People

Bert Egan with school children

Bert Egan

1892 – 1984

Bert Egan with School Children Bert Laurence Melbourne Egan was born in 1892 at Rockton, south of Bombala and lkater attended school at Towamba.

Learning the skills from his father and grandfather, Bert later became a well known horseman and bullock driver. At one time he used to bring loads of wool down Big Jack Mountain, with a team of 22 bullocks “because there wasn’t any other way to go”. Bert volunteered for WWI and became a member of the 12th Light Horse, 20th Battalion, 2nd Division of Australian Soldiers and served in France, Belgium and Egypt. He was wounded three times, sent to England to recover, then sent straight back to the front. He had shrapnel removed from his leg after the war and continued to suffer from “trench foot”.

In 1920, he returned to Australia and married Emma Thompson, a Bermagui girl. They settled in Sydney and Bert became a tram driver, an occupation he continued for 30 years. When the trams ceased operating, Bert retired to Eden together with his second wife, Alma.

In the 1950s, the museum was making little money and could not fund a paid position so caretaker at the time, Doug Hepburn, asked Bert if he would be interested in assisting at the museum. Bert took up the challenge and brought much joy to the visitors who passed through the museum’s doors. His love of history and enthusiasm in sharing his stories made Bert a significant icon of the museum and to this day, visitors continue to ask about him and share their memories of Bert’s tours.

He passed away in 1984 and is greatly missed by all who knew him. Bert’s headstone reads: ‘Vet of 1st AIF. Beloved story teller and curator of Eden Museum’

Alex & Rose McKenzie, 1993 EKWM Foundation Stone laying

J.A.S. (Alex) McKenzie O.A.M.

1911 – 1998

James Alexander Smith McKenzie was born in Richmond, Victoria on the 5th December 1911. Alex served in the Army in New Guinea during the Second World War, during which time he found himself standing on a live mine which he managed to disarm himself.

Following the War he took a correspondence course in building and draughting, while remaining with the Army in the Recruiting Publicity Unit. Defence Forces Reg No. V27636 (WWII).

At the age of 46 he felt he required formal education so successfully completed his intermediate certificate by correspondence. At the age of 55 he built his own home after teaching himself bricklaying and other associated skills. Alex moved to Eden in around 1983, and after only five years of being in the community was awarded Apex’s Eden Citizen of the Year for his voluntary work.

As well as a self-taught builder, he was also a self-taught poet, artist and signwriter, and Alex volunteered his skills to rejuvenate the museum’s displays, as well as other community projects boosting tourism and infrastructure. A shipping container became his studio in which he created the mosaics that adorn the ‘Cavalcade of History’ wall. They depict Twofold Bay’s significant moments in history through ‘The First Australians’, the killer whale legend, early transport, the hazards of whaling, and the staple industries of timber getting, mining, farming and fishing.

Erected temporarily only a few months before his passing in 1998, Alex’s mosaics continue to tell the story in the rejuvenated promenade on the museum’s boundary which was completed in 2011. On special occasions these are lit to glimmer beautifully at night.

In 1997, Alex was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for ‘service to the community and the arts as a painter and illustrator, particularly through the Eden Killer Whale Museum’. The last line of Alex’s headstone reads “a busy, useful life’.

Phil McGrath - Morsecodian

 

Phil McGrath

1934 – 2015

Phil McGrath was one of the few surviving links to the Morse Code communication system which dominated Australia for over 100 years – a living exponent of the almost extinct art of telegraphy and one of the last practicing Morse Code operators in NSW.

With more than 50 years experience as a telegraphist Phil was able to offer visitors to the Eden Killer Whale Museum a chance to see how the telegraphy equipment on display at the museum actually worked – bringing his warm and engaging presence to an exhibit exploring Eden’s significant communications heritage.

With his wife Val, and a young family Phil took a permanent position at Eden Post Office in the early 1950’s. In the absence of a reliable and adequate telephone connection, the telegraph was the only means to get rapid communication. The telegraphists wrist conveyed all the important information from the personal to the public.

Phil sent the last Morse code telegraphy message from Eden in 1962. Despite completing the required PMG form for the decommissioned gear to be transferred to Government stores, the equipment which had been in use in Eden since the late nineteenth century was somehow never picked up and subsequently found its way into the Eden Killer Whale Museum. It was here almost 30 years later Phil wandered into the museum, saw the old ‘key’ he used and suggested ‘you know I should come in one day and wire that up and get it working.’

Two days a week, from 1995 to 2014, Phil provided a live, face to face understanding of the importance of Morse Code telegraphy as well as also explaining how it actually worked using 19th century equipment. He was in regular communication with telegraphists around Australia and was one of the few still operating in NSW.

The museum significantly benefited from Phil’s involvement in other organisations in Eden; especially the Eden Cemetery Committee and the Mary MacKillop Hall Committee with collaboration on research, displays and records.

Phil was awarded Life Membership of the Eden Killer Whale Museum in 2013 with a large crowd of friends and family attending to see him being honoured. His cheerful outlook and  positive attitude are always remembered.