The Goldfields War Museum – Boulder, Western Australia

The discovery of gold in the Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie region, approximately 550km east of Perth in the early 1890’s led to an influx of fortune seekers, some of whom had military training. However early efforts to raise a volunteer force in Coolgardie in 1896 and Kalgoorlie in 1897 were unsuccessful and it was not until the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899 that military matters were taken more seriously in the area. By June 1900 the Western Australian Colonial Government had approved the creations of a Goldfields militia, known as the Goldfields Battalion of Infantry. Members of the battalion volunteered to serve in the Boer War and in 1903 the Battalion was re-designated the Goldfields Infantry Regiment, then in 1912, the 84th Infantry. From these origins, members of the Goldfields community have contributed to every conflict that Australia has fought in since Federation.

The Goldfields War Museum was established in 1989 to showcase the involvement of the community in Australia’s wars, but in April 2010 the museum was devastated by a 5.0 magnitude earthquake. Part of the museum was relocated to the Kalgoorlie Town Hall, however the vehicles and larger parts of the collection were placed into storage, where they still remain until a suitable venue for their display can be constructed. On 7 January 2019, the museum was reopened in the Boulder Town Hall.

Considering the community’s involvement and sacrifices it made in all of Australia’s wars I was quite surprised at how small the museum is. However, during my visit I had a brief chat to City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder heritage officer Tim Cudini, who told me that there are several other items held in storage which will go on display when funding is finally released to facilitate the expansion of the museum to include the larger vehicles and other pieces that have been out of view since the earthquake.

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Display at the Goldfields War Museum, Boulder, Western Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

The current display area takes up six rooms, which were previously used as a doctor’s surgery, on the ground floor of the town hall. Most of the space is used for didactic panels and photographs outlining the experiences of locals in the wars.  I was a little disappointed by the small number of objects shown on display, although the stories that accompany the displays do make for interesting reading as they give very personal accounts of the conflicts and also clues to the prevalent attitudes of the time.

One of these features medals and documentation belonging to James Brennan who served and an infantryman with the 2/28th Battalion as a ‘Rat of Tobruk’ and taken prisoner of war at El Alamein. James ‘Jim’ Brennan was an indigenous soldier, born in Laverton, Western Australia in 1917. While still a child, James was taken from his family and sent to the Moore River Settlement, north of Perth. In his teens he worked as a stockman mustering cattle before enlisting in the Army in August 1940.

On 26 July 1942 he was captured during the 2/28th Battalion’s disastrous attack on Ruin Ridge as part of what is known as the first battle of Alamein. The battalion lost 65 men killed and 490 captured by the Axis forces.  Sent to Italy, James endured harsh treatment as a POW before being transferred to work in the rice fields between Turin and Milan. When the Italians capitulated, Brennan escaped and fought with the Partisans until being recaptured and sent to Stalag 7 in Germany, before being repatriated to Australia at the end of the war.

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Items belonging to WX7218, Private James Brennan, an indigenous soldier who served with the 2/28th Battalion and was captured at Alamein on 26 July 1942. Photo: Julian Tennant

Returning to the Western Australian Goldfields, James Brennan found that being of indigenous heritage and despite having fought for Australia, he was still not regarded as an Australian citizen. He had to apply for citizenship rights just to go into a pub for a drink and when granted citizenship he and his wife Myrtle were able to go into towns, but this same access was not granted to their relatives. In 1965 James formed the Eastern Goldfields Aboriginal Advancement Council to advocate for social change on behalf of Aboriginal people. His service to the indigenous community was formally recognised in 1984 when James was awarded the Order of Australia Medal. His story was a sobering reminder of some of the attitudes regarding indigenous Australians that still persist in some sections of the community even today.

Other exhibits, such as the plate carrier of Private Brian Enad, who served with the 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR) reflect Australia’s more recent conflicts. Brian Enad deployed to Afghanistan as a member of 6RAR’s Combat Team Charlie, training members of the Afghan National Police and National Army in 2010. The deployment was among the bloodiest for the battalion which formed part of Mentoring Task Force 1, conducting more than 1700 patrols and nearly 100 contacts where the enemy was directly engaged, including the Battle of Derapet, for which Corporal Daniel Keighran, another Kalgoorlie resident, was awarded the Victoria Cross for valour.

