Timbertown is an authentic heritage township, where the horse and carriage still runs, timber is still sawn and the bullock team still hauls its heavy load. With its future still unknown, Chrissy Jones talks to 13 year old volunteer Mary-Anne about her role at Timbertown as a young bullocky driver and why the park means so much to her and many other volunteer groups.
Timbertown is considered by many to be one of Australia’s finest Heritage Parks. Since opening in 1976, approximately 2,000,000 people have visited the park from all parts of Australia and from around the world.
Apart from the Heritage significance the park offers, it is also part of a lot of people’s day to day lives. Many volunteers give up countless hours of their time for the love of the park; they have a passion that is sometimes hard to explain. One such group is the Timbertown Youth Performing Arts Troupe. As a member of the troupe you learn more than acting skills – you also learn communication skills and great team work.
The Friends of Timbertown are another dedicated band of people who love Timbertown Heritage Theme Park at Wauchope, are committed to its ongoing maintenance and growth along with the collation and care of the many artefacts that preserve the character and history of Wauchope’s important timber era.
They are easily recognised – the band of people dressed in colonial costume walking around Timbertown, ready for a chat, or you may find them demonstrating some of the fading crafts such as weaving, knitting or embroidery. Friends are very visible at the park every Tuesday and Thursday in period costume, talking to visitors, cataloguing previous items, cleaning displays and generally adding character and warmth to this recreated timbertown village of the 1880s.
They are so valuable to the park, just like the many other volunteer groups and individuals that call Timbertown home, including the Hastings Valley Fine Arts Group, Blacksmith Artisans Association, Hastings Wood Workers Guild, Timbertown Steam and Oil Engine Club, Timbertown Miniature Railway and the mod engineer, Wauchope Historical Society, Men’s shed, coordinated by Peter Nash and Work for the dole initiatives by Phil Pittis.
The skills and the historical facts these groups offer the public and the park are priceless. Timbertown is a passion to many and should be preserved.
One very special volunteer who shows a dedication far beyond her years is Mary-Anne Warner – Australia’s youngest bullocky. She can handle, yoke, unyoke and work a bullock team better than most, and she is just 13 years of age!
Although originally starting at the heritage theme park as part of the Timbertown Performing Arts Troupe, she is now bullocky Craig Lockwood’s offsider.
> Mary-Anne, tell us a little about yourself and how you volunteer your time.
I am 13 years old, am in year 7 at West Port High School, live at Telegraph Point and I volunteer my spare time at Timbertown. I go to Timbertown every weekend and I am there for pretty much all of the holidays. Any time I have spare, I go! I love it!
> How did you become involved with the activities at Timbertown?
I started out in the Timbertown Youth Theatre Troupe (who also volunteer their time) 2 years ago. I used to dress up and learn skits and go around the park acting. I would dress up in 1880s style and did skipping, egg and spoon races, and I loved it as well.
Then I saw the bullocks and realised that there were whips involved. I went up there not knowing what a whip was and decided to have a go. That was when I met Craig Lockwood – the bullocky at Timbertown.
> You’ve gone on to develop a new role at Timbertown with Craig’s help and encouragement – tell us about that?
For months I used to practice and practice cracking whips, and Craig got me to help him teach other people how to crack a whip, because I always dress in period costume. I thought I was pretty cool!
Then he got me to clean the streets and pick up every bit of bullock manure. I started to hang around him because I liked the whips, and I started to get an interest in the bullocks. I was amazed at how powerful and big they were.
Over the past year, Craig has become a mentor and my best mate. I like working with him very much, and he has taught me a lot.
> You’ve become Craig’s ‘offsider’ and you certainly dress the part. What does that entail?
I copy the way Craig dresses – I think we look awesome! After hanging around Craig for a few months, he said to me, “You have been around me long enough now girl; I am going to turn you into an offsider.”
An offsider is a person who works on the off side of the bullock team and helps the bullock driver drive the team. An offsider is always supervised as I am by our bullock driver, Craig Lockwood. I have been with the bullocks for just over a year now, and I love it!
> Being the youngest person to work with and handle a bullock team in the whole of Australia, you must have a real passion for animals?
You have to be able to love them, otherwise it doesn’t work. I have a favourite bullock called Dusty. Dusty has a broken horn, which happened while he was working in the bush. He hit a tree, and the horn snapped clean off!
He is so quiet and docile. I love him! Dusty got his name because he was born on the same day that Slim Dusty died.
> The trust between the bullock and its handler doesn’t happen overnight. How long has it taken to learn your trade?
I started in June last year, just hanging around for a bit getting to know the commands and telling the bullocks apart. They get used to you, because I’m here every weekend pretty much and all the holidays. I’ll go into the yards and talk to them; they get used to you after a while.
You’ve just got to have good balance, patience and you’ve just got to be able to, like, you wiggle your hips to move them over – it’s just balance.
(Yoking up the bullocks looks like a hard part of a bullocky’s job. Some weigh on average 900 kg, but the young offsider says it’s not too hard.)
> You really enjoy working with the bullocks, Mary-Anne. What’s your motivation for your devotion – would you like to go on to become a bullocky?
I suppose to keep the history and the dying trade alive. I want to be a paramedic when I grow up, but I’ll stay here for a while until Craig kicks me out.
> With all the rumours circulating about the imminent closure of Timbertown, what are your thoughts? If it did happen, what would this mean to you?
Gee, that’s a hard one! I would be devastated if the park closed!
I don’t think that it will happen, because there are so many people fighting for the place. If the park closed I would have to go hunting for a person who drives bullocks like Harold Blanch in Bulahdelah to hang out with. If it does close, I will still stay friends with everyone and keep in touch.
Thank you Mary-Anne.