Moonbi Museum: a treasure trove of sporting history

LABOUR OF LOVE: Brian Betts, Claudette Humphrys and her husband, Bill, are part of a 15-member committee entrusted with looking after Moonbi Museum and keeping the town's history alive.
LABOUR OF LOVE: Brian Betts, Claudette Humphrys and her husband, Bill, are part of a 15-member committee entrusted with looking after Moonbi Museum and keeping the town's history alive.

FROM the outside, Moonbi Museum is, like Moonbi as a whole, unremarkable. Established on July 24, 2010, it sits on the highway running through town, between a tumbledown convenience store-cum-post office and a “large” fibreglass chicken erected in honour of the destination’s poultry industry but which seemingly hides sheepishly behind a tree.

"We've got a new addition - an east and northern wall extension. Hopefully we'll get enough money (to do that). We may have to hold up a bank"

Bill Humphrys

It’s inside the museum, where a fire truck was once parked, that you discover there is much more to this corrugated-iron structure and the town it chronicles than what a superficial look provides.

A section of the museum is devoted to the town’s sporting history – the centrepiece a 1899 Tamworth District Cricket Union shield.

Helping to oversee the museum is a trio of elderly locals, who are as much a part of the town as the trees and who often find themselves reminiscing within the museum’s walls.

Bill and Claudette Humphrys, married 56 years this December, and Brian Betts are the proud guardians of a sporting past they never tire of reliving through the tales of erstwhile times they communicate to anyone interested enough to ask. For them, it is part of their history.

And with Australian Heritage Week marked from April 16-24, it is an opportune time to celebrate Moonbi’s sporting footprint, where the legacy of Hugh Flanagan – who missed out on touring South Africa with the Australian cricket side in the late 1800s because his pregnant wife became ill and lost their baby – is celebrated with a faded black and white newspaper photograph and article, and shares the same space as a team photo featuring current Australian cricket international Josh Hazlewood, taken when he attended Moonbi Public School.

As a child, Hazlewood was coached by Anne Coleman, who also coached her daughter, former Australian international wicketkeeper Leonie Coleman. Two of Leonie’s green and gold limited-overs shirts are kept in a glass case at the museum.

“She was very generous in giving us some of her gear to put on display,” Claudette said, adding that Flanagan was Leonie’s great, great, great, great grandfather.

Claudette’s eyes lit up when she talked about the museum. And that was especially the case when she spoke about the beloved Tamworth District Cricket Union shield which, she says, was vied for by Moonbi, Kootingal and Nemingha.

“The first to win three (games) would get the trophy,” she said. “So Moonbi got the trophy.

“It was in the Kootingal Hotel for years (behind the bar). And how it come to be in the Kootingal Hotel was because, at that stage, Kootingal was Moonbi … When the new owners came along and remodelled it (the hotel), it went in the cellar.

“And then one of the men seen it and brought it home. And it was always to have gone in the museum.”

Flanagan was part of the Moonbi United Cricket Club team that won the shield. Claudette has the names of other players who represented the club at that time but she needs to confirm the shield-winning lineup.  

If there is anyone who can enlighten her, the Moonbi Museum is open every weekend. Claudette, Bill and Brian will likely be there, and would love to hear from you.  

Another cherished link with the past is a laminated Moonbi Race Course program dated February 8, 1941.

“I’m gonna take it into the council building for Heritage Week,” Claudette said. “I think that will go well on the display.”

The race meetings ended in the late 1940s. The war memorial hall is located where the track once was.

Claudette recalled being a young girl and dressing up and heading to the track with her parents, “real social events” that, in the 1940s, were used to raise funds for the soldiers fighting in World War II, the Red Cross, the hospital and the ambulance station.

“Some of the horses were a bit rugged,” she said. “And if they were short of horses they just got any horse out of the paddock.”

Claudette recalled a funny incident that occurred at the track.

“One of the jockeys – one of the men, none of them were professional jockeys – came from Bendemeer to ride a horse, and the owner tied it up to the post (the horse, not the jockey),” she said.

“When the jockey went to get it, or the fella who was gonna ride it … when he got back, the horse was lying down like it was dead. It had eaten the post it was tied to. Apparently the horse was drugged a bit.”

The race meetings ended because of the insurance cost, but they live on in perpetuity through the museum. 

The 15-member committee overseeing the museum is in the midst of trying to raise up to $25,000 to add an extension to the building.

They’ve raised two-thirds of the amount and hope to reach the target before the year’s end.

“Hopefully we’ll get enough money,” Bill said. “We may have to hold up a bank.”

It’s easy to image Claudette by her man’s side if that happened. You get the impression she would do almost anything for the museum.

“I’ve lived here all my life,” she said. “My parents lived here and went to school here. And my grandparents before them went to school here.

“So it’s going back a few years. I like to keep all the memories for the people in the future.”