A treasure chest of living ag history

17 Jan, 2017 02:00 AM
Dardanup Heritage Park owner Jill Brookes shows off the Brookes Transport exhibits in one of the display sheds.
Dardanup Heritage Park owner Jill Brookes shows off the Brookes Transport exhibits in one of the display sheds.

IT'S a classic labour of love for Jill Brookes, her dozen staff and her merry band of nearly 50 volunteers.

Jill is the owner and manager of Dardanup Heritage Park, built on 121ha (300ac) property south east of Bunbury and boasting 20 sheds.

It's what is inside the sheds that reveals the labour.

"The Park" boasts the largest collection of heritage items in the Southern Hemisphere, along with some of the best "re-builders" and "restorers" - usually retired cockies enjoying life in what, for them, is the best Men's Shed going.

Along with Jill, who has done a bit of restoring in her time, the staff and volunteers have created a living history of Australian agriculture.

"We like to think it's a bit more than that," Jill said. "It's also educating people about the industrial and social side of the industry because those aspects were integral to life on the land in the early days.

"Everything we exhibit here has a story and those stories need re-telling to provide people with details of that living history we talked about earlier.

"It's so important to keep a good record of our past."

Thankfully Jill is a willing custodian of agriculture's history, having encouraged her late husband Gary to "do something" when he was winding down from running his company Brookes Transport.

"He had a love of dozers and it started from there," Jill said.

The first six years of Gary's "semi-retirement" were spent restoring machinery, from graders, to trucks and tractors.

Then in 1998, Gary and Jill bought a 120ha (300ac) property two blocks down from Brookes Transport.

It initially was a dairy farm and the dairy shed was still standing.

"We built tea rooms around the shed and that was the start," Jill said.

"The first shed was relocated from Bunbury and became known as the Inter Shed, housing International Harvester machinery.

"From there it was just building more sheds to house equipment we mostly bought and restored.

"We officially opened the park in 2003, the year Gary died, and we made sure everything we restored was in working order.

With Jill's eye for an exhibit and the help of "Mr Gopher" Ray Hughan and park curator Hugh Cawdell, staff and volunteers, the park now boasts an impressive collection of tractors and engines, all in working order, along with trucks, horse-drawn equipment, early harvesters, sundry equipment, a military collection, and memorabilia, including "house treasures" like water pitchers, basins, plates, tins, bottles and medical equipment for farmers-turned-doctors in the absence of a local doctor or the "flying doctors".

There's also a display of gemstones, sea shells and agates - the latter gathered from the basalt reef between Capel and Bunbury.

A shearing shed, dairy shed and farm shed complete the picture and soon Jill will be starting up a "blacksmith's shop" along with expanding the harvesting equipment display.

You could literally write several books on the collection, particularly the tractors, so for the sake of this story, I pressed Hugh to name:

* The oldest: An International Titan 10-20, built by International Harvester company in Chicago, United States, from 1917 to 1922, with a claimed drawbar power of 10hp (7.5kW) and a claimed belt power of 20hp (14.9kW). According to Hugh, it's twin cylinders produced "rat power" in comparison with today's horsepower beasts.

* The newest: A Massey Ferguson 165, donated by Bill Nuskie. "We restored it after it had been used to pump water at the Binningup Golf Club," Hugh said. The 165 was a row crop tractor seen on many Australian farms at the height of its popularity between 1964 and 1975. It developed 43.5kW (58hp at the engine).

* The best: A Muir Hill 101 4WD tractor restored with Ford parts. The 5.9 litre Ford six cylinder engine developed 82kW (110hp) and was linked to a dropbox transmission. It was made in Manchester, England between 1968 and 1972.

While Jill still retains the "spark" to look for new things to add to the park's collection, she is quick to deflect her activities, being happier to talk about the staff and the "vollies".

Her daughters Dianne and Judy play an important role too with Dianne in charge of the tea rooms and bookings and Judy in charge of accounts.

"Ron Smith is 87 and he comes in four days a week to work on the machinery," Jill said. "He virtually lives here and I joke with him about having to build a house on the premises.

"He is self taught and he helped re-build our Tangye engines (Two stationary units made in England developing 37kW (50hp) and 75kW (100hp) respectively and used extensively for industrial applications in the 19th and early 20th centuries).

"They used to run the York flour mill and then went to Ravensthorpe for the nickel smelter but were never used.

"When we got it the big piston on one of the engines was badly corroded but the boys used a crane with a log to ram it through so we could fix it.

"Brian Lynch oversees the running of a Bellis and Morcom engine (also built in England, circa early 1900s, for industrial application) and is running it on compressed air and we also have an auxiliary engine we bought from the old Bunbury power station.

"It was a Crossley engine (built in England, circa 1920) and was used during Cyclone Alby in 1978.

"Greg Depiazzi operates our copy lathe, which was used for making axe handles and spindles and Dick Hatfield found out how to use a machine which makes coil springs.

"Graham Vincent has re-built a baker's cart which we bought in Mandurah. It's horse-drawn and we've also got a big wicker basket used to carry the bread to customers.

"And Bill Parravisini comes in on the first Sunday of every month to run the saw mill."

A recent acquisition is a wool bale wagon from Boolardy Station, Meekatharra.

It weighed 15 tonnes and was pulled by 17 camels and its record load was 90 bales of wool weighing 14.5t, carted in 1924.

Space is the limiter to this story which showcases the volunteers as much as the exhibits.

The volunteers are an impressive and jovial bunch, most of whom were self taught on the farm but there is a qualified electrician and four retired printers, who can operate the linotype machine used in the days when newspapers engaged in "hot metal" technology to print newspapers and magazines.

Sadly the annual Memorial Day to celebrate Gary's legacy is no longer.

The day was a celebration of working exhibits which still remains the heartbeat of the park every Wednesday and Sundays when it is open to the public.

Ken Wilson

Ken Wilson

is Farm Weekly's machinery writer


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