The Shearing Days

Recent research work by IBYS associates has thrown more light on Australian Inventor Henry Hoke’s “missing years” which currently seem to be fairly elastic – they could have taken up most of his life.  Photos taken in a remote shearing shed prove definitively that Henry really did work in the shearing industry- these stencilled letters which spell out his name on the shearing shed wall are part of a longstanding tradition when a shearing season comes to an end. The exact year of the stencilling is unclear.

Henry Hoke was thought to have invented the now-common shearer’s pizzle guard.

Any stories or anecdotes about Henry’s experiences as a shearer are always welcome.


Show and Tell Sheds

Every so often we receive stories and pictures from other sheddies, shed kings, or ‘shedonistas’ as UK associate Julian Lea Jones calls them.

Now you can post your own stories and pictures in the Show and Tell Sheds section of the Forum. Just click on ‘Our Forum’ in the sidebar on the left, register your preferred username and password to become a member of the Forum, and then click through to Show and Tell Sheds to add your story and upload photos.

Here’s a great example from Bobcat to get you thinking.

Bobcat’s story


I am going on 62 years of age. From when I was 10 or 11 years old, I grew up in country NSW. My stepdad was a drover, an old bushie born up in Bowling Alley Point near Nundle in NSW. He was the smartest bloke I ever knew. It was marvellous what he could fix with a piece of No.8 wire and a pair of pliers. I often feel I was a bit of a dickhead for not taking in more of what he tried to teach me – he did most of his own repairs on his droving equipment and leather gear, did some blacksmithing, etc, etc. My brothers and I used to spend hours taking turns at winding the blower on his portable forge. He could fix most things that shit themselves. Boy, if only I had the nous then to take in more of his bushcraft.

I’ve missed out recording my days out droving, the endless nights as a kid listening to stories around the campfire – stories about a myriad of things to do with the good ole days and my own life from the 50’s onwards.

I still remember quite a lot but most is lost now. It’s a bloody shame. But back to the shed thingie.

As a kid I did all those things that young blokes do: pushbikes, billycarts, gadgets and inventions, things that make all the politically correct B#@holes of today freak out. I still remember my late brother making leaf springs out of Masonite strips nailed together then nailed to a billycart – and ya know, they bloody worked! He also fitted an old Victa lawnmower engine to his fixed wheel bike. I spent hours towing him up and down the street on my bike trying to get it to start. Lucky it didn’t start. Some knowledge of gearing probably would have been helpful. Lots of laughs.

I have owned a few modified cars: FJ/FC/FB and EH Holdens, utes, vans and sedans. Nothing too flash. I once owned a real cool 1961 Studebaker Lark, and some motor bikes and much more. Sorry, I’m rambling again. My first sort of a shed was an addition to a large carport on our first house at Modbury Heights in Adelaide. The carport was 9 metres by 7 metres and I closed in the western side for a workshop that I built myself, complete with a lockable storage room for my tools.

That was in 1977/78, about the time they banned advertising for smokes on TV. I was Somehow I stopped smoking. I had been smoking 25 to 30 a day at home and sometimes more than 60 a day when I was working ( I was driving interstate trucks at the time) for 10 or 12 years. So when I gave up, I spent the money I was spending on smokes on tools instead. My missus was quite happy with that and I’ve never got into trouble spending money on tools.

I first bought myself a Transarc Easywelder, a 5 inch Makita angle grinder, a Bosch 3/8 drill, a Taiwanese drill press and a bench vice. I slowly but surely built my tool kit and workshop up from there.

I built two steel workbenches in 1978/79 and I still use them today.

I moved all this gear from Adelaide to Leigh Creek (1981) then to ‘Kikatinalong’ at Port Pirie in 1991 and finally to Caboolture in Queensland (2000). The welder is still working but the angle grinder died last December, after all that time. I did replace the armature once after I cut the floor out of a VW bush buggy and did a lot of other work it wasn’t designed for. The old Bosch drill shit itself a few years ago but the rest are still going strong.

Using this gear over the years I have built heaps of bullbars and stuff for 4×4’s, loading racks, tandem and box trailers with gates or loading ramps, implements for Fergie tractors and lots of other items too numerous to mention.

In 1981 we sold our house in Adelaide and moved to Leigh Creek up in the Northern Flinders ranges for 10 years. Leigh Creek houses had sheds about 4.8 metres by 7 metres and being on shift work, the amount of time spent in the shed was unreal. What I’m trying to say is that the shed was well worn by the time we moved out in1991. At this time we acquired 2 trikes, a Honda 70cc for the kids and a Suzuki 125cc for myself. I also bought a wrecked 125 and used the rear axle and other bits to build a trailer for my trike, which our old blue heeler Ugly loved.

