Off the mark: Participants begin their ploughing record attempt at Woo Back, 'Willovale' near Yass, 4 May 2014.

Ploughing for the record

On a cold and windy day, the National Museum’s ‘Horse team’ were amongst thousands of people gathered to witness history in a paddock at ‘Willow Vale’, just outside of Yass, New South Wales. An initiative of the Yass Antique Farm Machinery Club Inc, ‘Woo back!’ hosted 28 horses and their humans to set a Guiness World Record for the most heavy horses ploughing in one field. It was an enthusiastic celebration of the contribution of equine muscle to Australia’s agricultural history, allowing a new generation to see horse drawn ploughs in action.

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The dark side

The darkside: endurance cycling in Australia

It’s 11pm on a Saturday night and I’ve arrived at Eaglehawk Service Station (about 10 kilometers to the north of Canberra) a little worse for wear. Desperately hungry, I devoured a giant sausage roll and a number of the other “healthy” options on offer. No, this wasn’t the end of a day-long pub crawl or buck’s night. I had, in fact, just spent the day cycling over 300 kilometers with two mates from my cycling club, Audax Australia. One of my more experienced riding companions, Pete Heal, shook my hand: ‘Congratulations’, he said, ‘welcome to the darkside’.

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Images: Wikimedia Commons -
Horse: Johnownsuk
Cyclist:  Eric Van Balkum

Road Rage: Bike vs Horse

In December 1889, Dr G. A. Thorne from Melbourne found himself with a spare fortnight at his disposal. A keen bike rider, he decided to take his new ‘taut and trim’ safety bicycle (that he referred to as his ‘trusty little horse’) by train to Sale in Gippsland, Victoria. From there he would cycle to Sydney, following the coast as closely as possible.

On the first day of riding, when he approached Bairnsdale, a horse drawn buggy approached from the opposite direction. The horse appeared to grow restive. The woman driver yelled at Thorne to get off his bicycle. He dismounted and slowly approached the horse, leading it further along the way. As he did so, she blackguarded the good doctor in what he described as an ‘absurd manner’. ‘The Government’, she raged, ‘should not allow “those things” on the road’. Thorne retorted that she should learn to drive before taking charge of a horse. He then left the scene only to be ‘followed by a torrent of abuse’.

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Horse prose: Banjo Paterson’s legacy

Today marks 150 years since the birth of Australian poet Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson. Given that the talented horse rider took his pen name ‘Banjo’ after a racehorse owned by his family, it is not surprising that Paterson’s work was filled with lively descriptions of horses and riders in various settings, in particular the high country of New South Wales and Victoria. Paterson’s passion for his subjects can be found in each word of his poems, with a distinctive rhythm that brings their actions to life for his readers. It is perhaps those qualities that have given Paterson’s work its longevity, so that generations after his words were written, Banjo’s equestrian ballads are still a defining marker for the characters and lifestyles they have come to represent.

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Photography by Peter Dameon, 2010

Riding with ‘Hernia’: Biking Rottnest Island

I first met Darrell Hick on Rottnest Island in 2007 while I was doing some research with the island’s heritage officer, Patsy Vizents, for the National Museum of Australia’s Landmarks gallery. Darrell had just undertaken some conservation work on an historic firearm that had been on display in the Oliver Hill WWII gun battery. I was enjoying a pie from the ever-popular bakery. He asked me what kind of objects the Museum was hoping to display as part of a planned exhibit about Rottnest. The most obvious and important symbol of the Island, I said, was a bicycle: “Do you happen to have one that you used on the Island”, I asked hopefully.

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Collecting & reflecting: inviting thoughts on art & agriculture

Museums enable the drawing of meaning and understanding from the material world. Visitors to the National Museum of Australia encounter objects strategically grouped by curators and designers, beside text carefully written and edited, near images selected for their relevance to the objects on display and processed for maximum visual effect.

But of course, visitors have their own, particular capacities to make sense of things they find in exhibitions or inside museum storage repositories, and objects have their own Continue reading

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Stories for Healing

‘the cultural paradigm is both the most obvious and the least developed in fire research’

Stephen J. Pyne 2007

International Journal of Wildland Fire, 16: 273

‘The mechanisms of storytelling… are our best hope of building a more inclusive and a more responsible citizenship’

Quentin Bryce, ABC Boyer Lectures, 2013

The Victorian Bushfire Project 2009-2013

The Victorian Bushfire Project began with an unexpected story, and it has been fuelled by more and more surprising stories since. Telling true stories has been the route to the Continue reading

A dead shearwater on Tathra beach, New South Wales. November 2013. Photograph: Daniel Oakman

Wrecks on the South Coast

Not what you were expecting?

When I walked the beaches of the far south coast a few weeks ago, I wasn’t expecting it either. The usually empty stretches of sand were littered with the dead and dying bodies of hundreds upon hundreds of short-tail shearwaters, commonly called mutton-birds. These events are called ‘wrecks’. They occur when these migratory birds return to Australia to breed after a journey of some 15,000 kilometres from the Bering Sea near eastern Russia, Canada and Alaska. If they are unable to feed or rest in calm water, they can perish in their thousands. They then wash up on the beach, exhausted, emaciated and half drowned.

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Colonel Light's vision from Montifiore Hill, North Adelaide, showing the new stands of the Adelaide Oval. Photo: David Niven

Light’s vision hit for six

As the second Ashes test on Australian soil for the 2013-14 series begins in Adelaide tomorrow, I wonder what Colonel Light would think of the growth of his city and in particular the re-development of Adelaide Oval. Since 1938, the statue of Colonel Light has watched over the city of Adelaide, perfectly positioned on Montefiore Hill. The view towards the city, with Adelaide Oval in the foreground, is known as Light’s Vision and has for many years featured on postcards and promotional shots of Adelaide. Continue reading