By Sandra McEwen, Consultant Curator, Paddock to Plate: a history of food and wine in Orange and district
It’s not often that I’m lost for words…but it happened recently. I was rummaging in a cupboard at Molong Historical Museum, looking for treasures. Suddenly, out of the darkness emerged a wheat flail that was made and used in 1873. The label attached indicated that Sam Clarke used it on his first wheat crop grown at Home Plain, Grega. It wasn’t just a wheat flail. It was one in excellent condition, with a complete story!
Wheat flails were used for the horrible job of beating (winnowing) the outer casings off ears of wheat to produce clean grain. The user hung on to the longer stick and thrashed the wheat with the short one. Leather tied the two sticks together. In 1884 the task was taken over by stripper-harvesters that could both reap the heads off wheat stalks and winnow them to harvest grain in one operation.
Wheat flails weren’t precious, so not many have survived to tell their tales. This discovery at Molong reinforced for me what an important role small regional museums play in preserving the treasures of our rural past. That little wheat flail sat undisturbed in the dark for many, many years, just waiting for its time to shine. The exhibition will be full of gems similar to this one. Whatever you do, don’t miss it!
Image above: Sam Clarke’s Flail, c.1873. Loan courtesy Molong Historical Museum