Thursday, July 20, 2017

Lubecker Steam Dredge on the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp

The Lubecker Steam Dredge was the first machine used on the long running project to drain the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp. Small scale works, undertaken by individual land owners, had started in 1856.  In 1875, landowners formed the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp Drainage Committee. This Committee employed over 100 men and created a drain that would carry the water from the Cardinia and Toomuc Creeks to Western Port Bay. 

It soon became apparent that drainage works needed to be carried out on a large scale if the Swamp was to be drained thus the Chief Engineer of the Public Works Department, William Thwaites, surveyed the Swamp in 1888.  His report recommended the construction of the Main Drain from where the Bunyip River entered the Swamp in the north to Western Port Bay and a number of smaller side drains. A tender was advertised in 1889 and by March 1893 the contractors had constructed the 16 miles of the drain from Western Port Bay to the south of Bunyip.  The Swamp was then considered ready for settlement. All work was carried out manually using axes, shovels, mattocks and wheel barrows.
The Public Works Department had been unhappy with the rate of progress and took over its completition in 1893 and appointed the Engineer, Carlo Catani, to oversee the Swamp drainage works.  Catani was keen to introduce land dredges; however this was not approved because it would reduce the work available for unskilled labour. It wasn’t until 1912 that Catani was given permission to purchase a machine and he ordered a Lubecker steam driven bucket dredge from Germany. It was described as being of the articulated ladder type; it ran on rails and had a 9 man crew. It weighed 80 tons and had a capacity of 61 cubic yards per hour or approximately 200,000 cubic yards per annum when working one shift.  A labourer at the time dug about 8 cubic metres per day. The purchase price was £2,300 pounds, plus £632 duty. The total cost landed, erected with rails, cranes and other equipment came to £4,716.

The dredge in operation, on some official occasion.
State Rivers & Water Supply Commission photographer, State Library of Victoria Image rwg/u873

According to the Lang Lang Guardian the dredge had arrived by June 1913 and was to start work on the Lang Lang River, which was described as a ‘wandering creek.’ This dredging was to prevent flood waters backing up across areas of the Tobin Yallock Swamp lands. The paper also said that the dredge was thought to be the finest in the world and will shift earth at the rate of a penny a yard. A report in the same paper on July 16, 1913 said that 50 chains of rail would be laid for the dredge on a cleared track.  The reporter went onto say that at this time the dredge was currently scattered over the ground, and is an insoluble puzzle to visitors who attempt to construct in their minds a mechanical theory as to how this vast and complicated machine will be put together and how it is going to work.

It was obviously put together and started work, and the Lang Lang Guardian reported that the Engineer, Mr Osborne, had employed a small Tangye engine and secured it to a truck for the hauling of the machinery and goods.

This is the Tangye engine referred to, above, used to haul machinery, goods and in this case important visitors. This photo was obviously taken during an official occasion.
State Rivers & Water Supply Commission photographer, State Library of Victoria Image rwg/u877

 From a report in The Argus on October 13, 1915 we can get an idea of how the Dredge operated - it excavates by means of an endless chain arrangement, wherein each link of the chain consists of a heavy steel shovel head…these scrape away the ‘spoil’ and then they deliver it onto a mechanical conveyer …which dumps the earth onto a regular embankment or if necessary into wagons that cart it away.

Around August 1916 the Dredge had completed its work on the Lang Lang River, having removed 78,000 cubic yards of earth and creating a channel a mile and half long. It was then taken over by the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission and worked on the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp on the Main Drain, Cardinia Creek and the Yallock Outfall Drain.

Lubecker Dredge
State Rivers & Water Supply Commission photographer, State Library of Victoria Image rwg/u855
According to a paper presented to the Institution of Engineers by Lewis Ronald East in March 1935, by June 1934 total excavation by the Dredge was 1,332.231 cubic yards. It never worked full time and never at more than at 60 percent of its capacity.  The average cost of excavation was 7.9 pence per cubic yard, but with interest and depreciation the total cost was 9.15 pence per cubic yard, well over the Lang Lang Guardian’s original estimate of one penny per yard.  East also reports that the dredge has now practically completed its useful life.

Lubecker Dredge
State Rivers & Water Supply Commission photographer, State Library of Victoria Image rwg/u871
Other machines working on the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp included a steam powered Stiff Leg Dragline, weighing 25 tons, purchased in 1925 for the cost of £2,200.  This had a five man crew and was rail based and a working cost per cubic yard of 7 pence.  In 1929 a 45 ton steam powered Full Swing Dragline was purchased for £3,100. This had a three man crew and a caterpillar undercarriage and a per cubic yard cost of 4.4 pence.  In 1929 the first non-steam powered machine, another Full Swing Dragline was purchased for £3,700. This weighed 26 tons, had a two man crew a caterpillar undercarriage and had a working cost per cubic yard of 2.4 pence.  East said that the economy of caterpillar traction and of crude oil power are obvious.  You can see some photos of other dredges that worked on the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp, here.