Our stay in “The Creek” was great. We went all over the Flinders Ranges and up the Birdsville and Strezlecki Tracks. We used to camp at Muloorina Station at Lake Eyre (it was about an hour and a half drive from the Creek) about 4 times a year and saw water in the lake 3 or 4 times in our 10 years. (I still have a litre coke bottle of water collected from the lake in July 1983). We also travelled to Lake Torrens, to some great sand dunes at Ediacra (west of Beltana) and also to Coober Pedy, Woomera and Roxby Downs. In 1988 we had purchased “Kikatinalong”, a five acre block at Port Pirie, South Australia. It came with a house and three sheds, all only a few years old. We used the 7m x 6m shed on the back fence for storage and I pulled down a 4.8m x 3.6m shed and built a BBQ area and an elevated cubby house for the kids on the site.

The other shed, which was 12m x 6m had a pit and 3m x 6m office. I used bits from the shed I had pulled down to extend the big shed (that’s another story) but over the years we were there I installed a tiled shower, kitchenette, a storage loft, shelving and extra storage and more workshop areas. The move to Kikatinalong was supposed to be our last move.

In 2000 we decided to move to Queensland to be nearer some of our kids. We were too far away if there was a problem family wise – a 20 odd hour non-stop car trip was required.

The exercise moving up here was a huge saga and a story on its own.
Once here we inherited a 6m x 6m shed (now 9m x 6m. The bloke that owned this place before us must have been a bit of a galah as he built the shed at far end of the yard and the other side of the house – so you have to back the car and trailer across the back lawn to get to the shed.
a place for everything and everything in it's placea place for everything and everything in it's place

We bought with us some of the storage shelving and three work benches, steel odds and ends, boxes of bolts and screws, fittings, all kinds of stuff new and used, two diamond drill bits, a steel tyre off a wagon wheel, a bullock yoke and some harness, a dingo trap and other stuff too numerous to mention. I find it hard to believe I really did bring some of the stuff all the way up here. It’s a bloody joke.

How does one fit a 12m x 12m shed into 6m square shed? I’ve tried to set it up as good as I can – power points everywhere, plenty of lighting. pegboards on most walls. For what it is, it’s OK.

Then, two years ago I was diagnosed as having Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML). I kept on working until 4th December last year when I was squeezed out – good ole honest John’s IR laws strike again.

I now have plenty of time for the shed. On retirement I bought myself a new MIG welder, $2,000 worth of Metalcraft gear,, a new Makita 5 inch angle grinder, a belt/disc sander, a guillotine for cutting steel bar etc, a large workshop fan, 14 volt drill to replace the ole 9 volt Makita and built a new mobile 2.4m x 1.2m work bench.

I did the extension of the shed with a little help from my wife and one of my daughters. It took me a few weeks due to my illness. I had a concreter do the slab and we did the rest, also installing a 3,000 litre water tank with pump etc. I also built a steel storage rack outside the shed and fitted it with plastic sewer pipes with capped ends to try to keep my steel bar dry and free of rust… hopefully.

I’ve found that my shed keeps my mind off my illness and I don’t dwell on things as much. I don’t spend all my time in it as the drugs I’m on have a “chronic fatigue” type of effect and some days I only make the lounge. I do try to keep busy most of the time in the shed or in the yard. My early retirement upset our plans – we were going to do the old grey nomad thing but had to use most of our super to pay off the house. We will prevail though, no worries.

I have considered the shed club thingie in your last book. My only problem is that a lot of people who go in for that sort of thing have never owned a shed or tools in their whole life. I’ll speak form some of my own experiences: some fellas over the years have tried to borrow my gear – some blokes in Leigh Creek once tried to borrow my cement mixer. “I’m sorry I don’t lend things” I said “Ah shit, we’ll have to hire it then… how many bloody slabs will it cost?” “Sorry, I don’t hire my stuff either.” “ Well you can go & F#@*! ya self” End of story.

I have found that a lot of blokes who drink , smoke and gamble etc spend all their $’s on the same ( and that’s up to them – no worries) but they are always the ones on the bludge.

The thing is that I went without heaps of other things to do my thing, which is building up a really cool shed/workshop. I have been caught a few times but not too many. It’s easier to say no in the first place.

On my present 4.2m x 2.4m tandem trailer I have put some stickers on the rear mudguards that SORRY TRAILER NOT FOR LOAN OR HIRE and some people still try it on. No-one looks after your gear the way you do yourself although. Over the years I have helped out countless friends and people in strife I have always used my on gear. But I’m straying off the track again, eh.

