It is always good to know your Cincinnati ‘Hydrotel’ Vertical Miller from your Mercury Arc Rectifier, and for the past few weeks, researchers Sally Lake and Dudley Maier from Highgate have been getting up close and personal with the machinery and tools in the three main blocks of Midland’s former Railway Workshops.
Their task is to identify and catalogue every piece of equipment in the buildings, so that the Midland Redevelopment Authority (MRA) knows what is there, and can consult with the Heritage Council about retention and disposal of material.
This work is needed to prepare the buildings for sale and their adaptive reuse, and next 100 years of life. Ultimately new buildings will be constructed inside the enormous volumes of the three blocks, as has happened at the former Flanging Shop with the new WA Police traffic branch facility, sleeved inside the heritage building on Clayton Street.
The MRA has a Machinery and Equipment Disposal Strategy that has been endorsed by the Heritage Council. Armed with information from Sally and Dudley on the contents inventory, the authorities can then decide, as redevelopment progresses, what pieces of machinery will remain on site as part of its social and architectural heritage, what pieces may be moved to be preserved elsewhere on site, and what residual elements are regarded as surplus and may pass on to others.
Eventually, an on-site interpretive program will be produced, describing the machinery and equipment that remains, so that their uniqueness and history continue to be a key part of the Workshops’ distinctive ambience.
Many machines were made in the UK and bear plaques identifying their place of manufacture: Manchester, Leeds, Gloucester. Some date from 1902 and would have been shipped across in large sections, while others are Australian-made during the time of the Second World War, and bear labels for the Ministry of Munitions.
Many large machines are still in their original places, and surrounded by custom-made shelves and cupboards, where the tools and equipment relevant to their operation would have been stored.
It’s fairly dusty and intense work, but Dudley and Sally, who came into this line of work through a passion for local history, have no complaints. As Sally says, ‘this has been a little like a forensic treasure hunt, a mystery which draws you in.’
They pay tribute to how well the workers looked after their machines. Even today, large hand wheels turn with ease, and levers move smoothly, thanks to plenty of care from the original operators and in recent years, occasional assistance from the Machinery Preservation Club.