ROMANY ROAD is fortunate enough to have members now in Australia, all descendents of old Romany families. They are all eager to send stories of family memories and share with us some of their discoveries. This first story was kindly sent by Kathi Suminer and appears in Journal 3:-
WAGONS IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA
A couple of weeks ago, we “went up the hill”, the “hill” being a few hundred miles long and fifty miles or so wide (i.e. the range of hills we have to go over to go east from Perth). Anyway, we went up the hill to visit a friend and on the way back we came upon a full-size “Living wagon” which is permanently parked on the side of the road. The wagon had straight sides, not like a bow-top, but had been gutted, painted PINK and is being used as a Healing Wagon. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw it; it even had a pan-box under the back. Beautifully carved and painted, it must have been really pretty when it was new, although it is in need of a bit of tender loving care now!
When we got home, I rang the phone number on the side and spoke to the present owner to try to discover the history of the wagon. She says it’s a replica that was originally used for Gypsy Caravan holidays down south, and then it sat outside for about twenty years. If it is a replica, it’s a mighty good one, the carving is so intricate, even the down-ribs are carved. Apparently the inside was not in good condition when the present owner got it, so they cleared everything out and carpeted the walls and ceiling, but made sure that the carved ceiling beams are still showing. She told me that her father was of English Romani blood, the family names being CHEEK and BARLOW.
'Pink’ Wagon, Brookton Highway, outside Perth, Western Australia
On top of all this, we went for another drive (it was 40 degrees Celsius!), and decided it would be nice to go out in the country. We took the motor-home for a run and ended up driving 260 kilometres. We were about to head for home, when I spotted a bright yellow wagon in one of the back streets of York, Western Australia. We turned back and took some photos, but Royce decided that wasn’t good enough for him and went and knocked on the door, again to ask the owner the history of the wagon. A very polite man kindly opened it up so that we could take photos of the inside. The owner told us that it is a BURTON wagon, built in England around 1900, the last Romani owner being a lady whose last name was KING. When she passed on, it was used by three nuns from the Exeter Diocese, who travelled in it during World War 2. It was then found by a museum Curator who thought it might look good in his Horse and Buggy Museum at Northam (just up the road from York) and apparently he had it shipped to Fremantle in a shipping container.
The present owner collects a lot of old things and got it as part of a house deal. He wants to do it up but doesn’t want to spend money on it. It’s not as pretty as the one up the hill and is in need of some care and attention, but most of the inside is still intact. There is a little stove inside and a bench beside the stove that has two pull-out pieces with a flip down top on the bench. How true the story is about it’s authenticity I don’t know – but at least there are some remnants of the old life still thriving here so many miles away from England!
Yellow Wagon with Queenie stove
From Editor - I showed Kathi’s pictures to John Pockett and asked for his opinion of the two wagons. His thoughts were that the Pink Wagon is a reproduction, probably carried out some time ago using some parts taken from an original early Kite-type Reading wagon, some of the carvings having been taken from the original ribs. It is possible the wheels may not be original and may be made of metal, but the underworks appear to be original and also some of the carved brackets. On the whole quite a good job!
As to the second Yellow Wagon, John felt this is an authentic English Showman’s panelled wagon, possibly dating around 1912. Quite unusual but it resembles an Orton/Burton wagon of the type built at Burton-on-Trent. Panels around the front door look to have been replaced by plywood, but the side panels are the original mahogany, although they are cracked in places. The Queenie stove is not authentic for a showman’s wagon and would have replaced a range, but the interior firebacks are original, as is the very large authentic pan-box.
Our thanks to Kathi and to John