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Australian Military Forces Leave Pass granting five days leave in Vung Tau from 29 August until 3 September 1967 to 5411678, Victor Churchill Dale who served with the 7th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment during their first tour in Vietnam in 1967/8. Photo: Julian Tennant

The museum, whilst small is worth setting aside an hour or two for a visit and I am looking forward to returning one day when they finally do receive the funding to make all the larger exhibits available for viewing to the public. Currently, the museum is open on weekdays from 09:00 thru 16:00 and for a couple of hours every third Sunday of the month. Entry is free although gold coin donations are appreciated.

Goldfields War Museum
116 Burt Street
Boulder
Western Australia, 6432

Phone: +61  (0)8 9021 9817
Email: mailbag@ckb.wa.gov.au
Website: www.ckb.wa.gov.au/GoldfieldsWarMuseum

Open: Monday to Friday from 09:00 to 16:00 (excluding public holidays) and on Boulder Market Days (third Sunday of each month) from 10:00 to 12:00

Entry Fees: By donation. Guided tours are available every Thursday at 13.30 and costs $5 per person

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every second Sunday (at least) and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

Nungarin Heritage Machinery & Army Museum, Western Australia

Review and photographs of the Nungarin Heritage Machinery & Army Museum in the Western Australian wheatbelt region.

With the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942, and the bombing of Darwin four days later, fears of a Japanese invasion of Australia began to reach fever pitch. The air raid on Broome in Western Australia on 3 March exacerbated concerns about the vulnerability of the state to Japanese invasion and led to the formation of III Corps and a bolstering of Western Australia’s military preparedness. One armoured and two infantry were deployed to the state and a rapid expansion of Western Australia’s defences commenced.

Nungarin, a small wheatbelt town situated approximately  278 km (173 mi) east of Perth became an important part of the supply network and at its peak was the third largest Army camp in Western Australia with around 1200 service personnel stationed there at any one time. The region was an integral part of the defence network as it was considered sufficiently inland to be outside the range of Japanese carrier-based aircraft. The town of Nungarin was selected for development, due to its location as a road and rail junction, had electricity and a good water supply.

In September 1942, the army acquired 1720 acres of land in and around the townsite and began construction of the Nungarin camp which was home to No.5 Base Ordnance Depot (5BOD), which at the time was the largest army ordnance storage facility in Western Australia and continued to operate there until its closure in 1960. The depot facilities included a vehicle workshop housed in a massive timber clad building which was sold to the Nungarin Shire.  It is now home to Nungarin Heritage Machinery and Army Museum, which officially opened on the 8th of October 1994.

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Nungarin Heritage Machinery and Army Museum. Photo: Julian Tennant

As its name implies, the museum is more than just a military museum and also includes displays of farm machinery and other cultural artifacts related to the local community. However, it was the military aspects that interested me and after paying another visit to the Merredin Military Museum on the Saturday, I made the 30 minute drive to Nungarin early Sunday morning, just in time to arrive for one of the museums renowned Sunday Breakfasts ($10), which was a great way to begin the visit.

Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the exhibits are the vehicles and equipment of the type that were stored or repaired at the depot during its operation. Run by a small team of volunteer staff, the shed is filled with an assortment of military equipment, some complete and some still under restoration. Surrounding the shed are dozens more vehicles at different stages of disrepair, ‘projects’ is how Phil the caretaker/curator described them to me.

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Restored Australian Dingo Scout Car 1942. The chassis and wheels were donated by Anthony Thomson and Kodj Kodjin whilst the armour was found on Bruce Watson’s Nungarin farm. Photo: Julian Tennant
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Fully working WW2 period searchlight and generator, which has occasionally been dragged out to illuminate the night sky around Nungarin. Photo: Julian Tennant
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Unrestored M3 Stuart tank which was acquired by the museum in 1988 after it had been used for farm clearing at Nukarni after the war. Photo: Julian Tennant

In one corner of the shed there are a couple of rooms holding smaller artifacts including communications equipment, uniforms and personal effects. As a former communicator, of particular interest to me were a couple of Vietnam era patrol radio sets used by Australian Special Forces.

