Welcome to Hidden Histories: Hinkler House, the seventh episode of series two of the Bundaberg Now Podcast.
The story of Hinkler House, and how it travelled to Bundaberg brick-by-brick from England, is almost as incredible as the story of its pioneering aviator namesake.
The relocation of Hinkler House was a remarkable feat achieved in the early 1980s that saw the community come together in support.
Famous aviator, Bert Hinkler, built the house in Southampton, England in 1925 and named it Mon Repos in honour of his hometown, and the beach that fuelled his love of flight.
When a group of Hinkler enthusiasts heard it was set to be demolished, they banded together to relocate it, brick-by-brick, and it was eventually opened in the Bundaberg Botanic Gardens in June 1984.
Lex Rowland was instrumental in the relocation project.
“It all started with a dream really, of building a Memorial Museum for Bert,” Lex said.
“I had been told of the Southampton Council's intention to make way for a set of old age units very close to the home.
“It was possible that Mon Repos house may be dismantled, or really, dozed.
“That didn't fit well with me. As I later found out, I wasn't the only one with those thoughts.”
In this podcast episode, Lex talks us through what it took to complete such a huge relocation, the people involved and the legacy he hopes will continue for future generations.
Listen now to hear more about the Hinkler House relocation:
In this series we shine a spotlight on the heritage buildings and infrastructure in our region.
Listen as we uncover memories, mysterious ghost stories and bizarre facts about some of our most iconic structures.
Subscribe to the podcast here.
Hidden Histories: Hinkler House transcript
Gennavieve Lyons [00:00:06] Welcome to this special series of the Bundaberg Now podcast, where we shine a spotlight on the historic buildings of our region. My name is Gennavieve Lyons and I'll be your host as we uncover hidden histories, mysterious stories and some pretty bizarre facts about our most iconic buildings and structures. Hinkler House is an icon of Bundaberg, and it took a very dedicated team to bring it from England to the Bundaberg Botanic Gardens. Famous aviator Bert Hinkler built the house in South Hampton, England, in 1925. He named it Mon Repos in honour of his Australian hometown of Bundaberg and the beach that fueled his love of flight. The house was his base as he planned his most iconic flights around the world and developed innovations that opened the skies. When a group of Hinkler enthusiasts heard it was set to be demolished, they banded together to relocate it, brick by brick, and it was eventually opened in Bundaberg in June 1984. Lex Rowland was instrumental in the relocation and fundraising, even travelling to England to oversee the project. He sat down with Adele Bennett from Bundaberg Now to talk about the feat.
Adele Bennett [00:01:21] So, Lex, can you tell me a bit about the history of the Hinkler house?
Lex Rowland [00:01:25] Well, I think the Hinkler House Memorial Museum started on the 9th of December 1982, when I wrote a submission to the Bicentennial Committee in Bundaberg for the relocation of Bert's Mon Repos house to Bundaberg. In the 1970s and 80s, the memory of Bert Hinkler was almost forgotten. He had given so much to Bundaberg, and it was terrible to see that his fame and his beginnings were not remembered in some way. I had been told of the Southampton Council's intention to make way for a set of old age units very close to his home. It's possible that Mon Repos House may be dismantled or really dazed. That didn't fit well with me. As I later found out, I wasn't the only one with those thoughts and at the time, a Bundaberg community via a committee were seeking projects for the bicentenary of Australia, and my mother had told me about this intention of the council. She was a great admirer and I thought, well, I'll give it a go. Maybe we can set up a Memorial Museum in Bundaberg for Bert and tell the Hinkler story from its beginnings to its final end on a very cold and bleak mountain in Italy in 1933.
Adele Bennett [00:03:29] So what did the actual relocation of the house involved?
