Museum News

Historical Society Goes Bush

The early morning of Tuesday May 21st was bright with every expectation of being a fine day for a planned excursion into Rushworth Forest for the Rushworth & District Historical Society. Shortly after 09.30 a small convoy of cars and utes departed the High Street and headed southward for Cheong’s Dam and the derelict POW Camp 6 at Greytown.  This was a trip that we’d planned and discussed for the biggest part of a year.

Rushworth’s historical society has long had a great interest in the Cheong family – among the foremost of the settlers who chose Rushworth (or the then Waranga Diggings) in which to put down roots.   It seemed appropriate, therefore, that our society should choose to visit the long creek line chosen by Looke Cheong on which he established his homestead and eventually a market garden back in 1854.

On arriving at the Cheong’s former home (Cheong’s Dam) most of us were able to appreciate the skill with which Looke Cheong chose  to locate his home.  (And at the risk of some local condemnation I have to comment on the disappointment it was to see the former historic homestead site as it is today replete with rusting car bodies and a general air of neglect).

Situated on the line of a long creek which is still apparent today and where a deep  dam still contains water, the line of the watercourse is still obvious.  Looke Cheong obviously had a good eye for topography.  Looke was a Chinese migrant in his twenties from British Borneo who, having walked from Robe in South Australia to join the gold rush, forged a living in a British oriented society with all the entrenched racial restrictions of that era.  Through his strength of character, his abilities as a horse breaker, farrier, general farmer and ultimately as a successful market gardener, he made his mark on Whroo and later Rushworth.

Standing at the shore of the main Cheong dam and following some exploration of the general area by our society members, Heather Wellington related facts known of the Cheong family and their important input into the early days of Rushworth.

The next stage of our safari took us southward along a very rocky old track to Graytown which had been a thriving gold mining town comparable in size and population to Whroo in the late 1850s.   Within 40 minutes or so the convoy arrived at Graytown, well separated with our rearmost members concerned they had somehow been left behind and were lost in the bush.  Regardless of the road conditions we eventually met up at the site of the former POW Camp 6 (Forestry).

Greytown POW Camp 6 housed in the earliest stages of WW2 upward of 252 German and Italian servicemen.  The camp was set up for prisoners to cut timber mainly for the railways.  Most of the Germans at Camp 6 were members of the German Navy Kriegsmarine who had survived the sinking of their armed disguised merchant raider HSK Kormoran in a mid Indian Ocean battle in which the cruiser HMS Sydney was sunk with her crew of over six hundred with no survivors

In the eyes of the wartime Australian authorities, the Kriegsmarine sailors, together with some Finnish seamen and numerous Italians were considered preferable to German soldiers, most of whom had been captured in North Africa well before the tide of war changed and who at that time still believed that Germany would win the war.  Thus it was that German sailors, most of whom came from the maritime areas of Hamburg, and northern Germany were practical, no-nonsense seamen with little time for Hitler and his Nazi party.  They proved to be willing workers for the Greytown camp, more interested in finishing their imprisonment with their minds and bodies intact than prolonging a war they suspected was lost anyway

The remains of Greytown Camp 6 are still easily distinguishable by the concrete bases of mess halls and latrine blocks, drainage trenches and the usual remains which survive old barracks.  Still visible are the remnants of barbed wire fences, over eight feet high and attached to the original poles.  Our historical society group found the visit of great interest judging by their explorations of the site and the many enquiries they made of the camp’s history

Finally it was time to return to Rushworth.  In taking the return track via Bailieston we had a smoother journey and found other gold mining where our members made photo stops.  In conclusion, it was obviously a highly interesting and entertaining excursion.  We have more planned for the future.  This ‘outing’ has been for the historical society but I’m sure the society at large would welcome any other persons who would wish to accompany us.

Mike Wellington

President, Rushworth Historical Society

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