The Society acknowledges the traditional owners of the Irwin Districts, their continuing connection to land, sea and community and pays its respects to elders and their cultures, past and present.

Lost TRADES & SKILLS of The Irwin Districts


what on earth was that used for?

We often hear that life is changing faster now than at any time in history.

This display attempts to identify the loss of once essential trades and skills of the Irwin Districts through a collection of objects owned by tradespeople and local identities.



When the Society asked for donations for its displays at Russ Cottage in 1970 it received no less than nine shoe lasts. Almost every household had one, but by then they were no longer needed and were mostly used as door stops.

The humble cast iron shoe last, used to repair the soles and heels of leather shoes, demonstrates how our need for skills such as repairing shoes and the associated equipment can become completely lost and irrelevant.

If the same request had been made in 1950 its unlikely anyone would have given away their shoe last as it was an indispensable piece of equipment for quick repairs to the family’s leather shoes.

In the intervening years, the non-repairable shoe became the norm, with the introduction of rubber and crepe soles and non-leather uppers.

If you were born after 1970 you were probably wondering what a shoe last was.


Tanks were delivered in pieces, curved sections of corrugated galvanised iron for the sides and flat pieces for the base and top.

The sections were assembled on site by the tank maker. To assemble the tank the punch was used to make holes while the the two sheets were held together, a zinc rivet was pushed into the hole and the sett was used to press the two sheets of iron together. To fix the pieces, the dolly was placed behind the sections and the rivet was hammered flat. To make the tank waterproof, the joins and rivets were covered with lead solder which was melted using a hot soldering iron.

Tankmaking tools

The tools in this display were owned by Reuben Johns, a tank maker in Dongara for many years.


The tinsmith was skilled in turning flat metal sheets into curved objects. Small and large containers used around the home such as ladles, watering cans, milk churns and baths were made by the tinsmith from sheet metal, In the 19th century, tin plate was replaced by longer lasting galvanised iron sheets as seen in the display objects. This material resisted rust and was especially useful for items which were used to hold water,

A Pan, c1890

Galvanised iron pan with handles and spout; used to separate milk and cream.
Made in Dongara by Tim Reynolds.
Donor:     FRANCES REYNOLDS     IROB0252

B Bath, c1900

Tin bath, painted cream and red, has decorative star shaped mouldings made from formed galvanised sheet soldered to the sides and soldered joints. Bath plug attached with chain.
Made in Dongara by Tim Reynolds.
Donor:       FRANCES REYNOLDS     IROB1332

C Watering can, spouts, tank cap, c1920

Handmade galvanised iron and wire watering can and spouts, soldered joints. Spare rose has spray pattern made by nail holes. The decorative tank cap was used on the centre of the roof of an underground water storage tank.

Believed hand made in Dongara by Tim Reynolds, used at East End Dongara by G. I Rowland.
Donor:     JOHN VIVIAN ROWLAND           IROB1332 

D Hot Water Fountain, c1900

Copper with hand soldered joints, used on a wood stove for hot water.

Thomas Reynolds (1865-1939), worked as a tinsmith in Dongara and his work is on display,


Although blacksmithing is traditionally associated with horse shoeing, the blacksmith was often the local welder, wheelwright and metal fabricator, making items such as tools, hinges, wheels, iron tyres and wagon parts. The blacksmith was often the town’s undertaker.

Forging and welding iron was hard manual labour as well as a skilled operation. Blacksmiths used the colour of the hot iron (red hot or white hot) to determine when to work the metal.

In the late 19th century four commercial blacksmith shops were known to be operating around Dongara, many more operated on farms around the district.

Dongara townsite, looking north west about 1900

In town, blacksmith shops were located, behind the Dongara Hotel and at the corner of Martin Street and Moreton Terrace operated by James Delmage (1856-1918) . His shop has the curved roof on the right hand side of the above photograph.

