Merredin military museum tour de force

22 Jan, 2017 02:00 AM
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Dave, the restorer, pictured in front of the Armoured Personnel Carrier at the Merredin Military Museum. Dave used to drive such a vehicle during his time in the Australian Army and now enjoys his retirement tinkering with old military vehicles to restore them to their former glory.
Dave, the restorer, pictured in front of the Armoured Personnel Carrier at the Merredin Military Museum. Dave used to drive such a vehicle during his time in the Australian Army and now enjoys his retirement tinkering with old military vehicles to restore them to their former glory.

THEY were the wars nobody particularly liked to talk about.

And hence many children grew up knowing granddad or dad had fought in World War I or II or the Vietnam war. But little else about their involvement.

I count myself as such a son, with rare comments from my father about his exploits as a signaller and about my uncle Ken, who died fighting the Japanese in New Guinea in World War Two.

There would be mandatory medals and ribbons found in a shoebox in a side drawer or for those who continued to march on Anzac Day, in a glass cabinet taking pride of place next to grandma's treasured china and crystal.

So it was with a great deal of anticipation when I visited the Merredin Military Museum last week, to look over a treasure trove of military gear that "talked" to me about those wars.

My guide was curator and retired farmer and businessman Rob Endersbee, who started the museum in 1992 with fellow farmer Ross Wahlsten, Walgoolan and then Wesfarmers employee Mike Ivey.

The trio had 10 war items between them and gained access to an old railway shed on Great Eastern Highway near the famous Kalgoorlie Bitter water tower.

"It was a personal collection and our wives were happy to see us get rid of what they may have then regarded as junk cluttering up space," Rob recalled.

"Gradually word got around about what we were doing in growing a museum and we got a lot of gear from farmers throughout the district and surrounding towns, which really underlined the amount of gear out here during World War Two."

In fact, Merredin was regarded as a first line of defence against the Japanese with the thinking at the time (erroneously) that aircraft from Japanese aircraft carriers, couldn't reach Merredin.

"Nungarin was a huge base along with the air force base at Merredin and there were a lot of munitions depots throughout the districts," Rob said.

"One of the old tin aircraft hangars, which was also used to store military equipment, is still being used today by local manufacturer Laurie Phillips."

Seven display rooms make up the museum with a restoration shed, which also houses trucks, jeeps and artillery guns, rocket launchers and a field kitchen, used in World War One.

Volunteer "Dave", a former Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) driver in the Australian Army, is the museum's official restorer and is busy most days "re-birthing" vehicles by fixing starter motors, or replacing worn radiator hoses, etc.

The display rooms, with glass cabinets housing valuable military artefacts, provide an enlightening history lesson with various types of rifles, bayonets, sten guns, knives, grenades and war "tools", such as military radio transmitters (and a Morse code telegraph machine in working order), compasses, gun ranges, sniper telescopes, eye shields, gas masks, pocket knives (with can opener) and a rare Commando dagger.

Mannequins grace most rooms, wearing uniforms of the day, or in the case of the hospital display, laid out on a stretcher with a bandage around the head and a smattering of red dye.

There's also an array of medals, badges, stripes and epaulettes along with historic photographs, documents and newspaper clippings.

The APC and the "Huey" Iroquois helicopter, are regarded as the two "drawcard" exhibits, positioned in open space near the display rooms.

"We would love to put them under cover but we haven't got the funds," Rob said. "We have had grant money to help us with some exhibits but we have to pay for operational costs such as power and rent and our only income is from tourists and some personal donations some of us have made.

"The Merredin community also helped with donations to buy the Huey and we have had many donations, particularly from farmers.

"But we need funds for operational costs."

Rob mostly tackles his museum duties on Sundays while heading up an Army cadet unit on a weekly basis, which comes under the umbrella of the local Youth Development Program.

But he's happy to open up for "highway tourists" during the week.

He would be ecstatic to see a full-time employee overseeing operations and one can only hope the necessary funds are found to maintain an important part of WA's history.

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FarmWeekly
Ken Wilson

Ken Wilson

is Farm Weekly's machinery writer

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The view of the PGA on this issue suggests that they also believe that the earth is flat. At
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And Rural Realist WAFF are even worse. Look at their call on single desk, GM, wool floor price