poor fellow died …. Another pal gone. We buried him on the hill.”
Irvine Gaze with Gunner, Ernest Joyce with Towser, Dick Richards (right) with Oscar, Keith Jack (standing centre). SLV H82.45/62
The seven bedraggled survivors of the Ross Sea Party were finally rescued in January 1917.
Ernest Joyce adopted Gunner, while Oscar and Towser went to Wellington Zoo. Oscar didn’t get to enjoy his retirement for long. 18 months later, in June 1918, he collapsed and died. A post mortem showed a diseased liver and enlarged heart, legacy of his hard life in the Antarctic.
Many years later Dick Richards wrote: “None of us who made the southern journey will ever forget those faithful friends of the dog world – Con, Gunner, Oscar and Towser. Without them the party would not have got back.”
Oscar with the survivors - Keith Jack, Stevens, Dick Richards, Ernest Wild, Irvine Gaze, Ernest Joyce, and Cope with Ernest Shackleton and Aurora's Captain John King Davis SLV H82.45/59
And here we are, a century later, remembering the dogs who saved the expedition, particularly Oscar. Lazy? Possibly. Unpopular? Maybe. With surly ways and dirty habits? Probably. But when the men were slowly dying, facing starvation and the insidious creep of scurvy, with three dogs exhausted, in ferocious weather, deep in the Antarctic and 100s of kilometres from safety, when all seemed hopeless, it was Oscar who “lowered his great head and pulled as he never did when things were going well”.
So as winter turns to spring and the days lengthen, let’s look south, raise a glass, and say “Well done Oscar!”

A local-ish link was that: Dick Richards, just 21 when he joined the expedition, had been a student at the Ballarat School of Mines (the forerunner of today's Federation University). Dick recovered from his Antarctic ordeal, and went on to become principal of Ballarat’s School of Mines, later retiring to Point Lonsdale, where he died in 1985, at age 91.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Historians and digital

Are you doing anything important on 16th November?
How about attending -
'Bread & stones: historians using & preserving digital sources'
This Making Public Histories seminar brings together experts to discuss how the prevalence of electronic sources of information is changing the ways that historians work.
Presentations and discussion will explore the subject of discovering and using electronic data, and preserving it for further use.

The session will be chaired by PROV's Owen O'Neil, and the Speakers are:
Michael Jones from the University of Melbourne and Museum Victoria
Sarah Slade of the State Library of Victoria
Daniel Wilksch from Public Record Office Victoria

This seminar is part of the ongoing Making Public Histories series exploring public history within the framework of topical issues in Australia. It is a joint initiative between State Library Victoria, the History Council of Victoria and Monash University.

'Bread & stones' is on 6pm - 7:30 pm Wednesday 16th November, in the Village Roadshow Theatrette room at the State Library in Melbourne.
The event is free, but bookings are essential. You can register/book online
For more details phone: 03 8664 7099 or email:

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Road trippin' to Patche

For the past fortnight  Brisbane-based mural artist Fintan Magee has been painting a giant mural on the walls of the Patchewollock silo. Nick Hulland farmer of Patche is the subject of the social-realist styled Fintan Magee.

Fintan in action, Photo: Wimmera Mail Times
 The mural depicts a tree dying and new growth to represent the bush life cycle. Fintan said the silos project was about making art more accessible; "bringing art out of the galleries and making it part of people's everyday lives".

Nick, whose grandfather settled in the Patche district under the post-World War I Soldier Settlement Scheme, said that if the Patchewollock mural "promotes our little town in any way, that's good".

And already the mural is attracting inter-state visitors to the town (after they work out where it is actually situated), many more people are planning a 'road trip' to see this and the Brim silo.

The proposal for the next silo art piece is for Adnate to work on the surface of the Sheep Hills silos in November.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Morton Plains' Madonna

Rewriting this post, as it was corrupted in draft, so hoping I remember the details. When conducting the first 'Wimmera in Photographs' Collection Day, I was told to look out for the Madonna of Morton Plains.  
The Madonna's tree
The Madonna of Morton Plains
The 'Madonna of Morton Plains' is a framed print which was placed on the trunk of a box tree near the Morton Plains homestead. Over the years the bark of the tree has slowly grown over the frame embedding it in the tree.
At the Birchip Collection Day, I asked about the story behind the Madonna, and received 3 very different versions.
The first version was that a lady had seen a vision of Our Lady, and then placed the picture in remembrance.
The second was that there had been a murder in the vicinity, and in an act of compassion, a sympathiser of the victim erected the frame.
And finally, that a child was buried nearby, and when the road was diverted to over the spot, the picture was placed near the new verge.

