Your Stories - Ron Garret - Southern Cross Windmills
Date Posted:10 June 2019
The Ron Garrett Story
In the early 1900s life was tough in England, especially for a Blacksmith trying to make a living in his own small business in London.
Stories from lands afar promised a different way of life and, at a fairly low ebb Bill Garratt (Ron’s Grandad) was hungry for a new opportunity for himself and his growing family.
He was a skilled Blacksmith and as luck would have it a letter from a good friend, who had recently moved to Australia, talked about the opportunities for people with his trade skills and the Australian way of life.
A little later, and most likely the work of his friend again, Bill received an invite letter direct from the Toowoomba foundry to take up as a position as a Blacksmith!
He was over the moon - Bill knew he needed to give it a go, he had the spirit and the means so started the long process of organising a sea trip for himself and his two older sons on the long and arduous journey to Australia from London in the UK.
Stan and Charlie (Ron’s uncles) accompanied Bill and he left behind the rest of the family, his wife Louisa and sons Dudley, Ken, Fred and Frank and daughters Marj and Freda, who would all follow at a later date.
The Garrett family shortly before Bill and his two older sons departed the UK bound for Australia in 1910
There was one more member of the family that he left behind – his unborn son Ernest.
At the dock in London, as he boarded the ship his parents struggled to say their goodbyes. They likened his departure to a funeral as they believed they would never see him again and sadly, they never did see their son Bill again. He would never return to the UK.
It’s difficult to comprehend the strength Bill would need to stick with his decision, but he did.
Bill arrived in Australia and took up his position as a Blacksmith in the foundry. He purchased a 5 acre block at Harlaxton, close to Toowoomba. On the land he built a house – that still stands today, and was able to invite his wife and 5 children over from the UK just 12 months after he had arrived with his two eldest sons.
a section of the original brick wall, part of a few remnants of the original Toowoomba Foundry.
In time Bill had a few disagreements with the foundry manager and moved onto run his own business again.
World War One broke out and the 2 older sons that originally accompanied Bill, Stan and Charlie - returned to the UK to join the war. Sadly Stan was killed in action on his very first day in France. Charlie was struck in the back of the head and was severely disabled, but lived on into his 60s.
Bill lived a full and happy life with the rest of his family here in Australia until he passed away on 30/1/1955. He is buried in the Haden Cemetery, close to Toowoomba.
The Toowoomba foundry where Bill first worked was founded in 1871 and operated right up until 2012. In its early years it struggled to survive but acquired contracts for rolling stock and was the location where the iconic Southern Cross Mill was invented and manufactured.
In 2016 the land on which it resided was acquired by Bunnings and large parts of the original foundry were demolished to make way for the DIY outlet.
Fortunatley parts of the original foundries façade remain and are now heritage listed. I visited the area to see what was left of the site and was hoping to fly a drone over it to see what it looked like from the air and grab some footage for use in the video.
It turned out to be on a direct commercial flight path out of Toowoomba, so no drone flight was possible, but I did get some good photographs. I also had a walk around and spoke to several people in Bunnings – but even the old hands had little knowledge. I wandered over to an old large shed and stumbled across a guy that had been part of the demolition team in 2016.
He explained that the large awning structure that you see in the video shading the car park area is original from the very early years and new panels were fitted to it in 2016. He was also using an old shed as a gym and explained that the shed was heritage listed so there were restrictions on what you could and could not do to it.
The wall plaques that you see in the video clearly validate the 1871 origin of the site and some photos that I shot of the inside of the buildings that remain show it to be in pretty good order.
As I wandered around it was easy to imagine what it would have been like working there and the site felt very settled and somehow – content, despite being only a small part of the original structure
So, as I come toward the end of Ron Garrett’s story I really should tell you a little more about how it all started. Ron is a customer of a small food business that my wife and I own. One day I was covering for one of our drivers and I pulled up at Ron’s Yandina property.
A large windmill dominated the landscape and at the very top of it there was a guy maintaining its mechanisms. I asked Ron if it was a working windmill and he started to tell me the story and how it all began back in 1910! It was fascinating to listen to, but I needed to carry on delivering, so I took a quick shot on my mobile phone, which is used as the opener for the video, and told Ron I'd be in touch.
Ron and I got together on the phone several times and I visited his property, flew the drone around the windmill, captured the finer points of the story, took the picture of the family portrait that Ron has and consulted notes from a book that his wife Jill has kept.
The group of windmills that are featured in the video are situated close to the Cob and Co Museum in Toowoomba. I had a quick look around the day I visited the foundry. It’s well worth the entry fee.
The single windmill featured in the footage on Ron’s Yandina property is a strong and sentimental reminder to his family of the historical path his ancestors took and in many ways its invention early in the 1900s may have been a deciding factor in the creation of a job for his grandad and his migration to Australia.
His Dad, Ken, had the windmill installed brand new on his property in Bli Bli until Ron arranged to have it moved to his own property in Yandina towards the end of his Dads days.
The windmill has no commercial purpose nowadays, in fact Ron tells me that it’s very hard to get anyone to maintain it as the skills have been lost to time and progress – but it stands tall, just as I imagine Bill would have needed to – all those years ago as he ventured - to the Land Down Under.
the Southern Cross windmill that Ron's dad purchased and erected
at his property in Bli Bli. Later Ron removed it to it's current site on his Yandina property.
I pass on my thanks to Ron for allowing me to share the story of his family's heritage, and to his wife Jill, for the diligent note keeping that helped with many details of the story.
the original photograph I took of Ron as he watched over repairs of his Southern Cross Windmill. Featured here is Scott from Cooroy Pumps & Solar, one of a handful of companies left in Australia with the skills and experience to maintain windmills.
If you have a story that you'd like us to tell - please get in touch via our Contact Us page or simply call us (07) 5494 0113)
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Thankyou!!By: Lois Lake on 8 June 2019Yes - thankyou so much for sharing this wonderful story.
So much of the history of Australia has been lost.The amazing character these pioneers must have had -what strength !! They were so far from their loved ones. In a land which was in its infancy no doctors hospitals and medications which we take for granted. One can only wonder how they survived . Tools we take for granted electricity -(so essential now a days.)
Your story reminds me of stories my Father used to tell me of early days he had in Victoria up in Murtoa.
One such a one was of a time when he brought home a friend with whom he used to study for the term break - from a college in Melbourne . (His friend was from New Zealand and unable to go home for term holidays) . He told him -(in a very serious voice ) that in the country they had trained kangaroos to bring and collect the mail. The young man quite naturally did not believe him - but as luck would have it as they were travelling through the countryside in a horse drawn vehicle, a big red kangaroo appeared in the distance from out of the trees my father put his cupped hands to his mouth and called out -there's nothing today Jo - and quite naturally the kangaroo turned and hopped away. The young man was flabbergasted- not knowing what to believe.
There were many stories such as this my father was rather a fun person.
I hope this gives you a smile I can promise it is true. The humour in those days is very different to much of the humour of today.
Enough for now - once again thankyou for including me in your mailing list.
Top Nosh Meals Response
Hi Lois - yes - 'Skippy retrieving the mail' did make me smile (lots). How hard must it have been for these early settlers! Some of those things you mentioned I cant even imagine not having. I do like the whole process of researching and sharing stories like Rons and of course I especially like the idea that I'm using the latest technology to tell them. I appreciate the time you've taken to express your thoughts Lois...it somehow rounds off the whole thing... Mike.