I didn’t realise that the story of a native-born piano would jump at me out of the clean-up we were doing to prepare for our Storytelling Centre in Dubbo. Octavius Beale’s masterpiece was sitting dusty and neglected in a back room and here I was, asking myself, “Do I really need that thing in here?” How ignorant! It was my colleague, OJ Rushton, who opened my eyes to this story of a unique Aussie icon.
I discovered that apart from being a traveller skilled at languages, President of the NSW Chamber of Commerce and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Beale, an Irish-born Quaker just happened to design the first piano purpose-built for Australia!
The Quakers were a small Christian sect known for building industries focussed on caring for their workers. So, it was no surprise to learn that in 1893 Octavius established Australia’s first piano factory in Sydney and grew it into the largest, not only in the southern hemisphere but also the British Empire in the early 1900s.
As I travel, I look out for the stories and symbols that shape us Aussies. Observers say that during the first few years of our lives as we learn to talk, to read, to share in the common story of our people, we’re quietly absorbing a worldview.
Normally we’re not conscious of it. It’s like the lenses of our glasses, it is not something we look at, but something through which we look in order to see the world. On the road to Gundagai, I discovered a faithful hound, a popular song and an inspirational sculptor that had all played a part in telling us about ourselves.
Join The Outback Historian, Paul Roe, on an unforgettable journey into Australia's Past as he follows the footprints of the Master Storyteller and uncovers unknown treasures of the nation.