Not sure how one would go about validating the claims of version one.
Investigating the claims of the second version - the murder, the only reference I could find in Trove was from 14th September 1875:
An inquest was held to-day (in St Arnaud) on the body of Davie, an aboriginal, who is supposed to have been murdered on the Morton Plains by being thrown into a fire. The inquiry resulted very unsatisfactorily as the aboriginal witnesses denied the statements previously made by them to Europeans. The natives now stated that the deceased fell into the fire while in a fit. The deceased, prior to his death had made a similar statement to Mr. Miller, a publican in the district, who was a witness at the inquest. A verdict was returned that death was caused by congestion of the lungs and injuries received from burns, but it was not known how the injuries had been caused.  

The third version - the burial of the child, the road (where the Warracknabeal-Birchip Rd meets the Sunraysia Hwy) was diverted, as shown by the yellow road on the Warmur Parish map, which was gazetted in May 1956. The Madonna tree is on Allotment 90A, and the Morton Plains homestead is to the south of the Warracknabeal-Birchip Rd in the Watchem Parish.
The third version appears to have the most legs (1875 seems too long in the past, and was it truly a murder?), but then again if the burial was a marked grave would a road be constructed over it
 Leasees of Morton Plains were William Lockhart Morton and Joseph Raleigh 1846-1847, Raleigh 1846-1847, Thomas Pyke 1847-1853, Charles Lyon and Compton Ferrers 1853-1864, George Cunningham Macredie 1864-1870, Charles Mills & Co 1870-1873, Walter, George & Edward Simmons 1873-1876.
From that possibles are:
Eliza Kate Morton born 1847 died 1848, father "W"
Robert Pyke born 1847 Werribee died 1854, father Thomas Henry Pyke, mother Sarah (1405) 
Clare Mills born 1870 died 1873, mother Kate
Baby Simmons born 1873 one day, father George Lewis Simmons, mother Mary McGuire (2920)
William Simmons born 1872 died 1875, father Edward Joseph Simmons, mother Jane Brown (13296)
I don't know, maybe it is just a curiosity!

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Tarrying at Tarranyurk

Prompted to share a couple of bridges in flood.
The previous photos of the old Tarranyurk Bridge on the "Bridges in floods" post were taken in March 2008 and April 2011.
The Wimmera River swirling into the Old Tarranyurk Bridge (Dimboola Courier)
These are from the Dimboola Courier and were taken on Tuesday 20th September 2016, as the flood peak moves towards Jeparit.
Hang in there Tarranyurk! 

The partially collapsed deck of the bridge, the current bridge is to the left (Dimboola Courier)

Began this post on 22nd September, but now updated, so it was possible to add a few more flooded old bridges taken on 24th.

Firstly - Antwerp, the flood peak had moved on from around Antwerp, but evidence of the higher level was apparent with debris still piled up against the old bridge deck, which as shown is only just above the water level. 

<< The new & old Antwerp bridges

Below the old bridge with its missing span, from the previous flood in 2011.

Both Tarranyurk bridges

Arriving at Tarranyurk, the flow of the river was evident, with little whirlpools and frothy spume whipped up around the piles.

  The bridge deck at Tarranyurk  >>

Moving on to Jeparit - the peak had again been and gone, onto Lake Hindmarsh. 
The waters had only reached part-way up the cross-members of the trestles.
Above & below - Jeparit

