Bells: Connecting Animals, People, and Land: Australia
“The continent I worked on most was Australia. It closely parallels the United States in both settlement patterns and the development of bells. Australian bells developed primarily around the coastal fringe where Europeans first arrived and started raising animals. They wanted to keep track of their oxen and their milk cows. Gradually, people spread into the more arid regions with livestock much like we did here in the United States.
“In general, the coastal fringe is more humid. All the capital cities are near the coasts. Most of the original settlement was along the east coast, known as the high rainfall or farm belt. Moving towards the dryer interior areas, you enter the low rainfall or sheep/wheat belt and then eventually into the arid/semi-arid belt, which is mostly rangelands.”
“There were blacksmiths who developed reputations for building bells for oxen and those that built bells for camels. Australia is one of the only places in the world that I know of where camels pulled wagon trains. As many as six to eight camels were harnessed to a wagon. These 'ships' carried goods much like the oxen did for the American West.
“Camels were abandoned with the coming of the motorcar and truck transport. Similar to what we did with horses in this country, which formed our wild horse and mustang herds, camels were left to fend for themselves in the outback. Today, large herds are developing, moving into the more settled areas and causing damage. Along with wild horses (brumbies) and donkeys, camels are one of the main feral animals in Australia.”
“High Tea on a Sheep Station”
“Sheep stations are part of the culture of rangeland Australia. They usually had a homestead or house, and many times they were quite elaborate. Many had china and silver shipped from England.
“The Belele Station, near Meekathara, Western Australia, sheared 50,000 sheep each spring. I had been out there working with CSIRO colleagues. We stayed with local families at their sheep station and slept in their guest room. I was notified ahead of time to take a coat and tie, not typical field gear, since we would be dressing for dinner. Each evening men and women dressed in their finer clothes. Everyone came and sat down for high tea, some drinks and then regrouped at the dinner table. It was like make believe. The lady of the house did the cooking herself; once she had cooked the meal an aboriginal woman came in and served us.”
Communication Between Stations
“The other surprise is the communication at those stations. They were often 50–150 miles apart. Even with those cast distances, they knew everything that was going on. They knew when we were coming, how many people would be in our group, what about background was. . . everything! They knew because 'they got on the treadle' every morning! They had a 2-way radio hookup and to operate it, they had to 'pedal the treadle' to create electricity, much like the old sewing machines in this country.
“This morning hour on the treadle was called the 'Galah Hour.' People got on and they talked like the old party lines used to in this country. Everybody was on there, they talked, they knew market prices for livestock, which horse won the race in Adelaide, who had a new foal and what stud it was out of. . . they knew everything that mattered.
“The doctor was another way they communicated. They had fly-in doctor services. If someone got sick, they got on the treadle and sent a radio message. However long it took for a Cessna to get out there with the doctor, there was a doctor there; and all doctors came with stories and news.
“It was amazing how the people knew what was going on in other stations a very far distance apart. The bells were part of the communication with livestock; it was the 'Galah Hour' with people.”
It is told that Samuel Jones of Condamine, Queensland, first began making bells in 1868. A drover walked into the smithy and requested a stock bell for his horse. With no bells on hand, Jones recalled the memories of the 'old country' and fabricated a bell using a discarded pit saw. He hung it at his shop entrance and the rest is history! Wider at the top and tapering into a mouth, these distinctive bells have a clear, deep tone that could be heard miles away.
Australian people involved with workstock like oxen, horses, and camels had a common interest—they used bells on their animals. These early livestock bells reflect both their English ancestry and American heritage. The huge demand for stock bells, along with increased settlement, led to the development and increased production of local designs such as the Condamine bell.