“MISS one payment and I will foreclose,” Mr Graham intoned as Edith Emily Hitchings signed the contract to buy his farm in 1928.
Ever since then, the Hitchings family has been working that farm, a section of the original Powlett subdivision a couple of kilometres north of Wonthaggi. Edith named the farm Avonhurst in memory of the river she had left behind in England.
When the Great Depression hit in 1929, the family had to do whatever it took to keep the farm. Rather than spend hard-earned money they were forced to make do with whatever was at hand, mostly the family’s sweat and tears.
The Hitchings now own several properties and the next generation is taking on the day-to-day running of the farms. The original farm is evolving into a heritage museum as Ian acquires redundant machinery from other farms and returns them to original working condition.
He knows the stories behind all the pieces and takes great delight in telling them.
As a member of the local historical society, after a visit from other members, Ian was awarded a plaque of recognition for outstanding research and presentation of a unique collection of various historical artefacts.
Lately he’s been preserving the story of people who carved a dairy farm out of the bush at Almurta. In 1896 the Jones family packed all their belongings onto a horse-drawn carriage. They trekked from Echuca to the hills above Western Port with their Jersey cows walking with them. They sold milk along the way. Once they reached their destination they moved into the hut built by Evans, the selector, and continued to develop the land.
That carriage was used for decades but gradually became redundant as trucks and tractors replaced horse-drawn carts. One day it was finally parked in a shed as a memento of the pioneer effort. When that shed fell into disrepair the carriage was moved to another and then to a third one as time and technology moved on.
After years of building and repairing farm equipment, Ian is greatly respected for his ability and creativity but even he was stretched by this project. Although the carriage was intact, a century of hard work was evident.
He took it apart in sections. That was no drama but one hurdle was removing the rust. The iron springs were derusted through electrolysis. To do that Ian connived a rust removal bath with a heavy-duty battery charger and a wheelie bin full of water and sodium bicarb.
The wooden wheels were the next challenge. He crafted a pattern for the spokes to reproduce the basic components but the rims were a challenge.
Ian can cut iron and steel, fold it, weld it and drill it but bending wood was a new experience. With the help of Professor Google, he built a steam box out of an old boiler and secondhand steel to prepare the wood for bending. Then, after much trial and error, he used a purpose-built steel form to bend it to the required shape.
Then he painted and re-assembled the metalwork before Collin McKenzie added the period pin striping.
The finished carriage now has pride of place in the museum next to a Daniel White jinker.
Would he build another one? “No. You only need to do things successfully once, then you can move on to the next challenge.”
Ian likes to have three projects in the pipeline: one on the go and two more to mull over. With the carriage on display Ian is focused on relocating the Jones family shearing shed. Then there is a John Danks windmill to bring back to life. But that’s another story.
“At the end of the day I’ll have the satisfaction of leaving behind things from the past for future generations.”