Finally, what happened to the Lubecker Dredge? We don’t know but presumably it was cut up for scrap as all that remains are a set of wheels on display at the Swamp Look-out tower on the South Gippsland Highway.

The Lubecker Dredge wheels at the Swamp look-out tower.

You can read more about Carlo Catani in my Carlo Catani blog, here.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Flax Mill at Koo-Wee-Rup

In 1940, the British Government asked Australia to produce more flax for the War effort. Britain had previously been supplied with flax from Russia, Belgium and Ireland, but as the War interrupted these supplies they looked to Australia. Flax was used for all sorts of clothing and equipment such as coats, parachute harnesses, ropes and tarpaulins.

England sent out 400 tons of flax seed to Australia and the Victoria Department of Agriculture approved 14,000 acres of land as suitable for flax growing. In the Koo-Wee-Rup area 1,374 acres were approved for planting.

The Flax Mill opened in the former Gippsland and Northern Produce shed at the Railway yards in December 1940 and the opening was celebrated with a ‘sumptuous repast’ at the Royal Hotel on New Year’s Eve 1940. The Manager, Mr H.E Clark, had previously been employed at the Drouin Mill. The Koo-Wee-Rup Sun of March 6, 1941 reported on a meeting of the Koo-Wee-Rup and District Branch of the Victorian Flax Growers Association.  In spite of over seventy growers being notified there was only a ‘meagre turn up the meeting’. The President was Cr Dan Kinsella and the Koo-Wee-Rup Branch included growers from Berwick and Pakenham. The report goes on to say that the district had 73 growers, growing 1,560 acres, with an average cultivation of twenty one acres.  In August 1941, two railway truck loads of flax fibre were being sent each week to the City.

Flax Mill at Koo-Wee-Rup
Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp Historical Society photo

In March 1943, thirty Land Army women arrived to work at the Flax Mill.  They were housed in fifteen, newly built fibrolite huts in Station Street. The complex also had a shower room, mess room, kitchen and dining room. The arrival of the women was reported in the Koo-Wee-Rup Sun of March 18, 1943 (article reproduced below).  The Australian Women's Land Army (AWLA) was formed in 1942 to provide labour to farming areas to replace the men who had gone off to war.  The women had to be aged between 18 and 55 and be ‘strong and intelligent’ to carry out the  ‘essential national work connected with Victorian Flax centres’  Conditions included a five day week at award rates, plus overtime.

Koo-Wee-Rup Sun March 18, 1943

In September 1944, the Mill was destroyed by fire and the thirteen AWLA women on night shift were lucky to escape unharmed though about £800 worth of fibre was destroyed.  At the time of the fire the Mill employed forty six males and thirty four females.  The Mill re-opened in temporary premises a month later. The closure of the Mill was announced in the Koo-Wee-Rup Sun in November 1946 and by March the following year the buildings were disposed of.  The amenities building of the Flax Mill was purchased and used as a Scout Hall. Another building, an army hut, was erected on land adjoining St Johns Catholic School. At its peak the Mill employed up to 70 men and 40 Land Army women.

A trip from Dandenong to Garfield and Bunyip by road

I wrote this for the Garfield Spectator and wrote a companion story for the Koo-Wee-Rup Blackfish about a trip from Dandenong to Koo-Wee-Rup and Lang Lang, which you can read that here. They both start off the same, at Dandenong.

Let’s imagine we were travelling by horse and coach down the Gippsland Road (the Princes Highway) from Dandenong to Garfield in the 1800s - what hotels would we encounter on the way? We would have the need to call in to some of these hotels to get something to eat and drink for both ourselves and the horses. The journey is about 50km or 30 miles so even going by Cobb & Co coach which was a ‘fast’ and relatively comfortable service with modern coaches which had a suspension system made of leather straps, it was still a four hourjourney as the coaches travelled at about six to eight miles per hour. The horses were swapped every ten to thirty miles. So we’ll start our journey at Dandenong which had a large range of hotels - Dunn’s Hotel and Dunbar’s Dandenong Hotel were both built in the 1840s, the Bridge Hotel and the Royal Hotel in the 1850s to name a few.

