21st Australiana Virtual Show and Tell Report


Wool bale stencil

Wool bale stencil: S570 with map of Australia 20 x17.5 cm

This synthetic fabric stencil used to provide an identity mark on wool bales was acquired at a car boot sale in South Australia. Wanting to learn more about the stencil, the new owner contacted the National Wool Museum in Geelong. Their response was that the stencil could be from a depot shed – a central place where multiple different stations bring their sheep for shearing. Then each station would be given an internal identification number. As it has a map of Australia it was most likely used to apply an export stamp. Unfortunately, we do not know what the numbers mean or the place of origin. It is not an ‘old school’ classer’s stencil as most of those have individual registration numbers for the originating station. Classers’ stencils typically have the full name or a recognisable abbreviation of the station name. The NWM have a very similar example to the above but theirs has the number 34.

Although this stencil is not a family one, the purchaser’s interest arose from his own family history as his grandfather and grandfather’s brothers ran sheep stations in SA during the first half of the 20th century. Their first property was acquired in 1915 and was called Uno Station, located near Port Augusta. Their next property was Millers Creek (700k NW of Adelaide) where in 1939, 28,700 sheep were shorn, for 986 bales of wool. Also in the 1930s, his family purchased a further two properties near Port Augusta and there they shore some 12,000 sheep, making the family business the largest woolgrower for Dalgety’s in SA during the 1930s.


Tasmanian armless rocking chair made of blackwood  

George Peddle, an unusual armless rocking chair, thought to be a mother’s nursing chair, circa 1900

The armless design meant that a mother could nurse and rock her baby in a comfortable feeding position.

Peddle chairs are recognised by most Tasmanians. Modelled on the English Windsor chairs, they were made by George Peddle (1855 – 1933) who arrived in Tasmania in 1884, and his brother-in-law, Harry Hearn (1856 – 1932) who arrived in 1895. Both men were born in Buckinghamshire, the home of the Windsor chair, and the Peddle and Hearn families were both chairmakers in England.

George made chairs at Austins Ferry, now a suburb of Hobart (from approx 1886 to 1888), Launceston (1888 to 1894) and Nabowla (1895 to approx 1925). Harry worked in Nabowla (1895 to approx 1925).

This chair displays several of the characteristics of Peddle chairs. It is made entirely from blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) and the seat is made from a single wide board (beware later copies made from more than one board).

Another identifying character is that there are clusters of small holes around each leg on the under-side of the seat. These were caused during the shaping of the seats as they were mounted on nail points protruding from a board. The under-side of the seat also shows fine, closely spaced, regular and parallel saw marks across the width of the board, produced by the vertical breaking down saw when the wide boards were cut. The top half-bead above the three rings of the leg turning profile appears to flow into a taper indicating the chair may have been made by George rather than Harry.

This chair came from Scottsdale near Nabowla. It had reportedly been with the same family since it was made and is the only known example.

Reference: Denis Lake, The Men Who Made the Celebrated Chairs, Windsor-chair making in Tasmania, Pagunta Press, 2016.


Framed decorative plasterwork specimen/display panel

Panel 71 x 21, frame 83 x 33 (cm). Detail: Sphinx head

The panel depicts two acanthoid creatures: a winged sphinx holds a shield ahead while her body disappears into acanthus swirls, behind her, a dragon’s head is camouflaged within a flowering acanthus plant. The sphinx’s shield is printed with an almost legible name. If any reader knows this name, it would be of great interest to the owner of the panel.

The stained imported oak (Quercus sp.) frame and gold slip are typical of the early C20th and suggest the panel is a display piece. It might have been a teaching example, a sales specimen or an exhibition submission (or all three).

Picture research online by the owner located a very similar carved blackwood panel by Robert Prenzel sold by Leonard Joel, 3.6.2012. Prenzel is primarily known as a wood carver, but Terence Lane records that when he first arrived in Australia in 1888 he worked as a modeller of architectural terracotta (1).

