History Festival Opening Speech

On Sunday afternoon, we were treated to a wonderful opening speech, by Councillor Jeff Cook, from Minlaton. He was kind enough to let us reproduce his words here.


Good afternoon and welcome ladies and gentlemen, and a special welcome to the next generation with whom our future rests, and thank you for attending today, to observe and ponder on the relics of our past, and perhaps wonder just what our future holds for us. It is indeed and honour and privilege to stand here before you to launch this History Festival. The past is wonderfully displayed and preserved before us here, in machinery, diaries, photographs, and artefacts etc as it is in so many museums and collections all over the country, in the little rural towns and larger country centres as well as our cities. 

Ardrossan itself has a number of claims to fame for inventions of the past, and as we move around this museum we see samples of the inventiveness of our forebears, and I must say that having grown up with arc welders, oxy welders, electric drills, and seen the development of mig and tig welders, I look around at, for instance, the stump-jump plough which was fashioned without the tools of today. It was fashioned with only a coke forge, hammers, chisels, anvil, rivets, bolts, and chains. Even the chains themselves were forged by hand and heat, link by link and hammer welded.

I am confident that every single one of us has marvelled at the various relics we see here, and wondered how they could possibly have been made without all our current machinery. It doesn’t matter whether we are looking at an early mechanical typewriter, an early telephone, a binder for sheaved hay or an early engine, or anything we see before us, in this day and age we have to wonder at just how they were developed and made with none of the mechanical, electric and electronic advantages that we have now.

But the fact is that they were developed because of innovative individuals who saw a need for something better to make the life easier, whether it was in agriculture, communications, sewing, baking, home-making and so much more from every aspect of life in the day. However we have gathered here today to not only wonder at how and why these things were developed, but to pay tribute to the individuals who have saved these things from the scrapheaps and waste bins and the incinerators or rubbish dumps, and in many cases restored them to working order and display. Without their efforts these mechanical wonders, these photos, notes, books, letters and plans, in fact everything that has gone into making this and every other museum alive and vibrant would be lost.

People like George and Jean Gunderson, and many others before and after them have shown the dedication needed, and spent countless hours to ensure that the past is recorded and preserved, documents and photos saved, machinery restored and redundant items, whether household or agricultural or whatever they were, are here to be seen and marvelled at. You will hear older people discussing things along the lines of “We had one like that, but ours was a bit different”, and younger generations trying to work out just how things worked, or what they did.

Some things will be displayed with its original advertising, showing the selling price in pounds shillings and pence, and you don’t have to be particularly old to remember when postage stamps were tuppence, and a pie or pasty was 10d, or even when a brand new Holden was $1949 for instance. The point is that when these mementoes and memory prompters from our past are on display right here before us, then it gets us enthusiastic about the things that have forged our lives, the pioneers and the doers of our world.

We live in a rural district that has relied on farming for much of its prosperity, but if agricultural pursuits were still carried on in the way that they used to be, then there would be no farming, because the farmers would have gone broke. I well remember from about fifty odd years back when we were reaping a good crop of barley. We had 4 tractors, 4 12’ cut headers, 4 bagging platforms and 8 men, and we reapt 1500 bags in one long day, which was a pretty good day. Back then you had to grease the headers every 2 hours, and there were 97 grease nipples on two headers, and 104 on the other two. And you had to oil the chain drives and knife head every hour. Now there are almost no grease nipples, which only need greasing a couple of times a season, and with the aid of a chaser bin, the headers don’t stop to empty out so they can reap those 1500 bags before breakfast from an air-conditioned cab, and never touch a grain. And that is just a symbol of the advances made in every aspect of our lives. That is why museums must preserve our history, so that there will always be physical examples of the way things used to be! 

Depending upon your age, many of our grandparents for instance would not have believed or dreamed of such things as colour tv, mobile phones, computers, ipads, actually getting a man on the moon, and so many of the things that we now take for granted. By the same token, many of those same people would not have seen any value in keeping any of the artefacts and relics of things that they no longer had a use for, after they had upgraded - and I must admit that I am just as guilty as anyone - having sent so much of my own history to the scrap heap, or left it to rot or rust or wither to dust. Hey, that rhymes.

My old 1923 Ariel 1 3/4 hp motorbike I sold for 30/-, my 1926 Pontiac buckboard sold for 2 guineas. But throughout our history, there have been thankfully a small band of people who HAVE seen fit to preserve the past in written, printed, photographic, recorded, mechanical form etc. And for that, we must be forever grateful. Some of those people with foresight greater than mine are here with us today, and many have passed into history itself. They are the ones with the drive and dedication to the cause of preserving our history so that future generations can get at least a glimpse of how things used to be. No individual could have done it, but together many individuals HAVE done it, all as volunteers, putting in countless hours and effort to present us with the wonderful museum and all that it has today.

For that, I think everybody here, and coming generations must be eternally grateful.

Before finishing, I would like to take this opportunity to read a poem of the way things used to be on the farm.



They cleared the land with manpower, pre-dawn, ‘til after dark
Six days a week they worked that way, each day they made their mark
But Sundays they kept for the Lord, and family gatherings too
When men and horses had their rest, the accepted thing to do.

I look around the sheds and barns, the scrap-heap by the track
And I see the tools of farming then, as a vision takes me back
At one end of the stable, with a pair of old blade shears
Hang collars, winkers, hames and things, not used for sixty years.

The barn walls – nearly two foot thick, were built from hand-hewn stone
And mortar made with home-burnt lime, done by families on their own
The chaff-cutter by the stable, and the elevator it fed, 
Were driven by an oil engine, housed in the engine shed.

The engine was enormous too, it weighed about a ton
With flywheels of four foot across – my memory hears it run
The blacksmith shop, once pride and joy, with coke-forge and with anvil
Those tools that hung around the walls all iron work would handle.

The gallows stood out stark, alone, where ration sheep were done
Where work-dogs got the throw-out bits, and the rail where skins were hung
The plough of just three furrows, which the ploughman walked behind
Then the “big” one which cut three foot six, the first “stump-jump” design

The winnower which was turned by hand, knocked grain out of the stalk
Then blew the chaff out of the grain, and was fed by a man with a fork
When I pictured how it used to be, I wondered how we’d cope
They worked so hard, our pioneers, their faith allowed them hope

It seemed they worked the whole year long, through rainy times and sunny
To grow feed to give their horses, and they never had much money
But I can see major differences between these times and those
They didn’t need our cashflow, with just two sets of clothes.

There was no electricity, so they didn’t pay for that,
No cars they had to register, just the horses and the trap
No petrol costs or batteries, no tyres to wear out
Their meat and veggies all home-grown, no telephones about

Their water just came from the sky, and so, no water rates
Their fences made from wood and stone, with a bit of wire for gates
Their tractors were their horses, they bred new models every year
And they never had big breakdowns, worse than worn out chains or gear

There was no GST tax (nor money in the banks)
And government demands were minimal, for that they could give thanks
The term “cashless society” is a new term that’s around
But our forebears lived it long ago when they pioneered our ground.

Jeff Cook, Minlaton SA 5575 ph 08 88532237  jeffcookpoet@bigpond.com

Ladies and gentlemen, it now gives me much pleasure to officially launch this History Festival