The next hotel on the Gippsland Road was the Emu and Kangaroo, built in 1855 by James Mulcare near the Eumemmerring Creek. It was later taken over by Michael Hennessy and renamed the Eumemmerring Hotel although it was also simply called Hennessy’s, as he owned the hotel from 1865 to 1888. There was a race track next to the Hotel, known as Hennessy’s Course.  Other early licensees were Joseph Edmonds and Emma Birt. The original hotel burnt down, a replacement was built which was delicenced in 1917 and demolished. The Prince Mark Hotel, built in the 1960s, now occupies the site.

The next Hotel was the Hallam Hotel, which was started by William and Mary Hallam in the 1870s. They also had a general store. In 1885, Edmund Uren took over the property and he operated the Hotel until he died in July 1892 when his wife, Elizabeth, took over the licence. Elizabeth operated the hotel until June 1898.  The original single storey building was refurbished and a second storey added in 1930/31.   The double storey part of the hotel that you see today is the 1930s building. In 1855, the Mornington Hotel was established on the corner of Narre Warren North Road and the Gippsland Road by J. Gardiner and later taken over by John Payne. It was dismantled in the 1880s or 1890s.

We now come to the Berwick Inn also known as the Border Hotel - it’s still standing on the corner of High Street and Lyall Road in Berwick. It was built by Robert Bain in 1857. The triangular single storey part is the 1857 construction which is made of hand-made bricks from local clay. The two storey sections were added in 1877 and 1887. Robert Bain died in 1887 and his wife Susan took over the hotel and operated it until she died in June 1908.

We continue down the Gippsland Road and we come to the Central Hotel on the Cardinia Creek at Beaconsfield. David and Janet Bowman were granted a licence for the Gippsland Hotel (as the Central Hotel was originally called) in 1855. David Bowman died in 1860 and Janet Bowman continued running the Hotel until around 1866. It was later taken over by the Souter family. There were Cobb & Co stables at the Hotel. The existing Central Hotel was built around 1928.

Bourke's Hotel in Pakenham, 1909. 
Photo is from 'In the wake of the Pack Tracks' published by the Berwick Pakenham Historical Society. 

The next hotel was on the Toomuc Creek - the Latrobe Inn also called Bourke’s Hotel for the obvious reason that it was established by Michael and Kitty Bourke in 1849. This was a ‘hostelry of high repute’ and had good accommodation. They operated the Hotel and the Post Office together until Michael died in 1877, when Catherine continued operating both businesses, with the help of her daughter Cecelia, until she died in 1910.This was also a Cobb & Co stop. Michael Kelly built a hotel on the west side of the Toomuc Creek around 1869. In 1881 it was taken over by Eliza and Alexander Fraser and known, not surprisingly as Fraser's Hotel. Eliza Fraser (nee Mulcahy) died in July 1890.  Another hotel was built near the Railway Station sometime between 1877 when the railway arrived and 1880 – I have seen various dates listed in various books. This Hotel was built by Daniel Bourke and at one time was called the Gembrook Hotel and is now called the Pakenham Hotel. The current building dates from 1929. 
In 1863, David Connor built the Halfway House Hotel just down from the corner of Abrehart Road and the Gippsland Road.  It was delicenced in 1899 and became a private house.  The building is said to have been moved to the Moe Folk Museum. 

Closer towards Nar Nar Goon was the Limerick Arms Hotel built in the 1860s by Daniel and Brigid O’Brien.  It was on the corner of Wilson Road and the Gippsland Road. Daniel, Brigid and their daughter Ellen had arrived in Melbourne in September 1841. Also on the same ship were the Dore family - John and Betty and their children Edward, Thomas, Patrick and Ellen. In 1844, John Dore and Michael Hennessey took up the Mount Ararat Run at Nar Nar Goon of 1,900 acres. The partnership existed until 1855. This was the same Michael Hennessy who had the Eumemmerring Hotel. The Limerick Arms was also a Cobb & Co stop and it was delicensed in 1908 and the building later demolished. Daniel and Brigid’s son, Michael and his wife Johanna opened the Nar Nar Goon Hotel (near the Railway Station) in 1883.

Halfway House Hotel, 1900
Photo is from 'In the wake of the Pack Tracks' published by the Berwick Pakenham Historical Society.

The next hotel was at the old town of Cannibal Creek on the Old Coach road, a bit further north than the Gippsland Road. This township was located on the banks of the Cannibal Creek, sort of in the region of Bassed Road. The Hotel was the Pig & Whistle, established by Jabez James around 1866. Kathleen Leeson then operated the hotel from 1869 to 1910.  Back onto the Gippsland Road - in 1867 David Connor established the  New Bunyip Inn  on the south side of the Highway, just east of A'Beckett Road and the west side of the Bunyip River.  His son-in-law, David Devanny or Devenay  or Deveney (I’ve seen the name spelt three ways) later took over the Hotel and he was still there in 1897, but the hotel was closed by the Licensing Reduction Board in 1917, the same time as the Eumemmerring Hotel.

