In its early years Boolarra was a farming and timber town, and when the railway arrived around 1984 a thriving industry for furniture, floorboards and palings grew up. Rex Thorburn, scion of the well-known Thorburn family has been connected with milling ever since he left Boolarra State School in the early 1940s. He returned to the old School in March this year to reminisce about school days and educate us all about timber, steam engines and milling practice.
Rex is the son of Jack Thorburn, Ray Thorburn’s older brother. Rex started school in 1933. His father worked in the family business (there were 3 or 4 generations of Thorburns in timber milling) at Boolarra until he left for the Macedon Ranges to set up a mill in the little town of Cherokee. As opportunities opened and closed they returned to Boolarra and moved to various milling sites around the town.
For a short time Rex worked at the Butter Factory aged 13 in 1944 because other workers were away at the war. Rex remembers having no formal training. He did everything from running the boiler, carrying milkcans, managing the pigs at the Piggery, which meant cleaning out the stalls – a very smelly task in the summer. He took on full-time milling after the war.
Early on portable engines for milling were moved from site to site where the trees were suitable. It was only later that permanent mills were established and large trucks used for haulage. Some of the sites the family milled were on Limonite Road near Hallidays, on Barktown Road up from the cemetery, on the Foster Road corner and then at the Fish farm site. Rex worked mostly with his uncle, Ray Thorburn who managed a site on Morwell River Road. The sites on which they milled was Crown Land and millers had to get a licence to fell. After a stint at Dyer’s Mill on Foster Road in the 60s, Rex moved on to other, safer work. As Rex joked, Occupational Health &Safety was not an integral part of saw-milling in those days.
Another family that came initially to join the timber industry in Boolarra was the Bastin family, forebears of Judy Webster, our treasurer. Originally from Trentham, George and John Bastin with their widowed father and their two sisters, Louisa and Eliza, came to Boolarra around the 1890s to work on splitting palings. In 1900 John Bastin married Jessie Standing, a dressmaker in town and two years later Judy’s mother was born, also Jessie Bastin. They lived at first in the little house still standing on the wedge of land between Young and Church Street, as John Bastin had purchased the land between Young and Penaluna Streets, hence Bastin Street. Judy’s mother, Jessie Bastin, began school at Boolarra State School gaining her Merit Certificate. She stayed on at the school as a sewing mistress before gaining a Diploma of Music from the London College of Music in 1921. In 1920 the Bastins moved on to dairying land along the Morwell River. Jessie, the young teacher, rode to school on horseback from there.
Nearby was the Lamb family. John and Martha Lamb (nee Tucker) moved to a Molesworth Green property on Livingston Road, Boolarra South after stints at mining at Outrim and Korrumburra. They had 13 children. Interestingly the Tuckers through marriage are related to many families in the Boolarra district including the Lambs, Joneses, Dalys, Roys, Tuckers, Mathews, Fanckes and Rogers. It bears out the wise practice of never commenting unfavourably on anyone in a country town; they are sure to be related to the hearers.
One of the Lamb children, also John, met his future wife nearby and they eventually married in 1935. John joined the Bastins in a farming partnership. He and Jessie had two children, John and Judy who also rode to school but to the Boolarra South School. Horse-riding was a major interest in both the Lamb and Bastin families and several grandchildren have done well at equestrian championships, one reaching Olympic standard. John and Jessie Lamb were active participants in the life of this district, joining school, football and church committees to foster fellowship. Their children perform the same services now. Boolarra owes them a debt of gratitude.
In May we listened to an intriguing talk on history through coins. Collector Patrick Morgan showed some of his collection and spoke on coins from early Roman times up to the present. Modern coins from the time of the Spanish conquest of the Americas were preceded by coins from the Austro-Hungarian areas of Eastern Europe and were called thalers after the valleys that were mined for silver. This is the origin of the word ‘dollar’. Patrick explained that Australian coins have also an interesting history. Unfortunately he does not have a ‘holy dollar’ in his keeping.
We are most grateful to all our speakers who stimulated our interest in such diverse topics. Thanks too must go to Ian & Mengar Hibbins for organising in April a wonderful excursion to Port Albert where we were received with generous hospitality by the Port Albert Historical Society.
The Boolarra Historical Museum is open on the 1st Sunday of each month from 2-4 pm, or by appointment with the Secretary, Mengar Hibbins.
The Boolarra and District Historical Society meets at the Boolarra Museum on the third Tuesday of each month at 7.30pm.
New members are always welcome, and information on our activities can be obtained from Mengar Hibbins (5169 6210), Judy Webster or Beth Price.