Think you’ve already ‘done’ the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame? Don’t be so sure. Due to reduced visitor numbers as a result of COVID, a decision was made to fast track the multi-million dollar refurbishment of this much-loved attraction. After a six month closure of the museum galleries and a $15 million renovation, there’s never been a better time to reacquaint yourself with the culture and characters of the outback at the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame.
After you’ve viewed a movie about what it means to be an Australian stockman, visitors grab a smart device and a headset and embark on an interactive choose-your-own adventure around the museum. Once you’ve got the hang of using the device, it’s like having an outback mate strolling alongside you, whispering tall tales and true in your ear. The reimagined museum has a multigenerational focus, making it a great spot to take the grandkids. Children are befriended by an interactive kelpie which takes them on a treasure hunt, encouraging them to push buttons on their devices to meet some of the characters around the Hall of Fame. Adults are shown around by a stockman but this museum isn’t just about the men who live and work on the land.
Women such as drover Edna Jessop, who took over as head drover from her father at the age of 23, play a prominent role in the reimagination of the museum. Edna was the first female boss drover and held in high esteem by the men who worked with her. “A lot of women have more guts in the bush than men,” says the voice actor playing this local legend who died in 2007 at the age of 80. The outback women who stayed home also had to be made of strong stuff. A recreation of a traditional slab hut takes pride of place in the centre of the ground floor of the museum. Walking inside is like taking a step back in time and provides an understanding of what running a household in the outback in the 1800s was like.
Copies of ‘The Young Ladies Journal’, a popular illustrated magazine from the time, sit piled on a table for visitors to take home as a souvenir. I pick up a copy and leaf through the pages which advertise the latest fashions and include several original stories. It’s amazing women found the time to read the chaste romances which filled the journal’s pages. They were expected to be mothers, teachers, cooks, midwives, farmers, storekeepers, and seamstresses with none of the modern conveniences of today to make their many jobs any easier. The museum continues over several levels with everything from the boxing tents of old to the Royal Flying Doctor Service and rustic pubs covered in the displays. The top floor also showcases traditions that continue today such as debutante balls and outback dances, both of which provide an important social connection for those who live in the outback.
Along with the displays of saddles and sheep shearing gear, there are some surprises as well. We pause at a display case holding sturdy lace up pockets of leather which turn out to be dog shoes. These custom shoes were created and repaired by the stockmen so their dogs could run on burrs without injuring their feet. There is also a tribute to the Afghan hawkers, many of whom originally came to Australia as camel drivers, who went from one isolated outback property to the next selling their wares. Some carried a huge number of different types of goods and were the equivalent of today’s modern day variety store.
Keep an eye on the time as your Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame experience isn’t over yet. Once you’ve explored the museum, you’ll hear the call to head outside to the undercover stadium for the Stockman’s Life LIVE Show where the human performers are frequently upstaged by their four legged co-stars. This entertaining show is played for laughs but it’s impossible not to be dazzled by the horsemanship of those who live and work in the outback.
Disclosure: The writer visited as a guest of the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame.
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