Other blacksmiths working in Dongara were:

  • George Malcolm Attrill(1878-1962)
  • John C Bone (1832-?)
  • William Dodd (1829-1877)
  • Henry George Hinchcliffe
  • Samuel Henry Hope (1854-1927)
  • William John Osborn(1824-1894)
  • Charles Osborn (1864-1936)
  • Edward Thomas Osborn(1850-?)
  • Alfred Thomas Thurkle (1866-1946)

The equipment displayed in the exhibition as shown in the photograph is from Edward Clarkson’s blacksmith’s shop which was located close to Tyford homestead. He also had operated a blacksmith’s shop close to the Irwin River on Clarkson Street.

Edward Clarkson was born in Perth on 26 April 1845 and was apprenticed to Solomon Cook, a well known Perth entrepreneur and engineer who built the first steam boat which operated on the Swan River

In 1875, Edward married Sarah Grant who lived with her parents at Tyford and they had nine children.

As well as his blacksmithing, Edward was a very successful farmer, eventually purchasing Tyford from George Shenton and also purchasing large parcels of land known as Spring Farm, now the Dongara subdivision of Springfield.

Edward was also known for his goldsmithing, creating wedding rings from gold sovereigns at his forge at Tyford. One ring was made for his daughter Elizabeth for her marriage to David Brand in 1903.

The only extant commercial blacksmith’s shop in the Irwin Districts is located at the Old East End. This limestone rubble, timber and corrugated iron building was used by the Osborn family from about 1867 to 1900 and is now listed on the WA State Heritage Register. There is a twin forge and the two bellows are housed in a seperate ‘bellows’ room’. This is a unique design feature design to prevent fires which were an ever present danger in the bklacksmith’s shop.

Osborn’s Blacksmith shop showing the forge and twin bellows
(Photo: Graham Grundy)

William John Osborn (1824-1894) arrived in WA on 25 May 1858 on the “Emma Eugenia” with his wife Sarah nee Newton

Sarah nee Newton and her four children arrived with William. she was trained as a nurse and midwife in London and her skills were much in demand.

Osborn Family Blacksmith Shop. East End Dongara
(Photo: Graham Grundy)


  • A Wheelbarrow wheel.
  • B Wagon part with a twist and hand made bolts.
  • C Two gate hinges and one strap hinge with welds.
  • D Two wagon parts with twist and weld
  • E Bucket handle.
  • F Gauge with pigtail handle.
  • G Six hand forged nails.

In the early 1870s William was contracted to shoe the Dongara police horses. The Dongara occurrence Book of 1870 records that on 20 July 1870 “….PC Goodwin gave William Osborne a requisition for two new shoes for police horse ‘High Flyer’..”


The skill of making or repairing items with fencing wire was called “wire twitching”.

Items twitched from fence wire

Fencing wire was made into cake coolers, toasting forks, soap savers and clothes lines for the home. During the Great Depression in the early 1930s, unemployed men made these items as they walked from town to town looking for work, using the item in exchange for food. The farmer used wire to repair machinery, make ‘cocky’ gates (gates using wire instead of proper hinges) and rabbit skin drying frames.

A “twitch” of wire was often used to divine for water.

Many a farmer arrived home with a coat or trouser fastener made from a small piece of fencing wire, the button having mysteriously disappeared.

Wire was even used for fences.

MACKLING or Making Do

Farming life was hard, shortages common, with little spare money. Men and women became adept at using what was at hand to create or mend tools, gadgets or furniture, rather than replace with new.

Handles replace on tools, examples of mackling

The secret of mackling is the keeping everything with the promise that one day it could be reused to repair another item or itself receive a recycled part.

The mackler’s work bench, that special part was always there, if only you could find it!

Kerosene, a common fuel for lighting and heating, arrived on the farm in two four-gallon tins, two to a box. The empty tins were used as buckets and storage containers. Many a geranium struggled for life in a spare kero tin.

The wooden pine box soon was used to make furniture such as stools, cupboards, chairs and cabinets.

There’s fun to be had and more Lost Trades to learn about at the Irwin District Museum . . . .

5 Waldeck St
Dongara WA 6525
☎ 08 99271323
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