Monday, April 11, 2011

Homestead and Smithies - and Blacksmiths who don't have it, quite.

The weather here is rainy-on-and-off.  It's not raining, and then suddenly it is - sideways.  Yesterday the rain bursts were explosive- the world would be sun and smiles, then suddenly the sky would be pink or purple or, once, yellow-orange, and it would rain.  And then it wouldn't.
            Yesterday afternoon between squalls we went and paid our first visit to the Mt Laura Homestead Museum, because Mr Tabubil had remembered that on Sunday they were going to run their farm engines all afternoon.  
            The Homestead is Whyalla's local living history museum.  At the beginning of the 20th century, when our town was the brand new settlement of Hummock Hill -an optimistic collection of tents and cottages down on the beach, Mt Laura was the pastoral homestead for a sheep farm, six miles out of town.  By the sixties the town had crept up and past it, and the house was turned over to the national trust.  These days Mt Laura sort-of-museum,  a dusty and indifferently-run collection of barns and farmhouses full of  faintly aimless old-time-y things. 
            There's an engine barn, a relocated 1920s cottage done up 1920s style (and full of dust, cobwebs and pictures knocked off kilter that the original housewife would never have tolerated back in the day), a harness barn full of rotting carriages and decayed halters, a telecommunications museum that held a section of the original overland telegraph line (that was impressive), a smithy, and the original homestead, now the principal stuff-repository of the place.  One room is full of photographs, another has been turned into a ye-olde school room, another into a hybrid 1930s dental office cum 1970s hair salon (the juxtaposition of a pedal-powered dental drill and a wall of Vidal Sassoon posters was mind-bending in the best possible way - LSD meets happy gas!) cum general store with a row of antique bubble gum machines. 
            The engines in the mechanical shed were burping out an unbelievable mixture of dark brown fumes; the oil they were running on was too foul to sustain even Mr Tabubil's level of interest, so between rain squalls we ran to the homestead and soaked up the history. 
            The room full of photographs was tremendous fun - endless rows of Edwardian Hats and Sunday school classes in white muslin dresses!  It was terribly entertaining imagining how they'd kept them that way in the red desert before modern laundry systems.  Below the photographs were shelves of scrapbooks (lamentably, badly water damaged) and a bank of glass cases below the shelves was  full of family portrait groups and much more exciting-looking albums, bound in leather, and latched with complicated brass locks.  Unfortunately the cases were full of drifting red dust, which rather obscured the pictures.
            While we were in there, an elderly lady moved slowly through the room dusting at thing with an ancient feather duster - a sort of desultory poke poke poke - which explained the general state of the place.  The place is entirely volunteer-run on what seems to be a bit of an ad-hoc basis.  If they had a real curator - even for a week or two on loan, the place could be quite fabulous - they certainly have the stuff to make it so, but as it is they do the minimum, I would say.  Most local people are a bit ashamed, but nobody offers to help out - and so it goes.
            We left the museum via the blacksmiths forge, and the blacksmiths forge was fun.   There is a large wire safety screen mounted across the open frontage to stop the populace getting in the way of flying bits of red-hot metal, and clinging to the outside of the screen was a ten year old boy on a bicycle.  His mouth was open and his eyes were fixed and intent and inside the screen, a grizzled  old bloke in a leather apron was showing him how to make a horseshoe.
            On the far side of the forge an apprentice blacksmith was trying to make a hammer head - we think.  There was much puffing and blowing and banging and what we think was meant to be a hammer head was rather bent into a red-hot boomerang.  The man took up a wedge and attempted to bang a hole through the middle of the neck of the alleged hammerhead, and managed to get the wedge thoroughly stuck halfway though.  He banged and banged and swore and banged and the red-hot hammerhead-and-wedge shot out of the grip of his pliers and hit the floor.  He ran after it and picked it up and jammed it into a vise mounted on a table and began to bang again, and the hammerhead-and-wedge shot up and sideways and landed on a leather apron.   Which caused much hopping and a blistering round of "Aargh!  Off Off Off!" while the leather started to smoke.  The man snatched it up with his pliers and placed it grimly onto the anvil - the wedge still firmly married to the hammerhead. We hid our grins and melted diplomatically away.  It can't be easy learning blacksmithing with an audience!

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