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Your stories – a selection

On a bright red background, the words 'Object stories' and a child's rollerskate held close to the camera by a woman

Your stories

Below we feature our favourite Object Stories posted to ABC Open.

Sign with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation logo and the words

Aunty's appeal

Ah, the ingenious efficiency of our public broadcaster... CROWDSOURCING COURIERS. Great story, John Cecil.

Gould League membership card

League of bird lovers

For a century from 1910, many children paid a penny for life membership of the Gould League, pledging "to protect all birds except those that are noxious". This membership card is from 1941; the Museum has one from the year before; we also have a few stories about Australian birds.


Well-travelled piano

You would be hard-pressed to find a piano that has travelled further and more frequently than this Berlin beauty, purchased in the 1920s and now on display in Alice Springs at the Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame. Helen Kempe shares its story, including the 'voice' of the piano itself.

Elderly man holding a swimsuit of a Wagga Beach Lifesaver

Lifesaver swimsuit

Meet Eric Carpenter and the cotton Speedo swimsuit he wore, over 60 years ago, as a Wagga Beach Lifesaver. (Yes, Wagga Wagga has a beach.)

Model boat

Internee woodwork

Water moves wood; wood moves water. A multi-faceted story of wartime irrigation, Japanese internees and a kind paddlesteamer captain.

rotor from a postive displacement pump – the part that moves the water

Rotor for moving water

Jannie Smit salvaged this rotor from a positive displacement pump – for her aesthetic pleasure. It's a beautifully-worked piece of metal that imitates the organic spiral form of many plants and seashells.

Detail of a Chinese coin

A brothel token?

From Dorothy Wickham, an intriguing object about sexual relations in colonial Australia – but what's the actual story? Read the comments and follow the links.

18kg calculator with a handle and 67 keys

18kg calculator

How much easier is it, today, to determine the total cost of a list of goods? This story by Kathy Beatson is a weighty reminder.

Hand holding a painted wooden container


You couldn't imagine a more beautifully useful object – water jug, hand bag, food storage container, grinding bowl and – for babies – a portable bed. It's lovely to hear a bit of Gija language here – thanks Phyllis, Lena and Shirley.

Passes for press access to Parliament House for the Prime Minister's apology to the Stolen Generations

Press passes to the Apology

As a journalist, Solua Middleton bore witness to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's apology to the Stolen Generations: 'I remember the words "We say sorry". You could feel the tension release from the room, which was filled with many Indigenous Australians who were affected by those removal policies.'

Sextant held to the eye of a man on a beach


Not only does this story explain how a sextant works, it's a story of ocean navigation from the central desert. Thank you, Fiona Walsh.

Certificate of exemption from the provisions of the Aborigines Protection Act

Dog license

Aunty Dorrie Moore's father's certificate of exemption gave him some of the privileges of white people but also (at least in theory) restricted his access to culture, language and family. Find out more about these certificates.

Bullet light from a 1953 FJ Holden

Bullet light, 1953 FJ Holden

At the end of the era of Holden manufacturing in Australia, 'samgraffeo' describes the place of the FJ in three histories – of his family, Holden and Australia. See also a beautiful example of the model from whence this light comes.

Warrigal steel rabbit trap on stony ground

A rabbit trap for Australia

So many rabbits! And on land where English traps were almost useless. Enter the Warrigal trap, a tool for putting an environmental disaster to good use. Rabbit stew! Akubra hats (like this one)!

Medal handmade from schrapnel after a bombing, with the words 'Presented by Lord Haw Haw to the Tobruk Rats, 1941

Shrapnel medal

In 1941 the No. 5 platoon – some of the Rats of Tobruk – crafted this medal from shrapnel and presented it to the battalion doctor, Dr Stanley Goulston, who quietly treasured it for the rest of his life.

underpants printed with names of tram stops

Undies worth repairing

From Sophie de Vitis, an object story with the lot: underpants made during WWII from material purchased with ration coupons – and a sign roll for Sydney tram stops – to a WWI pattern with seams in which lice could not hide. And yes, they have been 'mended and restitched over and over'.

