IF you have ever thought of making the drive to Wave Rock, be sure to tick that box, or at least for now add it to your bucket list.
The granite rock, about four kilometres from Hyden, attracts about 140,000 tourists every year to the important Aboriginal site of the Ballardong people – who believe in their dreamtime story that the Rainbow Serpent created the rock after consuming all the water in the region and by dragging her body across the landscape.
I’ve been twice to Wave Rock in the past 10 years and my last visit a few weeks ago gave me a fresh view, different to what I remembered the first time.
But there’s more to see in the area than just a cool shaped rock for posers to take a selfie.
Opposite the Wave Rock Caravan Park, the Information Centre offers all the usual touristy products to purchase, as well as a few awesome displays that could be described as unique to WA’s history and heritage.
Back in 1930, when (Alex Smith) first started the (Miniature Soldier Military collection), a foot soldier cost tuppence halfpenny and a cavalryman cost four pence.
For a $5 entry fee you can peruse The Lace Place, which showcases the original and extensive Margaret Blackburn OAM (1920-1990) collection dating back to the 1600s.
The original collection has been complemented by antique gowns and wedding dresses from the Valerie Mouritz collection, as well as hundreds of handmade and machine-made pieces of lace to view.
According to the brochure the collection has many special items, “including an offcut from princess Diana’s wedding veil”.
If that wasn’t a big enough draw card for the royalists, owner Sheenagh Collins said it was the “second largest lace display in the world”.
Down the corridor there’s a special collection which was the main reason for my visit – the Miniature Soldier Military Display – which also has a $5 entry fee.
After speaking with Information Centre staff I discovered that the Miniature Soldier Military Display has become “quite a popular attraction”, although a lot of visitors didn’t know the display was there – and they were “pleasantly surprised” with it.
The collection consists of an amazing array of 10,000 handmade pieces including soldiers, horses, canons, jeeps, tanks, boats, castles, tents, fences, flags, shop fronts and landscapes to suit each occasion represented – all depicting the various countries involved in the wars.
The collector Alex Smith (no relation) was born in Busselton in 1925 and at the age of five began his collection.
At the age of 10 his grandfather taught him how to make soldiers.
Alex sadly passed away recently leaving behind his legacy.
He would’ve had to have had a very patient family who didn’t want to relocate very often because packing, unpacking and carting that many small and delicate pieces around would not have been easy.
He was known for taking the display to malls to share with the public, until it got a bit much for him.
That’s where he met the new owners of his collection, Sheenagh and her late husband Denis Collins of Hyden, who passed away in 2011, who saw it on display at the Belmont Forum shopping centre and said they would be interested in buying it if he ever wanted to part ways with it.
Five years later Alex called them and sold the collection.
A room was purposely built at the Information Centre to house the collection and at the age of 88, in 2013, Alex drove to Wave Rock and put the display together in 10 days, exactly as it was the day they last saw it.
Back in 1930, when he first started the collection, a foot soldier cost tuppence halfpenny and a cavalryman cost four pence.
Because the soldiers were cheap and colourful, they became the first part of the collection, which eventually came together over 80 years.
About 50 per cent of the collection was handmade from moulds – which in earlier times were made from plaster of paris and then silicone, as well as lead.
The collection covers the Napoleonic era of 1799-1815, the American Civil War of 1861-1865, Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, How the West was Won between 1865-1890, The Russian War 1917-1922, World War 1 & WW2, Australians at the Battle of Tobruk in 1941, the Pacific theatre of operations 1941-1945 and the crowning feature – the Coronation Parade of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
The detail and precision at which the pieces are displayed is amazing.
Taking time to view each piece in each era of the display would take hours, but as long as you allow for time, there’s no rush.
Newspaper clippings and posters from the war eras also line the display table, describing the information the public were told about the wars as they unfolded.
Due to the size of the room there’s plenty of space for expansion, and other displays, which include the Men’s Dress which was worn by Brigadier Denis Owen Magee who grew up in the Hyden area and served in New Guinea, Korea and Vietnam.
There’s a model railroad, old gramophones and radios and the story of Norm Frome – who left home at 14 and worked on the Rabbit Proof Fence before joining the 10th Light Horse Brigade and being stationed in Indonesia with the 2/16th Battalion.
Also in the room is a mannequin wearing The Waterloo Gown, which was worn to the ball given by the Duchess of Richmond on the eve of the famous Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
In 1929, after some alterations, it was worn to the Centenary Ball of the WA Historical Society in Perth.
For those who can appreciate collections of military miniatures, or who just love a taste of history, the Wave Rock display would be worth the drive – especially when the wildflowers are out.
There’s plenty of accommodation if its too much for a day trip.