In closing I have enjoyed many a visit to other’s sheds. Or places like the dump at Muloorina station, which in 1991 was a museum of old gear from 1909 to the present. There was even a old 6×6 Army Duck and a gyrocopter. I was amazed by the old Blacksmith’s shop at Copley near Leigh Creek. It was just as it was when the smithy shut doors in the 40s or 50s.

I have adopted many a good idea form other blokes and their sheds and hope to see a lot more before I check out and close up my shed for the last time. My grandsons will hopefully inherit some really good tools… I do spend time in the shed with one of them but it’s never enough though. I think a few of them will be sheddies later on. I sincerely hope so.

Keep on shedding!




from Mark Thomson, IBYS Advanced Research Director

Coming from an organisation that celebrates tinkering in all its many forms, in the past few weeks we at the Institute have been enjoying the revitalising of tinkering culture. Or rather the public recogntion of the value of tinkering. It’s pleasing because a couple of years ago I had a two week residency at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine, during which I wrote a monograph entitled “I tinker therefore I am”. At the time people thought I was some sort of raving loony. Most of them still do of course but I feel a slight smug twinge of satisfaction that I was right.

With the GSU (Global Stuff Up) and all, people are no longer throwing out consumer goods with quite the gay abandon they once did – at least in the wealthy west. The rest of the world has, quite sensibly, always conserved resources and tinkered of course.

Tinkering is a beautiful thing. Or as I said in the Haystack monograph:

Tinkering a minor risktaking activity without any great consequence: it is not goal-directed nor are there defined outcomes. There are no key performance indicators for tinkering. Thus, tinkering is suspended from the pressures of defined goals and time limits. It’s about a question mark, not a product or a saleable process. Tinkering involves a flow state, an intense focus on a small closed world. Tinkering and play are closely interlinked: a ceretain sense of wonder propels the curiousity at the heart of every compulsive tinkerer. Tinkering also allows failure which is essential for any process of evolution.

And so on…

There have have been Wall Street Journal articles:

Tinkering Makes a Comeback Amid Crisis

The ABC (Australian Braodcasting Corporation to you outside Australia) has been busy on tinkering, including this interview with Miles Park from the Faculty of Built Environment at the University of New South Wales who has been exploring the relationship between tinkering, product longevity and e-waste reduction

There’s also an interview with me (gosh! self promotion! just fancy that!):

There’s also a Tales of Tinkering Blog that the ABC has set up:

Alex Pang, a bloke from California who works on strategies around future uses of technology, has also written a very nice comprehensive survey of the state of tinkering:

Nancy White, another West Coast guru (whom I had the great pleasure of meeting recently) has been reflecting usefully on the subject:

Through Nancy I met (on a stinking hot Saturday morning recently) an Adelaide local Mike Seyfang, who is following up on many of the same themes that we explore in the Institute. A man with a strong science and technology bent, Mike is a veteran of the early days of modern computing in Australia. He’s got an impressive grasp of the possibilities of digital tinkering and knows lots of people of the same ilk. His theories about the future of language could lead to some interesting discussions…

There are a number of other people who are in on this caper if you are interested: John Seely Brown, Anne Balsamo, Mitch Resnik (more suggestions are welcome)

Or if you want to make some further comments, feel free to add them in the ideas section of our forum.

The chook shed on wheels

It always seemed like an urban myth or a piece of bush leg-pulling: that somewhere out there was an old chook shed being towed behind a van. Then, some months ago, I was going around the roundabout in downtown Alice Springs, just by the council offices and the public library when there it was.

So I threw the old Falcon into a tight squealing u-turn (it was my sister’s boyfriend’s car which I had just borrowed to go down the shops) and went back and had a chat with Frank Turton aka The Chookman.


Frank is an entertainer and he had just been driving around the Northern Territory doing his stuff. The NT is the kind of place where they appreciate people like Frank. He comes from Paringa which is on the River Murray next to Renmark in South Australia. There’s not a lot to Paringa – a bakery (7/10) and a slightly expensive junk/curio store in the old garage. I suspect that Frank is one of the biggest things Paringa has going for it.

Frank takes his chooks on his musical tours around the great Australian countryside – or at least it was taken for granted that he did. It’s a perfectly natural thing to do. So he needed to tow them behind in their own specialised accomodation.

