This column's recent feature on the circa-1907 Kinlyside Hall in the village of Hall where an 80-year-old newspaper was found wedged in the wall cavity (If this hall's walls could talk, August 28) isn't the only "easter egg" uncovered in local buildings undergoing renovations.
Apart from newspapers, among the most common items discovered are old coins, some more valuable than others. When renovating Mill Pond Farm near Braidwood, Antony Davies found one set of coins dating from 1859 built into the north-west windowsill. Apparently, it's an old building tradition to place a coin in the north-west corner of a building for good luck.
However, not all coins recently discovered in historic buildings were hidden on purpose. Still in Braidwood, in 2017 while renovating his circa-1860s building at 130 Wallace Street, Derek Duffy found an 1857 gold half sovereign (which when minted was worth half a pound sterling - a lot of money back then) under the floorboards.
When Derek showed a coin dealer his find, which was still in near-mint condition, he was offered $6000 on the spot. Although it could have helped pay for some of the renovations, Derek decided to hang on to the coin which he believes was likely dropped by a customer who visited the shop during the height of the gold rush. Heck, if I lost a coin of such value, I'd be tearing up every floorboard in town to find it.
The coin wasn't Derek's only unusual find while renovating 130 Wallace Street. He also recently discovered a very old, dusty shoe in the attic floorboards - left there "to ward off evil spirits", he believes.
"In the 18th and 19th centuries it was common practice to hide old worn shoes and boots - even dead cats - near openings to rooms such as windows and fireplaces to ward off evil spirits, ghosts, and demons," he says. "Most favoured were women's or children's shoes and always a single shoe."
While several customers have urged him to return the shoe to the attic, Derek has instead opted to display it in his antique shop which reopened earlier this week. Is he dicing with luck? He thinks not. "We've never had a report of a ghost in the building, even after moving the shoe, so it must still be warding off those evil spirits," he muses.
Closer to home, if you glance up at the ceiling in the former ABC Press Gallery at the Museum of Australian Democracy (MOAD) at Old Parliament House, you'll notice a browning piece of paper with the words "ABC's Official Leak" scrawled on it in black texta.
As this part of the building was renowned for leaks during wet weather, this play on words, discovered well after the pollies and press permanently left the building in 1988 and now protected behind a piece of Perspex, was likely left by a former journalist with a sense of humour. When your akubra-clad columnist fronted former ABC staffers for comment, they scattered as fast as a corrupt politician when approached for an interview by Leigh Sales or Sarah Ferguson. Sure, some were happy to anonymously point the finger, but none claimed responsibility. One insider said it "probably dates ... from some time during the Whitlam government of 1972-75, it was a wild era!".
Still at MOAD, during routine maintenance in 1999, what appears to be three intertwined fish, similar in appearance to the Christian trinitarian symbol, were found etched in the ceiling cavity of the lower level.
Although it was almost certainly created during the building's construction in the 1920s, its origins are shrouded in mystery. Was it secretly carved there by a devoted Christian worker to "balance" the masonic motifs throughout the remainder of the building? Or perhaps it was simply a construction worker celebrating a successful weekend of fishing? It's unlikely we'll ever know.
Regular readers may recall this column's exposé on South Coast cop Michael Samson and his bid to photograph algal bioluminescence at Jervis Bay and beyond (June 13, 2018).
At the time, Michael mentioned the holy grail in his part-time photography career was to capture both the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) and algal bioluminescence in the same shot. Well, his dream came true recently when Michael managed to snap this stunning spectacle of both natural phenomenon at Basin View (western edge of St Georges Basin). Magnificent.
Skeleton in the closet
This column's recent snippet on Joseph Theodore Leslie "Squizzy" Taylor (Gangster hide-out, August 7) prompted John Howard of O'Connor to reveal a surprise family connection with the demise of the infamous 1920s underworld figure.
John explains he "only recently discovered" that one of Squizzy's rival gangsters, John "Snowy" Cutmore, leader of the Fitzroy Gang and member of Tilly Devine's Sydney Razor Gang, was one of his mother's cousins.
Gangster aficionados (I'm sure there are many that read these pages...) will know that on October 27, 1927 both Squizzy and Snowy died of gun wounds suffered during a bloody duel at Snowy's mother's home in Carlton, Melbourne.
Of his newfound claim to fame, John reckons "it's a bit like being able to boast of being a 'First Fleeter' without any shame".
Got a shepherd's watchbox in the shed?
Recent reference on these pages to a "shepherd's watchbox" (There's a lot more to Lanyon than just a homestead, October 16) prompted a number of readers to ask what exactly they looked like.
Well, the wooden contraptions, which date back to a time before modern fences when of a night shepherds locked their flocks up in folds, was essentially a small wooden room which could be moved from place to place with the aid of handles.
In Tales and Legends of Canberra Pioneers (ANU Press, 1967) Samuel Shumack explains how such folds were made with a series of hurdles.
"Each hurdle contained eleven pieces of timber and was six feet long and three feet six inches high - there were also 120 hurdle forks each four feet six inches long. The folds were set ten feet apart and the watchbox in which we slept was placed between them."
As added protection for the flock, "dogs were also tethered at vantage points where they afforded the best protection against marauding dingoes".
Shumack also describes how he lived "for years" in a watchbox with his brother, John.
"We were quite comfortable in fine weather, but if it rained, which it frequently did, it was misery. We had to place our wet garments under our head when retiring at night, and our boots were placed outside beneath the box. At five o'clock each morning father would call us with a loud rap, rap on the watchbox, and the sheep had to be released from the folds by 6am - they were not returned until 6pm."
Meanwhile, this column's search for historic watchboxes has turned up blank, at least in the local area. In fact, the only one can I can locate anywhere in Australia is one at Gamboola Station near Molong which in 2018 was temporarily displayed at Orange Regional Museum. Given how prolific they once were, surely there must be more in the back of old sheds?
WHERE IN CANBERRA?
Clue: Continuing with last week's theme
Last week: Congratulations to Roanna Gardiner of Isabella Plains who was first to correctly identify last week's photo as shadows cast by one of the steel umbrellas at the Canberra Discovery Garden at the National Arboretum Canberra. The photo was sent in by Debbie Cameron who reports "the umbrellas have various shapes cut from them and when the sun is shining, they cast a range of wonderful shadows".
How to enter: Email your guess, along with your name and suburb, to firstname.lastname@example.org. The first correct email sent after 10am, Saturday, December 4, 2021, wins a double pass to Dendy, the Home of Quality Cinema.
GRIBBLE CUP IN SAFE HANDS
Several readers including Denise Rawling of Hughes asked about the whereabouts of the silver cup presented by Queen Victoria to Ginninderra identity George Gribble for his winning efforts in tent pegging at the 1897 Jubilee Games (Tent Pegging Champ, September 8).
John Gribble of Ryde, one of George's grandsons, reports the trophy "has been in our family for many years and passed to me on my father's death ... some years ago I presented it to the Queanbeyan Sporting Gallery, where George is commemorated, to ensure its ongoing public accessibility".
A spokesperson from the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council said the cup was still safely held by the council and was most recently featured in an exhibition marking Queanbeyan's 180th birthday in 2018.
Meanwhile, Merle Hunt reports that Gribble isn't our region's only tent pegging champion: "Robert Charles Jarman, my husband's grandfather, won cups for both tent pegging and for lemon cutting at competitions in South Africa in 1905 and 1909."
And yes, lemon cutting is exactly as it sounds - a galloping rider uses their weapon to slice a lemon suspended from a cord or sitting on a platform. Given our clear historical success in these sports, maybe we should push for its inclusion in the 2032 Brisbane Olympics?