The owner has heard occasional opinions that Prenzel also worked in decorative plaster but can find no documentation of that. The owner nonetheless believes that this plaster panel is related to that blackwood example. The image of the Prenzel work referred to is copyright so cannot be reproduced here but can be seen on Carter’s website (2).

A heritage expert plasterer has noted that the panel would have been moulded in a gelatine mould from a carved clay model, another possible connection to Prenzel.

  1. Terence Lane, Robert Prenzel 1866-1941: his life and work. Melbourne: NGV, 1994.
  2. https://www.carters.com.au/index.cfm/index/11049-prenzel-robert- wilhelm-australia-1866-1941-furniture-and-carving/ Sold Leonard Joel, 3.6.2012; illus in T. Lane, Robert Prenzel 1866-1941: his life and work, Melbourne: NGV, 1994


May Gibbs, Dr Stork poster  

May Gibbs, circa 1930 (in this iteration) Dr Stork poster Size of print 56.5 x 41 (cm).

The State Library of NSW (SLNSW) refers to this image as “[Dr Stork poster, 1918] / May Gibbs [1918]” which indicates that the ‘title’ above is a descriptor rather than an original title.

SLNSW website states that the image was originally used in a poster produced for the Royal Society for the Welfare of Mothers and Babies in 1918. This poster was a later version, circa 1930 reproduced by the New South Wales Department of Public Health on maternal and baby welfare, who used it both as a book cover and poster.

Reference: May Gibbs, mother of the gumnuts, her life and work. Maureen Walsh. North Ryde, N.S.W.: Angus & Robertson, 1985. Vol.1 (pp.7 & 126)


Jewellers’ travel case

Maker unknown, nineteenth century. Size H: 29 x 30.5 x 22.5 (cm)

An early Victorian travelling jeweller’s box of sturdy construction, with an ingenious locking mechanism (shown) consisting of a steel rod traversing all the drawer fronts making them accessible only by unlocking the lid of the box and removing the steel rod.

Similar locking pins were sometimes used in desks, although those were usually controlled simply by opening and closing a lid.

The timber used in the construction is debatable: one suggestion is silver banksia (Banksia marginata), but one editor believes that, from the colour, northern silky oak (Cardwellia sublimis) is also a possibility. The secondary timber is believed to be kauri (Agathis species).

A small plastic bag in the box (not shown) houses a small old cut diamond which was discovered in the box after purchase at Daylesford Antique Fair. Unfortunately, the diamond is of not great commercial value but an interesting part of the story and supports the description of the original usage of the box.


Red cedar blanket box

Maker unknown, nineteenth century blanket box
Size: 49.5 x 94 x 54 (cm)

This box came from the Blackwood family home in Beecroft, Sydney. The house was built in 1908 at 8 Beecroft Rd Beecroft and was called ‘Marabar’. The house was classified by the National Trust in 1979 and has now been renamed ‘Blackwood House’.

James Blackwood (1832-1916) of Glasgow, Scotland, arrived in Australia in 1863 with a wife and 3 children. In 1878, James, an engineer, founded his own business, J. Blackwood and Sons, to supply shipwrights and engineers. That important Australian business continues today.

The current owner purchased the box in the 1960s.

The blanket box has an interior lidded candle tray (as is usual for these items) and brass carry handles. The lid has what are called breadboard ends, which are a common treatment to prevent the endgrain of the board from being exposed. Exposed endgrain can lead to splitting.

It is well-made with dovetail joints. These functional pieces are very difficult to date exactly. The brass handles (not shown) are of a design used and reproduced throughout the nineteenth century. The nail holes in the trim on the lid argues for a late 19th or early 20th century date.