Frank Turton’s chook shed on wheels

The chooks were definitely in there – they would peek out from the sound holes of the guitars or through some of the ventilator flaps that Frank had thoughtfully provided for his fowls. From the many stickers on the trailer shed it was clear that these were some very well travelled chooks.

Good on ya Frank. Think about it… some people spend their lives pruning the geraniums with nail scissors or getting the the knives and forks in perfect size order from left to right. Not Frank. His mission has been to take his chooks on a national tour and more than once it seems. These are chooks with an expanded view of the world. Just imagine what other cage-locked fowls must think when they meet these sophisticated well-travelled birds. They would be impressed. I was.

Hard rubbish -the garbo’s perspective

Some time back, Malcolm sent me a few shed photos. As you can see below, it’s a modest shed, but clearly loved by its owner.

Malcolm’s shed

Malcolm’s shed pic 3

Malcolm works as a garbological transport engineer for one of the Sydney Councils, which is an excellent position to be in when you want to build a shed.

A good many of the components for the shed (including tools) were sourced on the job, especially during the twice yearly Clean Up day (or ‘hard rubbish’ day as it is known in some parts of Australia. Other parts of the shed were culled from traditional sources: part of the structure was the old roof trusses from a mate’s place that was being renovated;similar with the cladding. The floor was from a garage sale. A bit of money was spent buying new stuff but it was kept to the absolute bare minimum.


The Institute of Backyard Studies pays homage to Malcolm and all who do the right thing and build like this. But wait, there’s more!

It was a privilege and a revelation to speak to someone who works on collecting hard rubbish. He more or less confirmed what I have always suspected – that there is a vested interest in councilsd leaving the stuff out on the street for a while because sooner or later there’s a good chance that a freeloader like me will come along and grab those worn green widgets or that piece of painted, dinged up but so useful Tassie Oak shelf.

And for Malcolm the job involves some hard choices. He said that some days the cabin of the garbage truck is so full of good stuff at the end of the day that the council supervisor has to come and get the rest of the crew in another vehicle because they won’t fit inside. There’s also a lot of transferring stuff going on. He knows that some people he works with a looking for certain things and vice versa, so a lot of swapping can go on at the end of the day. Other things end up being sold on Ebay. Other stuff ends up at the local Vinnies or Salvos if it known that they are looking for good furniture or whatever. As Malcolm says, you make a bit, spread some around, give it away.


Interior Malcolm’s Shed 1

Since these photos were taken Malcolm and his wife have moved home and the current place does not have a shed. As you can imagine, that situation will soon be rectified.

Any more observations about hard rubbish are welcome in our forums. I’ve noticed that hard rubbish seems to be changing – this year there’s heaps of those trolley barbecues, along with the usual canvas and wood fold up chairs, cracked plastic furniture, busted bamboo anti mozzie oil lamps and broken battery powered vacuum cleaners. Many whippersnippers seem to have reached the end of their working lives (although I’ve now got 4 and the motor works on every one of them) There’s even a few satellite tv dishes (they look handy…) I’m always looking for more Random Excuse Generator parts or something that may have been part of Henry Hoke’s Quack of Doom (see elsewhere on this sight for sore eyey about Henry’s inventions)

Hard Rubbish and re-use is a subject worthy of further study. There’s an interesting essay about all this from ‘The Sage on the Page’ and look up bindilling and re-use

More to come later


The Gothic Shed

The very elegant all corro Cue (WA) Masonic Lodge

In fact it’s the Masonic lodge at Cue in central Western Australia. Built almost entirely out of corrugated iron in 1899 in this once thriving gold mining centre, it sits on the edge of town looking a bit like the house from the movie Psycho.

IBYS Research Director Mark Thomson visited the ‘Queen of the Murchison’, as Cue is known, recently and found it a fairly seriously corrugated town. Cue is surrounded by enormous modern ore dumps which are slowly taking over the old, nearly vanished ghost towns established in the 1890s when the WA goldfields were a frenzy of activity. One of the most surprising aspects of this area is how these old towns have virtually vanished off the face of the earth, whole towns with stores, businesses, railway lines and houses are now, only 100 years later, almost invisible but for broken glass, rusting tins and the occasional car part or cement slab. It says something disturbing about the impermanence of human life in the desert.

For it’s part, the Cue Masonic Lodge is being slowly restored (possibly by the National Trust as againt the National Rust, which surrounds the town in the form of old cans and tins and of course the handy corrugated building product. Those of us possessing gold detectors might like to hang around the caravan park and natter with the grey nomads as they share bullshit stories about great finds. Don’t believe anything you hear.