Lex Rowland [00:03:33] Well, it was quite a drawn out process, and initially we had to make sure that the house was available first off, how we were going to do it, what was it going to cost? Who did we have to talk to? What would it mean and the local community in Southampton? And where would we put the house here in Bundaberg? To me well, I'd even made a couple of suggestions. But at the end of the day, the Bundaberg City Council, as it was, had plans for a site in North Bundaberg to build a botanic garden. Well I changed my mind completely. The Bundaberg City Council was chosen and to cut a long story short, you can do nothing without money, we had to find some money and a lot of support. Bundaberg Botanic Gardens very close to that famous landing site on the 27th of February 1928, after his very heroic flight from England to Australia. North Bundaberg was just so proud of Bert. His mother made them so she was a great orator and she loved to chat at the local shops and Bert, he had come home. His dad had passed away just prior to his arrival here, even though it was an exciting time, it was a sad time too, and a sad time for the family. First of all, we had to get a little bit of finance together and we had to prove not only to ourselves, but also in fairness to the council and to our possible supporters here in Bundaberg, which were many. And we set out for England in May 1983 to dismantle that house. I had two of my great friends, Stan Lohse who is well known in the community, and Merv Purkiss. Another person that achieved a lot in life. The three of us set of England with a lot of enthusiasm and. But we had a time limit because the house was going to be demolished in January. But we managed to have that time extended till the end of June. So it gave us a little bit more time. So I spoke with our local branches of various trade unions and had told them what we had in mind. They liked the idea and I thought, Well, let's hope the boys in England like it too. So that was one of my first jobs over there to call in the local workers and discuss the project with them. And I've got to say they all said, what a good idea. We don't want it pulled down. So they were with us right from the beginning and then began the job of dismantling, well, we didn't actually do that willy nilly. We looked at it as a total project. It was a brick veneer home built in the English manner. It was structurally sound. We had never seen brick work similar to what was on the home, and it was mainly pointed. All the joints were pointed, which was a real relief to us. And then the bricks put together with lime and mortar so we thought, ah, we could get these bricks out in a pretty good state. So within a month, we had the house down to the ground and then started the big job of packing up. There's a fair bit went on between that thing. Out there in the midst of all the wonderful people in Bundy, I had a few eager friends in the Rotary Club of East Bundaberg, one of whom was Charlie Peterson, and I got quite a surprise that he said to me, Well, build your house, for you Lex. And I'm almost at the same time I got a call from my great mate by the name of Bert Bent. And he said, You've done enough Lex. It's my turn now, he said. I said, Oh, righto Bert. So that started our association with the Rotary Club of East Bundaberg. We had a wonderful time and we had a wonderful time here in what was just an open paddock, really. We all got on marvelously well. They all wanted to do the best they could for Bert, as did the rest of Bundaberg. And I don't think for the next five years, Hinkler House left the pages of the Bundaberg News Mail at all. Eventually, we opened the house on the 16th of June 1984. It's a long time now. And there was about 4500 to 5000 people sitting here where we are, the Premier of Queensland and the Mayor of Southampton. She came out for the occasion. And Joh Bjelke-Peterson was the premier and we had a marvelous afternoon here with a fly over by the American Air Force and a star lifter, would you believe? And our local aero club in the Jabaroos, it was cloudy afternoon, but the atmosphere was terrific and that started a wonderful program for the next 25 years.
Adele Bennett [00:10:29] And how does it feel for you being so instrumental to see it here in place and even now, so long after?
Lex Rowland [00:10:36] Well, it all started with a dream really of building a Memorial Museum for Bert. And when we started, I was amazed at the amount of people that came forward with memorabilia, not just newspaper cuttings, not saying that they're not important, but the quality of the memorabilia that was coming in made us rethink our program. And it was back in 1984 that we decided that one day we'd like to build. A national center in Bert's honour, and that became the Hinkler Hall of Aviation. We ran the museum here, the Hinkler House in those four little walls. And we put through 485,000 visitors. We were able to do other projects associated with Bert Hinkler's life, and all the time was memorabilia floating in from all around the world. And I'm happy that that's here in Bundaberg, and I hope that the generations to come will treasure that memorabilia. This is my 40th year here. It's been a wonderful part of my life and I've enjoyed doing it, and I owe a lot to my friends, to the town. Some who are very dear to me and some who did a great amount of work for Hinkler House like Bert Bent for instance. And my committee, Tom Quinn and Stan, a few others. I'm extremely grateful for what they did. They did it for Bert. They did it for me and they did it for Bundaberg, and I'm thankful.
Adele Bennett [00:12:47] So what was it about Bert that you admired so much or that you still do admire so much?
Lex Rowland [00:12:53] Well, in a way, I'm a bit younger than Bert of course, but I grew up in that atmosphere here in a sugar town as it was, dependent on things like the railway and sugar mills and to achieve what he did I thought it was pretty special because life just wasn't easy in those days at all, not only for families, but for young people and seeking a future opportunities where not around. It was basically hard work to go wherever you wanted to go or even where your ambitions were to take it. And that was my motivation. To give Bert a go.
Gennavieve Lyons [00:13:49] Thanks for listening to that fantastic account of the relocation of Hinkler House, a wonderful example of preserving local heritage. Join us again next month for another look inside Bundaberg's iconic buildings and structures.