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Soldiering on the land

A PROV “Soldier On” exhibition will be at Horsham Library from Monday October 17th until Friday 25th November, and then at St. Arnaud Library from Tuesday 29th November 7 until Friday 16th December.
Victoria sent about 90,000 men and women to serve overseas in the First World War, about 70,000 of whom survived to return home. As the war continued, the issue of repatriating returning soldiers became increasingly urgent. As well as providing War pensions and other financial assistance, State governments of the time set up ‘settlement’ schemes to support returning soldiers with work. These ambitious and controversial schemes involved subdividing large rural estates into smaller parcels of land for family farming blocks and leasing them back to discharged service-people. In Victoria around 11,000 farms were created. Each potential settler was required to be certified as qualified to apply, and if successful to remain in residence on that land for 5 years. In this way remote rural areas set aside for such settlement were guaranteed a population expansion for a number of years
Erecting a standard soldier settler home (SLV)
The First World War Soldier Settlement Scheme had been administered by the Lands Department and culminated with the majority of farmers walking off the land and ultimately a Royal Commission. The Soldier Settlement Commission (later called The Rural Finance Commission) began in 1945 to oversee the WW2 Soldier Settlement Scheme.
Oliver Telfer's (ex-22nd Battalion Gallipoli veteran) first house, Lascelles, 1922 (Vic. Museum)
The Public Record Office Victoria have digitised selected documents from Victorian Government files kept on returned World War One soldiers who were approved to lease a block of farming land in Victoria. These government records will help family and Australian history researchers understand the individual experience of a soldier settler, as well as the historical context of the Victorian Soldier Settlement Scheme.
An Exhibition Launch with a talk from the Exhibition Curator Kate Luciano of the Public Record Office Victoria, will take place at Horsham Library on Monday October 17th at 6.30pm. Bookings are essential via visiting the library or phoning 5382 5707.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Tarrying at Tarranyurk

Prompted to share a couple of bridges in flood. 
The previous photos of the old Tarranyurk Bridge on the "Bridges in floods" post were taken in March 2008 and April 2011.
The Wimmera River swirling into the Old Tarranyurk Bridge (Dimboola Courier)
These photos are from the Dimboola Courier and were taken on Tuesday 20th September 2016, as the flood peak moves towards Jeparit.
Hang in there Tarranyurk! 
The partially collapsed deck of the bridge, the current bridge is to the left (Dimboola Courier)

Thursday, 8 September 2016

School sports

With the Olympic Games over for another 4 years, maybe it's time to check out some local sport -
'Weekly Times' article and photos of the Sports Day held at Balmoral, in 1936.

THE representatives of ten schools in the Balmoral and Harrow districts met at Balmoral on April 17 to compete for the Glenelg Schools' Sports Association Shield, when Balmoral experienced its first win in seven years, their students bringing success by winning the relay flag race in the growing dusk.
The Harrow competitors

Students from Balmoral, Harrow, Kongbool Kanagulk. Pigeon Ponds, Telangatuk East, Vasey, Gringegalgona, Yulong and Urangara schools participated in the meeting, which attracted visitors from all parts of the district. The right to hold the shield for the next 12 months could not be determined until the final event on a full afternoon's programme was completed.
The Telangatuk East Team

Yulong, with an enrolment of 15 scholars, staged a fine performance in pushing the winning school so closely, the ultimate points scored by the schools being as under: —Balmoral (scr.), 68 points- Yulong (34), 61; Vasey (34), 47; Kongbool (33), 47; Telangatuk East (10) 45; Gringegalgona (42), 42; Harrow (8) 39; Urangara (32) 36; Kanagulk (23) 36; Pigeon Ponds (18) 30. It appears there was some form of handicapping, which leveled the playing-field amongst the the bigger (Harrow & Balmoral) and smaller (Urangara & Yulong) schools.
 Chidren from the smaller schools, Urangara, Gringegalonga, Kanagulk, Vasey, Kongbool, Pigeon Ponds and Yulong.

Apart from the wonderful running and skipping of the girls, among whom the Yulong girls were outstanding, the Dempsey brothers (Balmoral) showed unexpected pace, Dave Dempsey winning the Under 9, 10, and 11 events in run-away fashion, and Jack Dempsey gaining sprint honors in the Under 12 events, and Evan Rees (Telangatuk East) took the Under 13 high jump at 4ft 3in., and gained several points for his school on the flat.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Rup on film at Rup

The film ‘The Farmer’s Cinematheque’ will have a special one-off screening at the Rupanyup Memorial Hall at 2pm on Sunday 9th October.
‘The Farmer’s Cinematheque’ tells a story that comes from Rupanyup, although it could equally be a story from many other country towns. For more details on the history of the film see this previous post.
There’s a poetic resonance to this event, as the late John Teasdale, creator of most of the archival celluloid interpreted within the film, served many years as the projectionist for the Memorial Hall, in between his farming and his filmmaking. (The Memorial Hall makes a few appearances within the film.)
For information on the film, including a 2 minute teaser, please follow the link.
Admission to the Rupanyup screening costs $5  and includes afternoon tea.
A DVD version of ‘The Farmer’s Cinematheque’ will be launched at the screening, and copies will be available to purchase.