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The Mystery of Willmott’s Shed

“And the shed is merry the livelong day”

THE TWO DEVINES, Banjo Patterson.

Our Australian landscaped is decorated with sheets of rusty corrugated iron sliding from their original mounting posts, their disposal left to the discretion of the elements.

Corrugated iron was invented in the 1920’s by Henry Robinson Palmer, a British engineer who incidentally invented the first monorail. By the 1850’s galvanization was applied to slow down rust and corrosion, and by the end of the nineteenth century iron had been replaced by steel. Australia became the leading export market for the British corrugated iron industry in the mid nineteenth century and was producing galvanized steel products by the early twentieth century.

Immortalized in bush poetry, the Aussie shed clad in corrugated iron played an important role in the colonization of Australia. It’s water tight, strong, light weight, easy to transport and only requires a semi-skilled labourer to install. We’ve used it as a roofing material, to build commercial and industrial buildings, dunnies and even churches.

Perhaps you are familiar with these iconic Toowoomba sheds.

First appearing on a council rates notice in 1951, a current employee informed me this shed is built from black market corrugate and was originally intended to be a Holden dealership. Gordon Hopgood Motors occupied the shed from 1964 and it is currently occupied by Power’s Smash Repairs. During World War II corregate and other building materials were difficult to get and were sold on the black market.

The Texas Co. (Aust) Ltd., purchased the land for this shed in 1929. By 1930 there was a dwelling and depot on the site. In 1954 The Texas Co. (Aust) Ltd. changed its name to Caltex Oil Pty Ltd. R.C. Ziegler Monumentals is the current occupant. Rudolph Charles Ziegler established R.C. Ziegler and Son’s in Toowoomba in 1902 along with his son, Roland Ziegler. They originally operated in Ruthven Street, opposite St Luke's and later moved to Russell Street before relocating to Mort Street. The picture on the right is a gang saw. This saw featured in an advertisement for R.C. Ziegler & Sons in the Toowoomba Chronicle, 29 February 1928. The saw is no longer used; however, it still occupies pride of place in the R.C. Ziegler Monumentals shed.

Martins Spare Parts at 2 Brutnell Street and was probably built around 1961. Martin’s Spare Parts was listed in the 1947 Chronicle business directory at 290 Ruthven Street (currently I-Ride Bikes).

Willmott's shed, facing Austral Lane, is a curiosity featuring in my Legal Precinct tour. I thought there must be a story attached to this old girl, sadly little is known of her history. The residence next to the shed is facing Burstow Street (No. 2) and was constructed in 1910. The third owner was Jessie Mary Harper (nee Willmott). The rates notice indicate she purchased the property in 1953 and lived there with her husband, Charles Harper, and her two sisters, Lucy and Ada Willmott.

Lucy and Ada were renting the property by 1949. Jessie’s oldest son, Keith Willmott, also lived there in 1949 before relocating to 6 Burstow Street with his wife Olga. Jessie’s second son, Desmond Harper, is not recorded on the election records at that time. Prior to this, the 1943 election records place the Willmott women in Herries Street with their father. Looking into the background of the Willmott women and Keith, it is unlikely that the shed would have been used by them for commercial purposes. Jessie’s father was Matthew Willmott and he is listed on the election records as a carter/contractor. He passed away in 1945.

So why did the Willmotts put their name on the shed?

Docplayernet. 2018. Docplayernet. [Online]. [28 June 2018]. Available from: http://docplayer.net/37821350-Recording-historic-corrugated-iron-a-guide-to-techniques-dirk-hr-spennemann.html

Mdhsorgau. 2018. Mdhsorgau. [Online]. [28 June 2018]. Available from: https://www.mdhs.org.au/pdfs/Granite/Set_in_Stone.pdf

Gracesguidecouk. 2018. Gracesguidecouk. [Online]. [28 June 2018]. Available from: https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Henry_Robinson_Palmer