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Lorraine’s dedication to history (and olives) is yielding a golden harvest for Harden

John Thistleton 3 March 2020
Lorraine Brown

Lorraine Brown, left, at one of numerous community events she has organised. Photo: Keith Ward.

A small olive grove planted in Harden Murrumburrah 22 years ago is fulfilling Greek mythology, of rich fruits and golden harvests, while its owners’ fascination with local history is also yielding rich fruit.

Lorraine and Michael Brown planted 400 saplings and continued planting for several years until 2000 silver-leafed trees were rising and spreading. A long-term venture, the olives have already won medals at Royal Canberra shows.

As patiently and purposefully as setting out the olive grove, Lorraine also began digging into local history at the same time. The fruit of that passion is helping to build the Harden community’s knowledge of its past and sense of identity.

Lorraine’s research has already either triggered or underpinned anniversary celebrations, new projects and sharper awareness of European history. As a result, many thousands of dollars in funding have flowed into the twin towns, light planes have dropped from the skies to land there, men and women have modelled period costumes, and parades have commemorated the region’s proud military history.

To see Lorraine take up an anniversary, as she did in 1997 to commemorate the centenary of the first muster of the light horse at Murrumburrah, is like watching a general going into battle.

Locals say never stand between Lorraine Brown and her ideas. She is fearless and inspirational. Her friend Robyn Atherton says the only reason Lorraine stopped her work as a shire councillor was she needed more elbow room.

As a consequence of Lorraine’s work with other locals resurrecting the Light Horse legend, the Commercial Hotel has been re-named the Light Horse Hotel, two nationally significant statues have been created and a $200,000-plus extension is underway on the Harden Murrumburrah Historical Museum.

Robyn says Lorraine’s determination was evident when she returned to her hometown from Sydney with Michael.

“It was like, ‘I have come home, I’m getting stuck in.’ I think that has been her thing from the start,” Robyn says. “She is that sort of person who sees much more than what is in front of her and takes five or six of us who are active in the society on the journey,” Robyn says.

When Robyn wrote her book on Chinese migrants, They were more than just gold diggers: the Chinese of Murrumburrah and surrounding districts 1860s – 1960s, Lorraine swung into action raising money and repairing headstones which were adorned with identifying plaques.

When complete, the expanded museum will accommodate the late Brian Dunn’s military collection of mostly light horse artefacts from the Boer War and World Wars I and II.

“We wanted to keep the collection in town,” says Lorraine. “A lot comes from local people. We didn’t want to see it put into the archives at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and nobody ever seeing it. We are hoping for a partnership with the War Memorial, to get Light Horse founder Major General Kenneth Mackay’s uniforms on display in our museum. It is a shame nobody ever sees these things,” she says.

Lorraine’s West End gift shop also became a meeting place for brainstorming to create perennial, history-focussed events for thousands of local people and tourists.

It’s the reason Blue Mountains author David Wilcox turned to her to help launch The Truckie Who Loved Trains. Centred on Ken Thomas, the son of a steam engine driver born in Murrumburrah, Wilcox’s book recounts the founding years of Thomas Nationwide Transport. Lorraine readily agreed and enlisted the Historic Truck and Tractor Club. After the initial show, the club has hosted an annual historic truck and tractor show ever since.

Light aircraft in Murrumburrah

Light aircraft in Murrumburrah helping celebrate the 100- year anniversary of Australia’s first air mail flight. Lorraine is front, left. Photo: Keith Ward.

In 2014 Lorraine organised centenary celebrations of the first airmail flight from Melbourne to Sydney. Planes from Temora’s air museum commemorated the historic 1914 flight when French stunt pilot Maurice Guillaux flew a Blériot monoplane to beat the time a steam train took over the same journey. Following the railway line, he had to land frequently to re-fuel, including on the former Murrumburrah racecourse.

Today, the Browns’ Cunningar olive oil is sold throughout the Harden Murrumburrah district and donated for numerous community events. Each autumn for six weeks, Lorraine and Michael harvest the trees with hand-held mechanical pickers. “We are happy to continue what we are doing,” says Lorraine. “We will be looking to sell at some stage. We’re both well into our 70s. Age is starting to catch up a little bit with us, now.”


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