21 April 2012

The mystery of the silos

Consider the silo….

No graphs, no statistics or rainfall averages this posting. Few words too.  Just a long-time annoyance resolved (to call it a mystery solved is to put it too highly), and a couple of long forgotten photographs rediscovered. Lets deal with the construction of the wheat silo at Eumungerie.

The official and near-official records (Forsyth’s excellent summary of the records) state that the two northern-most bins were opened in 1926 and the workhouse was built in 1932.  Scant details indeed, but official histories need brevity otherwise they would never be finished, or read for that matter.

Here is a stock standard photograph of this blog’s subject, taken around 1980.

Take another look at the photograph. It holds all of the clues if its construction.  First, it is of concrete construction.  The yellowish hue is testament to the western river sand forming its walls. Then there are the ‘rings’ – irregular horizontal lines which tell the story of the primitive hand-poured silo bins.  There are 35 rings in all on the northern-most bin.  If a couple of days interregnum were required between each concrete pour, then it is possible to estimate that each bin took at least three months to complete, good weather prevailing.

Then there is that mystery.  What was the scar across that northern-most bin, about one-third of the way up the wall?  The most obvious answer is that it was a roof line for a shed.  But there is no record of a shed ever being erected at Eumungerie – for wool, wheat, livestock or any other produce.  Indeed, it is well documented that all bagged wheat was loaded at the dump or using an augur.  So, what was that shed ever used for, and what caused it to be torn down and when?

Eighty years on, there is no chance of obtaining a first-hand account.  Those who could testify to the 1940s (and we’ll get around to him soon enough!), have indicated that no shed stood in that decade.  Old photographs had been scoured for clues, without success until recently. 

We’ll return to the mystery soon, but salvation on several fronts arrived recently with the uncovering of no more than two dozen new photographs from the family collection, all thought to be dating from the 1940s.  It is this next photograph that made it very clear that the photographs were at least a decade older.   This photograph shows the construction of the work house – dating the time to either 1931 or 1932.

Of course this photograph tells much more than just a date.  It shows the labour intensive methods used in the work house’s construction – which appears to be in the early stage of pouring of foundations.  There seems to be some steam powered contraption involved in the process, but this is not certain as 44 gallon steel drums loaded with burning coal were favoured as a means of warmth and to keep the billy on the boil. The steel reinforcing rods can be clearly seen, along with the hoists ready to swing the pots laden with concrete above the corrugated-iron formwork for pouring.

Then, as if to tantalise the viewer, above the men at the northern end of the silo bins there is the unmistakable form of a building eave.   Yes, the mysterious shed existed in 1931!
The next photograph is thought to be only a little younger than the last.  It shows the final silo structure - two bins and a work house – and appears to be in near-new form. One can see the semi-temporary wheat bulkhead adjacent to the silo, used for the overflow in years of bountiful harvest. 

Disappointingly, the shed has gone.  But its imprint can be seen clearly.  What’s more, there is a strange lighter imprint running from the apex of where the shed once was to the top of the silo bin. 

Finally, the view is somewhat obscured by railway sleepers stacked in the foreground.  For a while I thought little of this.  There had been a sleeper stacking site in the vicinity of the railway yard, and Eumungerie was a transportation spot for new sleepers.  After closer examination it is pretty clear that these sleepers are degraded and not new.  They are wooden sleepers which may have been used around the Eumungerie area, or they may even have provided the base (floor) to the building.

So that was as far as the story went until recently.  Instead of studying the foreground of the following photograph – the signal, the two dogs, the indistinct family relative atop the signal gantry.  And then I looked harder.  And, looking past the obvious, there is the shed.  It was a pitched roofed, corrugated iron structure, partially open to the elements.  And it wasn’t a storage shed at all.  It was the receival shed for the two wheat bins in the period between 1926 and 1932 when the work house was opened with its internal elevator.  Yes, it is even possible to see the external elevator existing the shed roof and heading skyward. 

Yes, its so confoundedly straightforward an obvious, now that the photograph explains it all.  It was no grand edifice, just a modest though essential component of the nascent bulk grain infrastructure at Eumungerie.  It was also an early casualty in rationalization, superseded within the decade by a more modern facility.

There is little else to say.  Thankfully someone within my lineage decided to purchase a camera around 1931 – which was no mean deal in that depression-era year in a family of modest circumstances.  Thanks also go to those who brought forward these photographs in recent times.  Finally, there is also relief that an annoyance has been resolved, just by paying a little more attention.  We can now move to other things!

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