If we go back in to the town of Garfield, the Iona Hotel opened around April 1904. It was built by George Ellis. Sadly, the hotel was destroyed by fire in April 1914 but the existing Hotel opened on the same site in 1915. There were two hotels that opened in the township of Bunyip around 1877 which, as we saw before, was the year the railway arrived.  The Hotels were the Butcher's Arms and the Bunyip Hotel, according to Denise Nest in her book Call of the Bunyip and they are (I believe)  the forerunners of the current Bunyip Hotels, the Railway Hotel and the Gippsland Hotel (the Top Pub).

Garages at Garfield

Bill Parish wrote in his short history of Garfield, which was published in the 1962 ‘Back to’ programme, that the first motor cars appeared in town in the 1910s. They were J. Barker’s T-model Ford and H. Hourigan’s Renault. Henry Hourigan, was a coach builder (according to his occupation listed in the Electoral Roll) so there is no surprise that he would be first with a motor car. John Barker was the Model T owner, his occupation was orchardist but I believe he was the Barker of Barker Reidy Co that later became Barker, Green and Parke.

Mr Parish writes that in the 1920s many local people were able to purchase their first motor cars and trucks and that horses were becoming rarer and rarer on the roads with the ever increasing number of motor cars taking their place.

In the 1940s, Mr Parish lists G. Hamm, F. Dean and J Brenchley as the garage proprietors. Francis (Frank) Antonio Dean is listed in the Electoral Roll as a Motor Mechanic at Railway Street Garfield from 1931 to 1954 and from the 1960s as a garage proprietor. Frank operated the garage near the bakers.

According to the Shire of Berwick Rate Books in May 1941 George Hamm purchased the Garfield garage from the Estate of Thomas O’Donohue and in March 1947 Leonard John Brenchley took over from George Hamm. The property at Lot 6, Garfield (on the corner of Thirteen Mile Road) had operated as a garage since 1932 with the building being owned by Thomas and Eileen O’Donohue. They presumably employed a mechanic but I have no information about that. The Brenchleys (Leonard John and Linda Frances according to the Electoral Roll)  had come to Garfield from Werribee.

Werribee Shire Banner January 9, 1947

By the 1950s there was huge choice in the area for buying motor vehicles - W.D. Hilder at Pakenham East (as Pakenham used to be called) sold Hillman Minx, Sunbeam Talbot and Humber cars and they also sold Commer trucks and Lanz tractors.  Chas. Plummer also at Pakenham East sold Austin cars and International trucks and Highway Motors in Pakenham sold Vauxhall cars.  R.F. Dusting at Koo-Wee-Rup sold Ford cars. Also in Koo-Wee-Rup Burton’s Motor Service Garage was an agent for Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Buick and Holden and at Colvin’s Koo-Wee-Rup Motor Garage you could purchase a Standard Vanguard. E.N. Jones at Lang Lang sold Vauxhalls and the Bayles Service Station was an agent for Morris and M.G Cars and Morris Commercial trucks.

Pakenham Gazette February 1949

The Rouse family purchased their first car from the Brenchleys, you can read about it here. The first advertisement I could find in the Pakenham Gazette for Brenchley’s garage was in February 1949 where they advertised Austin trucks (see above)  They had a  regular ad in the paper for years after that and the first advertisement in the Koo-Wee-Rup Sun was February 1950 (there would likely have been ads in the Bunyip and Garfield Express but I don’t have access to that paper) 

Koo-Wee-Rup Sun February 1950

The garage was operated by the family until recently (maybe ten years ago?). I have found some ads from 1965 when they sold BMC cars - the Morris and the Wolseley amongst others - three advertisements from the Pakenham Gazette from 1965 are shown, below.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Koo-Wee-Rup Potato Festival 1987

Here are some photos from the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp Historical Society collection of the 1987 Koo-Wee-Rup Potato Festival.


 A professional photo, probably the Cranbourne Sun photographer. 1987 Koo Wee Rup Potato Festival - Annette Turner, Fassifern Festival Queen, 1987 Queen - Lynette Schroeder and 1986 Queen Michelle Hansen.

An engaging, but slightly out of focus photo of the Festival Princesses.

