A pair of ca. 1880s mountain-ash skis , known as 'Kiandra Kick-ins'. NMA Donald Maclurcan collection no. 2

An old pair of wooden skis? Not what you’d expect…..

When I first started working at the National Museum, I felt as though I’d arrived in an Aladdin’s cave – a treasure trove of collections from which I could choose whatever I wanted to explore and to write about.

As a Queenslander who had spent her childhood summer holidays swimming, sunbathing and surfing on Queensland’s golden beaches, I was very keen to learn about the sports enjoyed by people in the Snowy Mountains region near Canberra. What better way to discover more about the history of these winter pastimes than by delving into the Museum’s treasure chest of collections to find out and it wasn’t long before a pair of old wooden skis caught my attention.

According to the brief file notes, the skis, referred to as ‘Kiandra kick-ins’, were thought to have been made during the late 1800s and donated to the Museum in 1989 by Mr Donald Maclurcan, a Sydney architect, who had retrieved them from a shed belonging to Mr Geoff Yen of Old Adaminaby in 1956.

My curiousity was instantly aroused. Surely these few details couldn’t be the whole story! Why were these skis called ‘Kiandra kick-ins’? Who had made them? Who was this enigmatic Mr Yen and what was he doing in Old Adaminaby? And, last, but not least, why was this curious set of skis in his shed in the first place?

Little did I know, as I plunged deeper into this mystery, that, beneath their everyday appearance, these skis would reveal an intriguing and unexpected story of migration and goldfield history – ranging from the snow fields of Scandinavia to Guandong province in southern China and finally, to the tiny town of Old Adaminaby in the Snowy Mountains.  It is a also a story of the courage, resilience and open-heartedness of men who left homes, families and loved ones far behind in search of better lives, and who stayed to make a long-lasting contribution to the social, sporting, environmental and cultural narratives of this land we call Australia.

If you’d like to read more about of the remarkable history of these skis, you can do so by following the link below….

http://recollections.nma.gov.au/issues/volume_8_number_2/papers/chinese_skiers

Photograph: Katie Green, National Museum of Australia

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