17 May 2021

Moruya machinery club to rise from ashes after losing clubhouse in bushfires

| Albert McKnight
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Before and after images of burnt antique machinery 'The York'

The prized 1904 York seen in its glory (top and bottom left) before it was burnt in the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-2020 (right). Photos: Moruya Antique Tractor and Machinery Association Facebook.

A Eurobodalla club’s unique and irreplaceable antique machinery was lost or badly damaged in the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-2020.

The devastating fires swept through the Moruya Antique Tractor and Machinery Association’s display shed and workshop in Mogo, destroying the building and ruining historical items.

But the club will rebuild by painstakingly restoring engines they were able to salvage, as well as finding a new home.

The association’s secretary and one of its original founding members, Barry Hickson, says there was nothing members could do to save their precious engines when the flames approached.

“The fire just came through like a whirlwind,” he says. “There was nothing you could try to do to get anything out.”

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The shed was made of timber and its roof collapsed onto the machinery. Historic wooden artefacts also burnt and the bearings on engines melted in the heat.

After the fires, club members were not allowed to go to the shed to begin recovering machinery for some time due to concerns there could be asbestos in the building.

No asbestos was found and eventually members were able to take the engines to a new site in the north Moruya industrial area where they are working on restoring them.

“It’s a painstaking job,” says Barry.

Irreplaceable wooden items lost to the flames included hand-operated corn shellers and seed cleaners.

Burnt antique machinery in destroyed shed

Antique machinery was lost or badly damaged when bushfire tore through Mogo. Photo: Moruya Antique Tractor and Machinery Association Facebook.

Most of the damage to the metal engines took place when their wooden trollies burnt and they fell to the ground, says Barry.

For instance, the club’s prized heritage-listed 1904 York, which was the first internal combustion engine to come to Moruya, bent its crankshaft when it fell.

Barry says the club is not looking to replace its collection, but instead restore what its members were able to salvage. Three machines have been restored so far.

“Most of the old stuff is solid cast iron,” he says. “They were able to survive the fire because of their sheer bulk.”

But more fragile parts of the engines burnt – wiring melted and bearings were all over the shed’s floor.

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To complete the work, club members have had to learn new skills. For example, they could not buy new bearings so they had to learn how to melt and repour the metal bearings the engines use.

Barry says the major problem facing the not-for-profit club is that members need a new block of Crown or council land where they can rebuild a shed to be used as a museum and workshop.

He says the club has approached Eurobodalla Shire Council with a proposal after identifying a block of land behind the fire shed in Mogo, and is waiting to hear its response.

“We are hoping council will support us because we are quite a good tourist attraction,” says Barry.

When approached for comment, a Eurobodalla Shire Council spokesperson said a number of groups had expressed interest in the block.

“Council has been talking with the antique tractor group, other community groups and the wider community about ways the site could best be used,” said the spokesperson.

“NSW Rural Fire Service, NSW Crown Lands and Transport for NSW also need to have input.”

The council spokesperson said the discussions are taking place as part of the Mogo Village Place Activation Plan, which is currently in development and involves asking Mogo residents and business owners what they want to see for the town’s future.

“A decision on the block will be taken in due course that ensures the best opportunities for Mogo are supported, and align with other projects and the overall vision for Mogo,” said the spokesperson.

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