Carpenter Tony Harm and builder Gil Smith … two of the volunteers who gave up their weekends 20 years ago to make the Wondai Timber Museum a reality

November 25, 2021

The incredible community effort that went into creating the South Burnett Timber Industry Museum at Wondai was celebrated at a special morning tea this week.

The building was a Centenary of Federation project and received a small State Government grant but in reality 95 per cent of the work was undertaken by volunteer builders, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, painters and artists who gave up their weekends for 18 months to make the dream become a reality.

The museum was a project of the former Wondai Shire Council.

Then Mayor Percy Iszlaub and CEO Alan Keates wanted something that would entice the passing tourists in caravans on the highway to stop and spend their money in town.

The building was officially opened in 2001 by then Primary Industries Minister Henry Palaszczuk (father of the current Queensland Premier).

The estimated value of the total project was $435,000 – with at least $225,000 of that covered by the volunteer workforce.

Museum volunteers, past and present, gathered at the building on Wednesday to mark the 20th anniversary of that opening.

The celebration was organised by South Burnett Regional Council officer Stacey Perrett.

Stacey shared a slideshow of images collected over the past 20 years, from the first stages of construction through to the opening ceremony.

She also shared some remarkable statistics: more than 245,000 people have visited the museum since its opening, and about $657,000 worth of woodwork has been sold.

And she praised the “mammoth effort” that has gone into keeping the Museum staffed with volunteers for 20 years.

“It would not have been possible without a group of dedicated, passionate and loyal individuals,” she said.

Former Visitor Information Centre manager Noreen Brier returned to Wondai especially for the celebration.    

Noreen managed the centre for 11 years from that original opening ceremony and she shared some anecdotes from the early days … including how the bullocky in the famous statue out front (designed and built by local sculptor Kurt Kueng) originally was not wearing a hat.

A local resident used to drop by regularly and start singing, threatening to continue to do so until a hat appeared.

The bullocky soon got a hat …

Kurt and his wife Brigette also created the diorama which is a focal point of the museum, with the figures modelled on local residents.

The historic bullock wagon was donated by Norm Stimpson.

The wagon had been sitting a paddock and was restored by Norm, his brother Gordon and Roy Schiefelbein before it was shifted into the diorama.

Other items – including snake skins! – were donated by local residents.

Former Wondai Shire councillor and builder Gil Smith was the project manager for the construction.

“It meant every weekend I loaded up the trailer and got my tools together. (My wife) Michelle lost me for one year,” he said.

“It was a huge job.”

The other key volunteers at the time included carpenter Tony Harm, Des Sempf and Trevor Hoult. Eric Radunz split the shingles above the diorama.

Three special guests at the morning tea were volunteers Yvonne Hurt, from Proston; Ruth Mason, from Chelmsford; and Margaret Heritage, from Wondai.

The trio, who were invited to cut the anniversary cake, have been volunteers at the centre since it opened.

Footnote: Judy Trace won the photo competition run in conjunction with the 20th anniversary celebration. Souvenir tea-towels to mark the anniversary are now on sale at the museum. 

Related articles:

There at the start … volunteers Ruth Mason, Yvonne Hurt and Margaret Heritage with former VIC manager Noreen Brier, second from right
The three 20-year volunteers were invited to cut the cake … from left, Yvonne, Ruth and Margaret
What sort of birthday celebration would it be without a cake?
A collage of some of the photos taken from the ground-breaking ceremony through to the opening
The walls of the museum are decorated with photographs and wood working tools, many donated by locat residents
Museum volunteer Leesa Hodges with former local councillor Ros Heit and Rosie Schmidt (South Burnett Regional Council)
Volunteer Bob Baldwin, Charlestown, with woodworkers Stuart Brier and Des Muller, from Wondai
The famous diorama created by Kurt Kueng and his wife … the figure with his leg on the log was modelled after former Wondai Sawmill owner Laurie Gardner
Current and former volunteers and guests watch the slideshow detailing the Museum’s history
The Woodcrafters Workshop was built later beside the Visitor Information Centre and Timber Museum

[UPDATED with correction]


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