A row of four teaspoons; the bowl of each is crafted from an Australian penny.

Underground industry

As Marilyn Berry explains, these copper penny spoons were crafted on the quiet in a railway metal workshop – a product of larrikin enterprise in the age of postwar frugality.

Cover and a page of the comic 'Major Mitchell and Australia 'Felix

History in comic form

Did you know that in the 1950s Australian history was taught via comic books? Does that approach work for you? Follow the link and share your thoughts.

Mouldy cake, wrapped in plastic, in a box marked 'Centenary souvenir birthday cake, 1834–1934, Victoria, Australia

Really old cake

A mind-boggling story from the Glenelg Shire Council. The very large cake of which this decrepit piece was part was housed in a building modelled after the cake itself. And to this day there may be a gold sovereign inside this morsel, as this contemporary news article reports.

Elderly woman's hands holding a ceramic monkey seated on a stack of books

A survivor

This 'learned monkey' is the only tangible remnant of 79-year-old Vera Wasowski's life in Poland, and is testament to unlikely survival in extreme conditions. Witness her powerful story. *Warning* – you will see some disturbing archival images.

Detail from a painting about a Japanese bombing raid during WWII

Before the bomb

Unlike most Object Stories, in this case the object came into existence long after the story. It's Vanessa Adams' tribute to a secret her grandmother kept until just before she died.

Woman standing behind a large book press


This cast iron book press lives in the basement of Newcastle Regional Library, testament to the intangibility of new tools for communication and perservation.

swingle bar

Swingle bar

This intriguingly-named device is not a toy for swinging singles. Rather, its purpose is to help a horse to carry a load – which is why, as the Channel Heritage Centre says, the Sunshine Harvester Works made so many. Nice to see another object storyteller getting horsey ;)

Whale bones

Whale who helped whalers

For decades up to 1930, 'Old Tom' and his pod of orcas cooperated with whalers, herding other species of whale into Twofold Bay and then alerting the whalers to come in for the kill. Why would orcas do this? Read the full story. (One answer is for whale tongue and throat – quite the delicacy, apparently.)

Wool moisture measure

Wet wool gauge

This steampunk-like contraption is a kit for measuring the moisture content of wool on sheep – thereby resolving the vexed question of whether to shear now or wait. Jeff Nagorka explains.

pottery ant trap for a table leg

Ant trap

Common in the early 1900s but almost unheard of today – so you may have to travel to the National Museum of Australian Pottery in Holbrook to see one – these pottery traps defended many a tabletop spread from attack by ants.

Man in front of a 1:24 scale model of a paddle steamer

Model paddle steamer

Fifty years ago as a new migrant at Bonegilla, Roland Sjoberg saw these boats floating past and loved them. Now he makes his own 1:24 scale models. Here at the Museum, we cherish the PS Enterprise and its miniature twin, so we understand!

Wedding cake sent to the front during WWI

Wedding cake from WWI

Another really old cake! (Remember this one?) How sad, that amid the deprivation of the Great War, a piece of his wedding cake was the best memento that William Henson had of his homelife. On the up-side, he did make it home to his wife. Elaine Chick tells the story.

Folded motorbike on grass

Fold-up motorbike

This compact machine was dropped by parachute into Normandy on D-Day for an English soldier to use. Muffler-free, it sounded like machine guns firing – which was good for scaring the Germans away. Thanks for sharing, Hay Gaol Museum.

Three pieces of petrified wood

Petrified fence posts

From Andrew West in Broken Hill, a story two million years in the making, of serendipity, sensitivity, and chivalry – and not, actually, of fences at all, however fascinating fences are.

Sidesaddle in a workshop


On the challenge of riding sidesaddle: "I've tried it, and I'm useless, and I've been riding for 80 years." So says Lez Taylor, in this story of how jodhpurs – and the Indian women that inspired them – helped relegate sidesaddles to history.