1987 Koo Wee Rup Potato Festival - Bag picking champions with A.P.D Sponsor, David Roberts. The winner is listed as Neville Marson,anyone know who the others are? They are with Queen, Lynette Schroeder and Fassifern Queen - Annette Turner

Koo-Wee-Rup Potato Festival

The first Koo-Wee-Rup Potato Festival took place on February 17, 1973. Over 4,000 people attended the event. It started with a Grand Parade of thirty floats from business and community groups. The floats assembled in the Railway yards, took in Station Street, Rossiter Road and other streets and then ended up in Cochrane Park. The official opening then took place at 11.45am by Sir Gilbert Chandler, the Minister for Agriculture.  After that the spectators could choose from a wide range of activities including dancing exhibitions, decorated bikes, a gem display, a pet parade, vegetable competition and a cooking contest with prizes for the best sponge, fruit loaf, scones and lamingtons.

However, the highlights of this Festival and the many that followed were the Australian Potato Picking Championship, the Potato Loading competition and the Potato Carrying competition. The potato picking competition required the entrants to pick two bags of potatoes - each the standard size of 150lb (about 68 kg). The inaugural winner of this competition was Frank Spano.  The potato loading competition required two men to load a 150lb bag as high as they could onto a load of pallets, the height of which was raised after each round. Winners would lift up to eight feet or about 2.4 meters. Barry and John Hester were the first winners of this event. The potato carrying competition required the men to carry the bag of potatoes over 40 yards (about 36 metres) and Norm Bethune was the first winner of this event. It all sounds like a bit of a health and safety nightmare, but men were obviously tough in those days.

The first festival also introduced the Festival Queen. The first Queen was crowned at a ball held on Friday, February 9 at the St Georges Hall (Wattle Theatre). The ball was organised by the W.H.Y.L.O.S. (or the Westernport Hospital Young Ladies Organisation, a fund raising group for young women to supplement the efforts of the Hospital Ladies Auxiliary). The inaugural Queen was Jenny Burton. Jenny received a sash and a transistor radio. Subsequent entries into the Queen competition, the Princesses, had to be sponsored and raise (in 1974) at least $50.00. The entrants were also judged on appearance and dress, the ability to speak in public, general knowledge of the potato industry and a willingness to represent the Koo-Wee-Rup Festival at the Fassifern Potato Festival in Queensland. The Queen was always crowned at the Festival Ball.

The Festival was promoted in the media and attracted some high profile visitors – it was opened by the Premier of Victoria, Sir Rupert Hamer, in 1979;  the next year by the Governor of Victoria, Sir Henry Winneke and in 1981 by media personality, Sir Eric Pearce. From 1975, the Festival had a float in the Moomba Parade, where the Festival Queen rode on the ‘King Spud’ float. In 1977, a new ‘King Spud’ was made as a potato costume and worn to publicise the Festival. We have this costume at the Historical Society. As the Festival grew other events were added, for instance in 1974 the Australian Potato Peeling competition was introduced (the inaugural winner was Mrs Joyce Mills); in 1977, the heaviest potato; in 1978, junior bagging and carrying competitions and in 1981 the Ladies potato bagging.

The 1979 Potato Festival Promotion in Bourke Street, Melbourne
Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp Historical Society photo

The whole idea of the Potato Festival was to raise money for the Westernport Memorial Hospital and the first Festival raised over $2,000. The concept of a Festival was discussed in 1972 and in the October of that year the Chamber of Commerce Sub-committee for the Koo-Wee-Rup Potato Festival met for the first time. Those present were Keith Ridgway, Ken Huxtable, Ron Townley, C.Fisher, J. Acciarito, Keith Doherty and Harry Graham. Harry Graham was elected Chairman and the planning and organisation undertaken by this group resulted in the first successful Festival.  Around September 1973, the Koo-Wee-Rup Potato Festival Committee was formed, with Harry Burton as inaugural President, and the members of this Committee continued to manage successful Festivals with great support from local business and community groups.

The last Festival was held on March 25, 2000. From reports that we have at the Historical Society it appears that in the previous years support in some quarters was dwindling, plus there was some uncertainty over the future of the Hospital, which was renamed Koo-Wee-Rup Regional Health Services in February 1997. On Friday, February 16 2001 the former Potato Festival Committee members met to ‘farewell a community institution’ as the Pakenham Gazette reported. The Committee had an opportunity to reflect on the success of past Festivals which raised large amounts of money to support the local Hospital and put Koo-Wee-Rup and its potato festival on the map.

The late Fred Hooper, Head Master at Koo-Wee-Rup High School for close to twenty years from 1963, has written a book on the history of the Potato Festival, At King Spuds Court: the story of the Koo-Wee-Rup Potato Festival’s first ten years (1972-1982). It is available from the  Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp Historical Society for the very modest price of $5.00.