Blast from the past: sounds of the Lachlan Vintage Village digitised

"Any holiday time, any weekend ... there'll be more trains, more steam trains, running between Forbes and Parkes on that railway line than ever at any time in history.

"There'll be thousands of people coming from all round Australia to see the Lachlan Vintage Village and to travel on this railway, a great idea."

The bold words of Gough Whitlam as the then Prime Minister officially opened the Lachlan Vintage Village on May 17, 1975 say so much about the passion and dreams of the community for the venture.

And now audio recording of the Prime Minister speaking to the crowds that gathered in Forbes that day has been digitised not only with our local council but at the Museum and Family History Group as well.

Mayor Phyllis Miller presented copies to the other organisations at Thursday's council meeting.

Rob Willis, Forbes local and oral historian with the National Library of Australia, has taken on the task of digitising the sounds of the Village from the original reel-to-reel audio so they can be archived in the Library as well as locally.

He's also captured the soundscapes of each building: for those who remember (and those who don't) these are the songs and stories that played when you pushed the button in each exhibit.

The stories of O'Meally's Tavern, the blacksmith, the miner's hut, the medical hall.

But these sounds - such an incredible tribute to the to the vision and work of so many locals - could easily have been lost.

Reel-to-reel audio tapes, professional audio cartridges and photographs were found in boxes in the old village - closed to the public in 2004 - during the council's work to transform it into our Visitor Information Centre.

Had they languished out there much longer, Mr Willis says, they would have been beyond restoration.

The opening of the Vintage Village and the sounds of O'Meally's Shanty.

Hearing Mr Whitlam's inspiring words from a distance of 46 years, it's hard not to wonder what happened to those plans and hopes.

Mr Willis reflects that the Village wasn't the only venture of its type at the time that has since closed its gates and there were a lot of contributing factors.

"Many of them have folded - Old Sydney Town is gone," he acknowledged.

"Over the years we have recorded people from these pioneer villages - from Old Timber Town at Wauchope, from Swan Hill, performers from Old Sydney Town."

Mr Willis remembers the opening celebrations well: his band, Blackridge Bush Band, played for the arrival of the Bayer Garrett engine which was brought down Bathurst Street on temporary tracks.

The Forbes M and D packed out Town Hall for weeks with their performance of Reedy River, the first Australian folk musical telling the story of the shearers strike of 1891.

He said it was "amazing" to uncover and listen to the audio of the era, even if the technical process did have its challenges.

"It is a huge part of the cultural history of Forbes," he said.

Mr Whitlam foresaw families travelling from one to the other - from Old Sydney Town at Gosford to Bathurst, Bendigo,

"If you go within 20 or 30 miles of (Forbes) there was an immense amount of history and now, it's being brought together so people can see it in very good, attractive stimulating conditions," he said.

"I can well imagine that parents who want to see that their children have interesting, stimulating, wholesome holidays will drive round this sort of circuit.

"But to make it live, you've got to get the community involved, it's a big industry this is.

"And now the community of Forbes, the whole of the Lachlan region, can be really proud indeed of what they've done and what they've got to show."

Those early years were incredible indeed, and the Advocate last year had the privilege of sharing some of the photos taken by the Village's original education officer Richard Cox and the memories of his children.

John Meagher had a photography studio there, the blacksmith demonstrated his trade, you could work the Long Tom in the gold mining village and watch the big horses work the land.

Cr Michele Herbert, chair of the council's heritage committee, said it gave her great pleasure to introduce the "marvellous piece of heritage that we've discovered out at the Vintage Village" sharing a short video Mr Willis put together.

"I remember going out there when I was in Year 5, I was at the opening as a young student who didn't really think much about heritage at the time," she said.

"I was made to wear a gingham dress and a white top with a bonnet ... and I just wasn't that impressed," she acknowledged.

"But as I've got older I've come to realise that we're a reflection of our heritage as we grow: the people we are in our town, we are shaped by our community and the things that have happened in the past."

Visiting the Village first as a student, later as a teacher, she spoke of the audio reels that brought the displays to life, particularly remembering the jaunty tune and tale of O'Meally's Tavern.

"I vividly remember it," she said. "I remember thinking what amazing technology that was at the time."

She thanked Mr Willis for his work to keep this history alive.

Indeed it was, Mr Willis says the sound system alone cost $20,000 and in the 1970s that was a very significant investment.

"It was state of the art at the time," he said.

More of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam's speech at the opening of the Lachlan Vintage Village.

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