Piece of the finish line from the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, in a chutney jar

A piece of Olympics history

Donna Hellier's mother rescued a piece of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics finish line as it was being dug up for the cricket – and saved it in a chutney jar. And we have the ABC TV outside broadcast van, which shared the critical moments as runners crossed the finish line.

Leather strap, written all over by various hands, held by an elderly male hand

Weapon of mass instruction

Having been at both ends of the strap, Howard Lowe reflects on the era of corporal punishment in schools.

Underwood portable typewriter in an open box

Typewriter c/- a fair go boss

Wilma Williams' Aunt Betty was 16 and dux of her school when she landed a job with Fletcher Jones, a newly established clothing manufacturer. Always generous with his staff, Fletcher Jones was also a pioneer of workforce participation, converting his business into a co-operative so that all staff owned shares in the company.

Bracelet made from plaited hair, with a gold clasp

Plaited hair bracelet

In 1903 Miles Franklin's sister Laurel died, aged 11. To commemorate her short life, another sister, Linda, made this bracelet from Laurel's hair; it's now part of the Tumut Museum collection.

tobacco ration form dated 1945

Support for smokers

"I declare that I am a genuine smoker" – Margaret M is fascinated by these forms for tobacco rations for ex-service personnel, from an era when smoking 'was expected, condoned, assisted and supported'.

Detail of a Tshirt with a colourful psychedelic design


"Harry Freakman, Shrink, hee har, are you mad?" Dr Harry Freeman worked at the infamous Aquarius Festival that overtook Nimbin in 1973, and ended up with a psychedelic Tshirt treasure. Also worth a look is the contemporary ABC Four Corners report on the festival.

Worn black top hat resting on purple velvet. Another piece of fabric, possibly organza, with red stars, is draped around as well.

Juggler's top hat

From the Museum of the Riverina, an object of many lives. First, a gentleman's firm brim hat. Second, a showman's bread and butter. Then, before finally coming to rest in the museum, it was good old timey fun.

camera held in front of a photo of Mick Jagger with his arms over his head and his tongue poking out

A serendipitous snapper

Discover the drama of the moments before the camera captured this celebrated photograph, and consider the converse: the many images it took (in the hands of photographer, Richard Crawley) of uncelebrated people in the everyday streets of Melbourne. Both are amazing.

Book into which are pasted a poppy and a range of poems

Poetic frontlines

When we’re sitting in the trenches / Midst the hail of shot and shell / We still have time to send a line: / “Dear Mum, I’m safe and well.” How wartime mementos helped Vera Rayson understand the impact of war – on all parties.

You can also hear an interview with Vera Rayson via ABC Radio National's Hindsight program.

Magpie geese made from ghost nets

Ghost nets transformed

In Far North Queensland, locals respond creatively to a serious threat to marine life: discarded fishing nets, aka ghost nets.

Detail from a letter by an Italian prisoner-of-war to a woman whose farm he worked during WWII

Never I shall forget

Sometimes 'enemies' turn out to be friendly. Shorlty after the end of World War II, a Western Australian farmer received this affectionate letter... from an Italian prisoner-of-war who worked on her farm as an internee.

trench art biplane

Trench art biplane

Charlie Moss survived his World War I service, and came home with this crafty 'upcycled' plane – the fuselage is a bullet casing, the movable tail and wings are a copper alloy, and the wheels are Belgian coins.

Star and badge of a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George

Without his T, he'd be odd

Formally honoured for his work on the Overland Telegraph – those medals are the star and badge of a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George – Sir Charles Todd was a quintessential gentleman, remembered for his multifarious benevolence, and for his mastery of the much-maligned art of wordplay. (This glowing obituary notes several gems.)

Man sitting next to an old irrigation pump

Water, whoosh

How much energy have Australians expended trying to control the flow of water? In 1984, the Hunter River reasserted control, taking Greg Scott's irrigation pump and concealing it for 15 years.



Nita Howells became quite attached (haha) to these cuffs over the course of her career as a police officer. Designed effectively for controlling violence, they only ever failed her once.

