On Sunday (12th May 2019) Marija and I had booked a tour of the old Government Treasury building in Adelaide. This was as part of History Month being held in South Australia.
The building was built in stages between 1839 to 1907. During the Victorian gold rush of the 1850s, about 17,000 South Australian’s travelled to Victoria to make their fortune. A gold escort route was established and 327,000 ounces of gold was brought to Adelaide and stored in the Treasury building.
The old Treasury building was the centre of South Australia’s administrative and government affairs for around 130 years, and up until 1968 housed the Government Cabinet Room.
This was a very interesting tour. And importantly, the building is now the Adina Hotel and home of the Treasury Bar, Kitchen and Courtyard. Why important? This is where I met my lovely wife Marija.
After leaving Adelaide, we headed back up into the Adelaide Hills to Nixons Mill at Hahndorf, for a quick activation for the Mills on the Air Weekend.
The Mills on the Air Weekend is held each year in May and is a great way to promote the hobby of amateur radio, whilst also highlighting the preservation of these very historic structures. The Mills on the Air Weekend is timed to coincide with National Mills Weekend. The event is organised in conjunction with the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB).
The Mills on the Air Weekend commenced about 9 years ago when Jasmine G4KFP, a member of the Denby Dale Amateur Radio Society, submitted an item in the RSGB news asking if any amateur was willing to put on a station at a windmill or watermill. Jasmine also contacted SPAB and initially agreed for 6 groups of amateurs to establish stations at 6 mills. The word soon spread, and participants increased to 30.
The Mills on the Air Weekend is NOT a contest. It is just a great opportunity of promoting the hobby of amateur radio and promoting heritage.
The Mount Barker district developed as a milling centre with the establishment of early flour mills during the 1840s. This was just a few years after the proclamation of South Australia in December 1836. In 1842, John Dunn constructed the first wind-powered mill for grinding wheat at Hay Valley near Nairne. The first steam-powered flour mill outside Adelaide was established in 1844 at Mount Barker, also by John Dunn, which ceased operations in 1894.
Between 1841-1842, construction was undertaken of a wind-powered mill at Hahndorf for Frederick Robert Nixon (1817-1860), who was part of Colonel William Light’s team or surveyors. The mill was located on a small hill overlooking the road between Hahndorf and Mount Barker, referred to as West Hill, and subsequently known as “Windmill Hill”. Nixon had purchased the land on the 6th of May 1841. Nixon’s mill opened up an important agricultural area of the State, grinding over half a million bushels of wheat in one season. It was the second wind-driven flour mill in the Mount Barker district.
The tower structure of the mill, which is 9.05 metres high, is constructed of random coursed stone rubble and is about 75cm thick. There were four working levels in the mill, with one window at the second level and two windows at the third level. Two doors existed at ground level, with one of those having been bricked up. A circular cap structure was located at the top of the tower which sat on a base of two large horizontal beams called sheer tress. A movable boat-shaped cap rested on a track that rotated around the top of the tower on a well-greased metal curb.
The sail frames were constructed of hardwood and canvas sheets were furled like a curtain to cover different areas of the frames dependant on wind velocity. The sails had a sweep of 17 metres in diameter. The mill contained a large wooden brake wheel which was connected to the wind shaft that was driven by the wind in the sails. A wallower was fixed to the main shaft and this was driven by wooden teeth on the brake wheel. The millstones were rotated as a result of the great spur gear which was connected to the lower end of the main shaft which drove the smaller wooden gears.
During 1844, Walter Paterson, a farmer from Mount Barker purchased the property. Then in 1853, Johann Friedrich Wittwer purchased the windmill for £320. He and his son Friedrich Wilhelm Wittwer operated the mill along with other mills in the area.
Milling at Nixon’s site ceased in 1864 as it was no longer able to compete with steam mills. Friedrich Wittwer closed the mill following the death of his father and moved the millstones and machinery to a steam mill that he had built in Hahndorf. The mill was subsequently purchased by the Braendler family in 1880.
Since this time the mill has been subjected to bushfires, storm damage and sadly vandalism and neglect. Various attempts at repair and restoration have been carried out over the years.
During a large bushfire in 1912, the Sheaok timbers and working parts of the windmill were destroyed. It remained in a derelict state until 1928, when the mill was converted into a lookout tower as a result of the efforts of a group of prominent businessmen, funded by public subscription.
