The Australian Hatter

The origin stories of words and how they evolved is fascinating. A word may have a particular use or meaning today but had a completely different meaning in the past (such as the word ‘dude‘). A word may have developed from another word or started off as slang. Perhaps a word which is common today filtered into the public’s vocabulary thanks to clever use of advertising. Then there are words and their meanings, regularly used at one point in time, which eventually disappear. The ‘hatter’ is one such example.

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Death at Lake Austin

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following blog post may contain images and names of deceased persons.

On 26 November 1930 Hughie King departed Austin Downs Station (his place of employment) and headed southeast towards Lake Austin. Foxes were a nuisance in the area and, as part of his job, he went hunting to try and curb the pest.

It was the end of spring and the steady approach of summer was making itself known. The weather was hot. Lake Austin (a system of mostly water-less salt lakes) shimmered in the unforgiving sun. The grass was long in places and perhaps it was the heat which drew Hughie to a small gum tree at the southeast part of the lakes. Perhaps it was something else entirely; an indescribable intuitive feeling. He approached the tree and there, beneath the limited shade and partially covered by grass and sand, were the skeletal remains of two people. Understandably spooked by the grim vision before him, Hughie did not choose to hang around and immediately took off.

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The Oldest Swagman in the State

Like all good bushmen, he knew how to spin a yarn. As he ambled into towns carrying a billy and his matilda (swag) he almost always sought out a man of the press.

Paddy Redmonds me name, and I am the oldest swagman in W.A.

With attention firmly turned towards him, Paddy would launch into a story about his life, his work and his love of the open road.

Many’s the time I could have made me pile had I but stuck where I was but, shure, the love of the road would set me feet a-jigging, whether I felt like it or no.

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The Hermit of Mount Clara

All Olaf Magnus Svenson really wanted was a home, food, water, a garden and peace and quiet. To achieve this, he decided to set himself up far away from civilisation; over 50km away from the nearest town; on a remote mountain near the Yellowdine Nature Reserve.

Mount Clara
Mount Clara. Courtesy of Google Earth.

Described as a “bare granite rock” and a “waterless, hungry spot“, Mount Clara (nearly an hour away from Southern Cross and close to the Karalee Rocks) would not have been the most hospitable place in Western Australia. To his credit, Olaf made it work.

Often described as German, he was actually Swedish and was born to parents, Sven Olsen and Christina Nilson,  in approximately 1854. In Sweden he married Anna Swenham at age 30 (1884) and had three children. He was a sailor which could explain how he ended up in Australia, spending two years in Victoria and two years in Tasmania. By the 1890s (perhaps coinciding with the goldrush) he arrived in Western Australia and in 1896 he was located east of Southern Cross, having decided that the area at Mount Clara would do nicely for a home.

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The Bush Barber

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure of the history of the bush barber. John Williamson wrote a song about them and I’ve come across a rather interesting (tongue-in-cheek) article from 1885 which states that they were once old shearers who eventually turned from shearing wool to trimming hair. Who knows, perhaps it may have been true for that period of time but it seems likely that eventually the bush barber was simply a travelling barber who visited various rural towns and stations in the outback in order to cut hair and make a living.

From what I can tell, it looks like they were common up until the late 1930s but then eventually disappeared (perhaps when people were able to travel to barbers themselves).

A closer look at the history of these interesting gentlemen may need to be conducted in the future, but, for now, I couldn’t resist sharing some wonderful images found within Trove.

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