I think Australia may just have a museum for everything. Many of the smaller towns and rural areas like to be known as ‘The Home of (whatever)’ so it was no surprise to find that this is true on Eyre Peninsula too.
This one however, is a little bit different in that it’s an open air museum, as you’d expect, when the collection is the iconic windmills of Australia.
The idea for this museum came about in the year 2000 as a lot of good ideas do, over a few drinks. Locals Tim and Jenny Hardy and Bob and Jill Oats decided that the town of Penong needed an attraction. When you travelled to Penong the old windmills were always noticeable as you drove into town, and they once supplied townspeople and farmers with water, but as they were gradually being replaced with solar powered pumps there was a concern that the town’s identity was being lost. The Hardy’s who owned the rural supplies workshop and the Oats’ who had set up the town’s caravan park therefore decided that the windmills were the key to creating an historical attraction.
Soon people from around the district began offering windmills in various states of disrepair and the men began the work of restoring one of each type used throughout Australia. It soon became evident that more space was going to be needed to house all these windmills, so an area near the caravan park and the Nullarbor Links golf hole (known as windmills) was chosen as the site.
As the project grew so did the number of locals who began helping out and some even found a particularly historical and rare windmill, a 35 foot Comet. There were only 15 ever made and only 2 of them were erected outside of Queensland and 1 of those was in South Australia. This windmill was relocated to the museum with the help of two semi-trailers and other heavy equipment, and was given the name ‘Big Bruce’ after the donor of the windmill, Mr. Bruce Nutt.
The first of the restored windmills was erected in 2015 and by the official opening of the museum in September 2016 there were 19 windmills standing. Today the work continues to ensure that Australia’s iconic windmills, and first ‘green’ method for pumping water, is preserved.
And how much water could they pump? Well Big Bruce was capable of drawing water from 500 feet and could pump up to 250,000 gallons, or more than 1 million litres, per day. Not bad for old technology.
Another unique looking windmill in the collection is the Horwoods Sectional Windmill which has wind blades made of wood which slot into inner and outer wheel rings. This style only appears to have been used in South Australia and this one was donated by Anna Creek Station in the far north of the state.
Some ingenious thinking is also on display with wheeled windmills which were made by local farmers out of whatever was at hand, and enabled the windmill to be shifted from one underground tank to another.
Penong is on the Eyre Highway, about 850 kilometres north west of Adelaide in South Australia. You can’t miss seeing the windmills as you drive into town and the museum makes a good rest stop as you wander amongst the windmills before or after crossing the Nullarbor Plain.