Article from The Mount Barker Courier, Fri 11 Jan 1929
At this time A.E. Braendler donated the windmill and some surrounding land to the Mount Barker District Council. A bushfire destroyed the staircase and the upper portion of the windmill during 1939.
Nixon’s Mill, 1929, as a lookout. Image courtesy of localwiki.org
Between 1961 and 1966, a major restoration was carried out by the Mount Barker Apex Club, which included the installation of a dome roof and four dummy sail-spars. The Honourable Steele Hall opened the restored windmill to the public on the 20th November 1966.
Opening ceremony in 1966 of Nixon’s Windmill.
Nixons Mill, c. 1960’s, prior to storm damage and vandalism attacks. Image courtesy of localwiki.org
In 1975 a severe storm resulted in one of the sail arms being torn off. This was followed by a number of vandalism attacks. In 1980 an $80,000 appeal to restore the mill was officially launched at a fundraising dinner where Mr David Wotton, the Minister for Environment and Planning was the guest speaker. A Windmill Restoration Committee was established at this time, but unfortunately, the required funds were not obtained.
The windmill in 1975 showing the sheared off sail arm. Image courtesy of localwiki.org
During 1983 stabilisation of the windmill structure, masonry repair, waterproofing and repairs to the doors and windows were carried out. In 1988, requests for a grant of $100,000 from the South Australian State Government were sought. The proposal included the replacement of the mill sails and restoration of the interior of the mill to working order. Additionally, it was suggested that a cottage, shop and historic display centre could be built. Sadly, funding did not eventuate.
In 2016, painting, signage and major site upgrading was conducted by the Mount Barker District Council in collaboration with the Apex Club of Mount Barker.
Steam cleaning of the tower prior to repainting, 2016. Image courtesy of localwiki.org
Marija and I set up only a few metres away from the structure. We had plenty of onlookers during the activation, but not those who asked us questions. The Hahndorf Farm barn is right next door to the mill.
There are a number of information boards at the site, which tells the interesting history of Nixon’s Windmill.
I kicked off the activation by calling CQ on 7.150. Chris VK2SR was first in the log, followed by Keith VK3MKE, John VK2JON, and then Rick VK4RF. The 40m band seemed to be in pretty good shape and a small pile up soon ensued. Sadly a lot of people didn’t hang around to break the pile up. Folks, please be patient. It might take a few minutes, but I will get to you.
During the activation, Paul VK5PH turned up to have a look at out portable set up. Whilst Marija chatted to Paul I continued to work the callers, logging a total of 36 stations before swapping the mic with Marija. This included a contact with Jonathan VK7JON who was activating the Don Heads Conservation Area VKFF-2903.
Marija’s first contact was with Brodie VK3FMGI/4, followed by Rick VK4RF, and then Peter VK2KNV/m. Marija logged a total of 11 stations before I jumped back into the ‘driver’s seat’. Marija’s contacts were made with her 10 watts PEP into VK2, VK3, and VK4.
I logged a further 6 stations on 40m, including Gary ZL3SV in New Zealand who was a big signal. It was getting very cold, with the temperature down to 10 deg C and I was pushing my luck on Mothers Day. So it was down with the squid pole and in with the 80m band links.
I called CQ on 3.610 where I logged 10 stations, including Gary ZL3SV who was strong on 80m just as he was on 40m. I also spoke with Scott VK3FSPN/p who was initially running 1 watt and then dropped his power down to 100 milliwatts. The video below shows the contacts with ZL3SV on 40m and 80m and the contact with VK3FSPN.
Marija and I then packed up and headed off to the supermarket and then home for dinner. Many thanks to everyone who called. We had logged 63 stations from VK2, VK3, VK4, VK5, VK7, and New Zealand, in around 90 minutes. Hopefully next year we don’t have as much on our social calendar, and I can devote some more time at the Mill.
I worked the following stations on 40m SSB:-
- VK7JON/p (Don Heads Conservation Area VKFF-2903)
I worked the following stations on 80m SSB:-
- VK3FSPN/p (QRP)
Marija worked the following stations on 40m SSB:-
Adelaide City Heritage, 2019, <http://www.adelaideheritage.net.au/all-site-profiles/treasury-building/>, viewed 14th May 2019
localwiki, 2019, <https://localwiki.org/adelaide-hills/Nixon%27s_Windmill>, viewed 14th May 2019
South Bristol Amateur Radio Club, 2019, <https://www.sbarc.co.uk/club-activities/mills-on-the-air/>, viewed 14th May 2019