Woman in a wheelchair in a loungeroom next to a Double Thomas splint for people growing up with severe polio

Double Thomas splint

It's difficult to imagine spending six minutes in this full body splint, let alone six years. Ann Maree McLeod contracted polio at age six, and the best treatment was immobilisation for as long as she was growing. Now in the Greens Gunyah Museum, the splint stands testament to the value of vaccination.

Family seated around a radio during World War II

A revered radio in Iran

The young boy in this photograph was intrigued by the radio behind him. Locked when not in use, protected by an embroidered cover, and housed in a niche in the wall, it was also full of very small people. Sohrab Nabi-Zadeh shares his story.

Prince Charles in a 'Careful Cobber' car

Careful Cobber royalty

In 1985, the Shepparton road safety program hosted a visit by the royal couple, Charles and Diana. As a young girl Camille was tasked with chauffering the Princess, and for this story she recalls all the drama.

Detail of a cushion cover made from WWI-era cigarette 'silks

Cigarette silk cushion

From Gilgandra Historical Society, a war story of culture, communications, feminine industry, the impassioned Cooee March and, of course, loss. Also of comfort?

Metal breastplate inscribed with a kangaroo, an emu and the words 'Bob Wheelpoolee, King of Boulia

Ancestral breastplates

The objects of Leeanne Wilson's story are housed in the National Museum of Australia, part of a large collection of Aboriginal breastplates. For the Museum, they represent pivot points in the history of cross-cultural relations. For Leeanne, whose ancestors received them, they represent souls that need to be healed.

Smoker for pacifying bees

Securing the future of food

As Wendy King explains, smokers like this one pacify the bees so beekeepers can inspect a hive, harvest the honey and – most importantly – protect the bees on which our food security depends. See also this bark painting self-portrait by Jimmy Wululu, Sugarbag Dreaming.

Teddy bear at a window

Freddy the teddy

Vanessa Brennan describes a soft and successful approach to teaching children empathy and responsibility.

Woomera – wooden spear thrower

A feat of engineering

For 52 years June Cashman worked as a nurse. Her most rewarding time was in Aboriginal health in the 'red centre' in the 1960s. She has always treasured the woomera (spearthrower) she was given when she left, reminding her of the knowledge and talents of people then considered 'primitive'.

Bracelet made from blue, white and red beads in a geometric pattern

Blackbirders' bracelet

Rudy Sabbo's grandmother was given this armband or bracelet when, to escaped from an arranged marriage in Vanuatu, she followed her lover on to a blackbirding boat.

skipping rope, coiled

Jump-rope joy

With the holiday season of over-indulgence looming, listen to June Noble describe the fun, healthy pastime of skipping.

A typed script for the Australian television drama, The Sullivans, held in the corner by a woman's hand with red nailpolish

Televisual history

in 1981 Donna Hellier worked to ensure the historical accuracy of The Sullivan's show. She's a second-generation Australian television industry professional – her mother quit because "you couldn't show a pregnant woman on TV in 1958".

Telephone exchange with a number dialler in one corner and over a dozen wires inserted into it. On the wall next to it is a photograph of two women working at a similar exchange.

Between you and me (telephonically)

Remember when (or imagine if!) telephoning someone involved a human Operator and one of these contraptions? Helen Wallace shares some inside knowledge on how it worked.

Woman standing in front of a white-painted Cobb & Co coach

The last Cobb & Co coach

Whew, it's been a long journey for this coach. It was built around 1878, and carried passengers between Surat and Yuleba until 1924. Acquired by the Commonwealth in 1925, it arrived in Canberra in 1927. Then in 1932 it was back in Sydney for the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Restored (with vinyl!) in 1962, it was transferred to the National Museum in 1979. And since March 2013 it's been back in Queensland, on loan to the Cobb & Co Museum. Now – thanks to Janelle Insley – there's a new chapter in its story.

mother of pearl brooch in the shape of Australia, with metal text spelling out 'AIF mother

(AIF) mother (of pearl)

Sometimes it may be better to not know the whole story. Maybe the details are too awful to contemplate. In a way, not knowing also gives you space to wonder and imagine, as this story by Norm Clarke shows.

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