There are some nice details on this building - but it's pretty curious that the Freemasons who were supposed to be about stonemasonry built themselves a shed - when there is some very noce stone buildings in the town.


The end of Robby’s or deep handiness takes another blow

Should you be the owner of an ancient Pye radiogram, a Kreisler television or any of the plethora of audio visual appliances once manufactured in this country, then you may well be accustomed to unsuccessfully attempting to have it repaired.

“You can’t get the parts…” the repair guy would say.

Not so fast: you might get the parts – or you could until Robby’s started to close down.

Horace ‘Robby’ Robinson’s shop in Long Street, Queenstown is a vast shambles of electrical components and assorted paraphernalia, its gloomy corridors catalogued with jars of diodes, triodes, transistors, switches, relays, valves, everything.

It is the lurking place of the electrical tinkerers who would never say die to that old radio or record player. They inhabit the half light of Robby’s corridors and byways, searching for elusive buried electrical treasure. These fixers and repairers are an almost secret club of electrical savants who know how all these things work – what a thermal overload relay does or how a three phase rectifier transformer can be fixed. Get them started and they’ll tell you about the glory that was ETSA or how they fixed a discarded Bang and Olufsen television from the hard rubbish with a $2 part (from Robby’s of course). They thrive within a filigree of useful contacts that can repair almost anything that has had a current running through it. Robby’s is – or rather was – one of the vital nodes in that spider web.

But Robby is 89 now and his eyesight is going. The vast stock of the shop, which over the last 50 years has been a car parts business, a hardware store and secondhand furniture shop, is being sold off in a series of sales by his children Lyn and Paul.

Apparently Robby never had any formal training in the electrical and electronic trades but he obviously knew a thing or two about auctions and bargains, picking up the remnants of disappearing industries and enterprises. Equipment from Woomera and the Weapons Research Establishment can still be found amongst the boxes and shelves, some of it made to measure or record some part of that great imperial endeavour that went on secretly in South Australia’s deserts in the 50s and 60s.

At these Saturday morning closing sales, Lyn and Paul guard the entrance and reminisce with the regulars. Bargain hunters and repairers– most of whom seem to know each other – emerge from rummaging through dusty boxes and shelves with odd collections of electrical loot for which they can see a potential use. They leave satisfied but often express a sadness that such a place will no longer exist. In a few weeks time there will be a big final auction and the site will no doubt end up as yet another real estate development.

So does it matter that places like Robby’s vanish? It matters not just because we will have boring sterile suburbs but because it represents another unravelling of the rich and largely hidden social networks in which people find meaning, learn new things, share knowledge. Those networks make our cities livable and while the Internet replicates some of those networks, there is no substitute for the tangible experience and deep handiness that goes with places like Robby’s. We will be the poorer for its passing.




This superb shed, that of Institute of Backyard Studies Technical Director Dr Chris Block, is one of many featured in the Institute’s latest tribute to deep shed culture, the book Makers, Breakers and Fixers. Many a day or evening, Chris is to be found in this workshop working on some project of stunning complexity. It’s high, well-draughted structure that has huge doors for the dirty great ship he is going to build in there one day. In the meantime, preparations are well under way for the reconstruction of Henry Hoke’s apocryphal truck-mounted audio weapon “Hoke’s Quack of Doom” as shown below in hitherto secret photography of US Army tests during World War 2. Security considerations require that we should draw a discrete veil across further information about this invention until the time is ripe.

.A rare WW2 photo of Henry Hoke's Quack of Doom undergoing field testing. Albert Einstein wrote to Henry recommending that nuclear power was a safer option than this terrifying weapon.


Sir Isaac Newton’s Shed


Recent investigations by Institute staff at an undisclosed location have discovered the original shed of all-round smartypants Sir Isaac Newton, best known for his 3 Laws of Motion (you know the sort of thing – “once moving at a steady speed in a straight line and so on and so on”)

In a shock revelation, documents recovered at the site reveal a hitherto unknown aspect of late 17th century shed culture: that Sir Ike was on the turps – in fact a sort of India Pale Ale – a good deal of his illustrious career. Detailed forensic analysis of some of The Newt’s (as in ‘Pissed As’) vomit-covered notebooks is currently being undertaken. IBYS Deep Shed Research Director Mark Thomson told an only slightly packed news conference that there is every possibility that there were in fact two more Laws of Motion but as the great man was too shickered on the day, he forgot to tell anybody.

Mr Thomson invites speculation and conjecture from the shed community – deeply experienced as it is in engineering, beer and sheds- on the subject of these two possible new laws – what were they measuring or defining?Your contribution on the comment link is welcome.