An Interview with Yolanda Reynolds
Filmmaker: Sophie Boord
not for downloadCopyright
West Gippsland Regional Library Corporation
Local Historian and author Yolanda Reynolds talks about Walhalla in relation to an album of pre-1905 photographs of Walhalla, a boom and bust goldrush town in the Baw Baw ranges.
-There are a few of these albums that I have seen. This one is inscribed 15th of October, 1909, and it was actually presented to William Joseph Bessell. He was a Shire councillor. He gave notice that he was going to be leaving the area, and he was presented with this book, which was described in the local paper as a handsome collection of local views or something like that.
William Thrower had a small studio that straddled the creek in the foreground of this photo. And it was only a very tiny building that really didn't extend much beyond straddling the creek. You could look down between the floorboards and see the creek beneath, and it was all pretty rough. Anyway, he took some fabulous photos of Walhalla. He sold his business to William Harrison Lee, who was another noted Walhalla photographer. Most of these photos are taken by him.
There are so many photos of picnics on the Thomson River, people with a little billy and a little fire, sitting around dressed in long dresses, and hats, and bow ties, and suits, and all this, having a picnic on the banks of the Thomson River.
This one shows a cemetery, start of of South Walhalla. This is a good chance to dispel the myth. They are not buried standing up. They're buried horizontally. The other factor that people think about as soon as they think of the cemetery is the cursed grave. It's a grave to a chap called Mitchell. And he was killed in a mine accident when he was 34 years old. And the verse on his grave is pretty haunting. It just says that while you're looking at the grave, the same thing could happen to you. It's av very popular item that people seek out in the cemetery.
The cemetery's got 117 original monuments. And they tell a very interesting tale of the people buried there, a high mortality rate for children, and also miners who died in there prime. There was a section for pagans, Jews, and paupers. Quite a lot of paupers were buried there.
The hills around Walhalla and north of Walhalla were dotted with little huts. And they often died in their huts. They didn't seek medical attention. They'd lie there for days until somebody just chanced to find them. The thing that stands out to most people is the young children, the Gilsenan grave, for instance. There's about six children who all died within a couple of years of each other-- young children drying from dysentery, diarrhea, mostly intestinal diseases like that, or diphtheria.
The water course in Walhalla, the Stringer's Creek, was described as a common sewer. The livery stables were located over the creek. Manure just swept into it. Night pans were dumped into it. Everything was just thrown into the creek. It was just a seething mass of bacterial waste. There were outbreaks of scarlatina. Of course, it just spread rapidly. Families had large broods of children.
So many men in the Walhalla cemetery died from miner's compliant, which was a stripping of their lungs. Working underground drilling, the fibers from the rock face were inhaled. And basically, over time, just stripped their lungs of lining, and left them coughing blood, and very tired and lethargic. Yet they still worked on. Many worked on for years while they were suffering from miner's compliant.
Well, this is a great photo of the hospital. This photo shows the washing on the line. And the hospital's obviously in its prime. The last matron at the hospital was Matron Duffield. And she planned for her retirement by building what we today call the Matron's Cottage. And the local boys always used to talk and whisper about how when she went to bed at night, she used to dress in a jawstrap so that if she died overnight, her mouth wouldn't be open.
And when they found her, short of the room, she was dressed in burial garb. But before there was a hospital here, when somebody died from an accident, there had to be an inquest conducted. And that was usually conducted in a room at a hotel. I don't think the publicans really liked the idea too much, but they had to provide that room.
The steel bridge, that was actually located at Poverty Point, which was a congregation of Italian woodcutters. In 1900, there were four young men boating on the river. And two children from Poverty Point were watching. And the men sidled up to the bank, and asked them if they would like to join them on the craft. And they did. And no sooner had they got on to the little boat and pedaled out, and it capsized, and the whole six drowned in the river. None of them could swim.
Of course, the Star Hotel, being the last time hotel here of the original hotels to survive, it was a hub of the town for a few decades until it burned down in 1951. But everything happened at the Star Hotel. That was where everybody went and had their favorite seat. And all the rest of it. It had a wicked furnace, and it was around Christmas. And they're making Christmas puddings. And the chap who owned it frugally stoked it with wood, so the story goes, instead briquettes, wood be more available in those days, and cheaper. And it just burst into flame. And of course, being an old weatherboard building, it was all over in a few minutes.
The long tunnel company incline shaft photo-- it shows the miners going down the incline. And the chap on the right hand side with a cigarette hanging out his mouth is John Reynolds, my husband's grandfather. And he had been a miner all his life, born and bred here. When they worked underground, they worked in mud and water, often up to their knees. And they used to smear mutton fat over their legs to insulate their skin.
And also there's a tale. I don't know how true it is. Apparently, they grew mustaches. The idea then was that when they breathed in the dust, it would filter through the mustache. Because they all feared miner's compliant. They knew it was a legacy of working underground. The incline shaft actually went down 4,500 feet, I believe. It really went right down into bowels of the Earth.
Of course, the water wheel. Trekking through the Baw Baws, that was a very popular pastime. There's lots of oral history on trips through the Baw Baws. Bruntons Bridge. Of course, packhorses horses, this is the way they brought everything into town.