Carved photo frame

Robert Prenzel, 1901, frame carved as a dragon holding a shield with an oval aperture. Size 45 x 30 (cm)

This oak (Quercus or a related species) photo frame, carved by Robert Prenzel and dated 1901, appeared as the shop sign in the window of his premises at 4 Sturt Street, South Melbourne. The frame was purchased by a Mrs Glendenning from Prenzel, and the current photo in the frame is Mr Glendenning.

A photo of the frame was published in Terry Lane’s Robert Prenzel 1886-1941: his life and work, published by the National Gallery of Victoria in 1994.

By the early 20th century both North American Quercus species and Japanese species in the same order of the plant family (Fagaceae) with similarly large medullary rays were in common use. These related timbers are easy to carve and shape and have an attractive figure so were shipped around the world. There was a lot of international trade in both speciality timbers and construction timbers from at least the 18th century.


And now for something completely different!

Michael Gill, 2023, Sydney Harbour Bridge Cocktail Cabinet. Photos: John Lee

The West side. The maker, Michael Gill behind the deck in his red shirt gives an idea of the scale.
LENGTH: just under 5 metres;
HEIGHT: just under 2.5 metres, not including flags;
WIDTH: 1.7 metres.
NUMBER OF RIVETS: Oops, I forgot to make rivets – I’ll have to start again… (Real Bridge: 6 million rivets).

For those of us (this editor -DB – normally included) who only like ‘old stuff’ our apologies. But we simply couldn’t resist this wonderful item, a piece of modern-day Australiana that we think will become an antique of the future. The artistry, the timbers, the techniques all come together to make this WOW. We don’t have International exhibitions of decorative arts anymore, but, if we did, this would be an exhibition piece to knock their socks off!

The East side

The style is industrial Art Deco. Below the deck are 13 views of the Harbour foreshores in coloured glass. 7 on the west side and 6 on the east. Below them, mosaic panels feature Sydney Harbour’s underwater life. Between them, the 2 panels total around 90 animals and plants. Those flags atop the pylons are White Beech (Gmelina leichhardtii) carved from the charred remains of verandah posts I salvaged after a house fire in Drummoyne in the 1970s.

The three main timbers, in solid and veneer form, are Art Deco favourites: Qld. Maple (Flindersia brayleyana),
Qld Walnut (Endiandra palmerstonii) and North Qld. Silky Oak (Cardwellia sublimis)
Much of the solid timber came from an old, pre-war, coffin-maker’s collection and most of the veneers were sliced in the 1920s and 30s.
L.E.D. lights throughout, both 12 volts and 24 volts.

The most popular spirits, liqueurs and mixers are in the pylons and fitted with dispensers. It is an “island” cabinet – staff mix and serve cocktails from both sides and ends.

At age 17, Michael was booked for speeding on the Bridge, driving his first car, a Morris Minor! Perhaps that explains his obsession (and given that the early MM motors were only 850cc it must have taken some doing – Ed).

If you like the look of this there is a video on YouTube that shows more. Because that video contains a sale advertisement, we cannot include the link in an Australiana publication.

Honorary editors: David Bedford, Mike Dalton and Susan Webster, 9 March 2023.

All members are encouraged to send in photographs, dimensions and descriptions of their own items for inclusion in the forthcoming VS&T issues. For copyright reasons artworks younger than 50-years from the death of their creator cannot be used unless the specific written approval of the creator or their authorised representative has been obtained. Please send only items that you intend to retain in your own or a family collection, not items that you are planning to sell. The Australiana Society board’s policies prevent free advertising, even from members.

Please take photographs of the items on/against a plain background, preferably white, so that the items stand out. The newer mobile smartphone cameras can produce adequate quality images for the VS&T.


  1. Clear, in focus photograph of item on plain (preferably white) background
  2. Description/name of item
  3. Dimensions in centimetres – height x width x depth (i.e., front to back)
  4. Any information that you have including seller’s description when you have retained it.
  5. Any questions that you would like answered about the item (the editors will do their bestbut are far from all-knowing).
  6. Where appropriate, the written approval of an artist for the artwork to be published onthe Australiana website.