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Delco AN/PRC-64 and 64A radio sets used by Australian Special Forces in Vietnam and during the 1970’s. Photo: Julian Tennant

The lunchbox sized AN/PRC-64 was a spy radio set developed by Delco in the USA in the early 1960’s as a radio intended for Special Forces use and for espionage activities. Most of the original AN/PRC-64 sets were upgraded to the PRC-64A variant which included provision for the AN/GRA-71 Electro-mechanical Burst Encoder to allow for faster morse transmissions. These radios were used by the Australian Special Air Service Regiment in Vietnam and also by 1 Commando Regiment. SASR soldier, John Trist recounts his experiences using the 64 set as a patrol sig in the early 1970’s on the Crypto Museum website  and was one of many ex sigs (myself included) who bought one when the Department of Defence disposed of stocks in 1995. These days, on the rare occasion when they do turn up in the marketplace, they sell for quite a bit more than the Au$50 asking price at the time.

The building housing the collection is an important part of the museum’s story, but unfortunately, a largely timber structure out in the middle of a dry and dusty wheatbelt town does not create an ideal conservation environment for textile artifacts. And although the staff have made considerable effort to try and protect the handful of uniforms and insignia on display in their cabinets, these are not the museum’s strong point. The uniforms that are on display represent a small selection of (mostly) Royal Australian Ordnance Corps uniforms, most of which are post war and reflect more recent connections with the Australian Army.

The main attraction is really the vehicles, and this is very much a hands-on type of museum where visitors can clamber around most of the displays to check out important details.  One of the vehicles that I found quite interesting was the Austin Champ, which was developed  to meet the British Army’s requirement for an off-road light vehicle in the early 1950’s. The Australian Army ordered 400 new Champs, plus a similar number of ex-British Army vehicles, but they were not popular due to their unsuitability for Australian conditions and were replaced by the Land Rover which was much better suited to requirements and significantly cheaper.

4 Cylinder Series B Austin Champ used by the Australian Army in the 1950's.
4 Cylinder Series B Austin Champ used by the Australian Army in the 1950’s. Photo: Julian Tennant
Staghound Armoured Car. Photo: Julian Tennant
Staghound Armoured Car. Photo: Julian Tennant

For visitors a trip to the Nungarin Heritage Machinery and Army Museum can be done as a day-trip from Perth, although if you have time I would recommend staying overnight (possibly in nearby Merredin), which will give you time to check out the Merredin Military Museum as well as the Nungarin museum, plus explore the old military buildings that are spread around the area. These are well documented on the Central Wheatbelt Visitor Centre website  or you can use Jane Hammond’s When war came to the wheatbelt piece for the Royal Automobile Club of WA (Inc.) as your guide for the trip east from Perth.

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Ammunition bunker near Nokaning East Road, between Nungarin and Merredin. This is one of 46 concrete bunkers scattered around the area which were used to store various munitions during the war. Photo: Julian Tennant

Nungarin Heritage Machinery & Army Museum
26 Second Avenue
Nungarin
Western Australia, 6490

Phone: +61 (0)8 9046 5040
Email: nungarinheritage@bigpond.com
Website: www.nungarinmuseum.com.au

Open: Every day from 09:00 to 16:00.

Entry Fees: $5 per person

You may also be interested in this review of the nearby Merredin Military Museum

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every second Sunday (at least) and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

The Aviation Heritage Museum – Bull Creek, Perth, Western Australia

Note: Click on the smaller images to enlarge and read caption information.

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Australian Flying Corps (AFC) pilot standing by a replica of a Sopwith Camel fighter. Photo: Julian Tennant

The North Wing is home to the larger aircraft in the collection and has a greater emphasis on the Royal Australian Air Force and its operations during peace and war. This is very much an ‘old-school’ type museum with an emphasis on artifacts rather than interactive displays or gimmicks to keep the kids entertained. Naturally there is a greater focus on Western Australia’s role and the Second World War does have a much greater emphasis than subsequent conflicts, with Vietnam and more recent conflicts almost entirely absent.

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Entrance to the North Wing of the RAAFA Aviation Heritage Museum of WA. Photo: Julian Tennant
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1934 period RAAF Mess Dress uniform worn by (then) Flight Lieutenant Ivor. J. Lightfoot. Photo: Julian Tennant
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RAAF mechanic servicing a De Havilland Tiger Moth training aircraft. Photo: Julian Tennant

The layout of the museum may also appear somewhat random, rather than following a cohesive timeline and this may have been dictated due to space considerations. I suspect that it may also be due to the nature of the museum and what it represents in terms of preserving the history of aviation in WA, rather than trying to explain a linear sequence of conflicts or historical events. Many of the items have been donated by members or their families and it is nice to see some of the more unusual (and sometimes banal) objects on display rather than being hidden from public view in a storage facility somewhere. This more than makes up for the somewhat cluttered and disorganised feel of the museum in my opinion.  

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Second World War period Middle East Issue Fly Swat, RAAF officers issue Pith Helmet issued in the Burma / Indian operational theatres and a souvenir dagger from Somalia. Photo: Julian Tennant
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British Airborne Forces Welbike Paratrooper’s Motorcycle. The Welbike was a single seat motorcycle produced during WW2 at the direction of Station IX (the “Inter Services Research Bureau”) for use by the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Between 1942 and 1943, 3641 bikes were built and although not much used by the SOE, some were issued to the British 1st and 6th Airborne Divisions, seeing use during Operation Market Garden at Arnhem. Photo: Julian Tennant

As can be expected, the ‘draw-card’ exhibits for most visitors would be the aircraft on display, however as an insignia collector, it is the uniforms and badges that attracted me. The Aviation Heritage Museum does not disappoint in this aspect. It displays some rare and unusual insignia, including what appears to be an Australian Flying Corps patch (see images above), the likes of which I had never seen before, despite having the AFC as one of my primary areas of collecting interest. It also shows some of the older Squadron patches and some more recent items from the more obscure RAAF support units.

My one criticism re the insignia is that some of the displays include obvious (to the knowledgeable collector) fakes such as the AFC wing which is featured on the pilot by the Sopwith Camel in the South Wing. The brevet is one of the copies sold by Lukus Productions and is even available in the museum shop and yet there is no information stating that the uniform being displayed is not authentic in all respects. There were also others that I was not convinced were genuine, but were not marked as being replicas. This is not a good practice IMO as it does potentially undermine confidence in the descriptor didactic panels for other displays as well. However, I only noticed this in a few displays and overall was very impressed by what I uncovered as I made my way through the museum. 

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Leather patch (with photo showing reverse) and Observer wings of the 531st Squadron, 380th Bombardment Group (H), 5th Air Force (USAAF) which flew B-24 Liberator bombers in the South Western and Western Pacific during WW2. The 380th was placed under the control of the RAAF and operated out of Darwin from May 1943 until February 1945. Photo: Julian Tennant.

 

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View of the North Wing of the RAAFA Aviation Heritage Museum of WA. Photo: Julian Tennant
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3 Control Reporting Unit Patch and Disruptive Pattern Desert Uniform (DPDU) worn by a RAAF airman when he arrived at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan on Christmas Eve of 2008. Photo: Julian Tennant.
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Bell UH-1 Iroquois (Huey) Helicopter of 9 Sqn RAAF. Photo: Julian Tennant

In addition to the two display hangars the museum also has a separate library, photo archive, model aeroplane club room and of course a gift shop which features a good selection of aviation related books, including some out of print, second-hand publications, models and other related memorabilia.

The museum is easily accessible by car, or if using public transport by train with Bull Creek train station located approximately 500m away.  It is open every day, except Good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day from 10:00 until 16:00 and along with the Army Museum of Western Australia, should definitely be one of the museums you see when visiting Perth.

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RAAF Squadron patches and reproduction pilot’s wings on sale in the Museum shop. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Aviation Heritage Museum
Air Force Memorial Estate
2 Bull Creek Drive,
Bull Creek WA 6149
Australia

Website: https://aviationmuseumwa.org.au/
Email: museum@raafawa.org.au
Phone: +61 (0)8 9311 4470

Open: Every day from 10:00 until 16:00 (except Good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day).

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content every second Sunday (at least) and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

 

 

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