The Gothic Shed

The very elegant all corro Cue (WA) Masonic Lodge

In fact it’s the Masonic lodge at Cue in central Western Australia. Built almost entirely out of corrugated iron in 1899 in this once thriving gold mining centre, it sits on the edge of town looking a bit like the house from the movie Psycho.

IBYS Research Director Mark Thomson visited the ‘Queen of the Murchison’, as Cue is known, recently and found it a fairly seriously corrugated town. Cue is surrounded by enormous modern ore dumps which are slowly taking over the old, nearly vanished ghost towns established in the 1890s when the WA goldfields were a frenzy of activity. One of the most surprising aspects of this area is how these old towns have virtually vanished off the face of the earth, whole towns with stores, businesses, railway lines and houses are now, only 100 years later, almost invisible but for broken glass, rusting tins and the occasional car part or cement slab. It says something disturbing about the impermanence of human life in the desert.

For it’s part, the Cue Masonic Lodge is being slowly restored (possibly by the National Trust as againt the National Rust, which surrounds the town in the form of old cans and tins and of course the handy corrugated building product. Those of us possessing gold detectors might like to hang around the caravan park and natter with the grey nomads as they share bullshit stories about great finds. Don’t believe anything you hear.

There are some nice details on this building - but it's pretty curious that the Freemasons who were supposed to be about stonemasonry built themselves a shed - when there is some very noce stone buildings in the town.


The end of Robby’s or deep handiness takes another blow

Should you be the owner of an ancient Pye radiogram, a Kreisler television or any of the plethora of audio visual appliances once manufactured in this country, then you may well be accustomed to unsuccessfully attempting to have it repaired.

“You can’t get the parts…” the repair guy would say.

Not so fast: you might get the parts – or you could until Robby’s started to close down.

Horace ‘Robby’ Robinson’s shop in Long Street, Queenstown is a vast shambles of electrical components and assorted paraphernalia, its gloomy corridors catalogued with jars of diodes, triodes, transistors, switches, relays, valves, everything.

It is the lurking place of the electrical tinkerers who would never say die to that old radio or record player. They inhabit the half light of Robby’s corridors and byways, searching for elusive buried electrical treasure. These fixers and repairers are an almost secret club of electrical savants who know how all these things work – what a thermal overload relay does or how a three phase rectifier transformer can be fixed. Get them started and they’ll tell you about the glory that was ETSA or how they fixed a discarded Bang and Olufsen television from the hard rubbish with a $2 part (from Robby’s of course). They thrive within a filigree of useful contacts that can repair almost anything that has had a current running through it. Robby’s is – or rather was – one of the vital nodes in that spider web.

But Robby is 89 now and his eyesight is going. The vast stock of the shop, which over the last 50 years has been a car parts business, a hardware store and secondhand furniture shop, is being sold off in a series of sales by his children Lyn and Paul.

Apparently Robby never had any formal training in the electrical and electronic trades but he obviously knew a thing or two about auctions and bargains, picking up the remnants of disappearing industries and enterprises. Equipment from Woomera and the Weapons Research Establishment can still be found amongst the boxes and shelves, some of it made to measure or record some part of that great imperial endeavour that went on secretly in South Australia’s deserts in the 50s and 60s.

At these Saturday morning closing sales, Lyn and Paul guard the entrance and reminisce with the regulars. Bargain hunters and repairers– most of whom seem to know each other – emerge from rummaging through dusty boxes and shelves with odd collections of electrical loot for which they can see a potential use. They leave satisfied but often express a sadness that such a place will no longer exist. In a few weeks time there will be a big final auction and the site will no doubt end up as yet another real estate development.

So does it matter that places like Robby’s vanish? It matters not just because we will have boring sterile suburbs but because it represents another unravelling of the rich and largely hidden social networks in which people find meaning, learn new things, share knowledge. Those networks make our cities livable and while the Internet replicates some of those networks, there is no substitute for the tangible experience and deep handiness that goes with places like Robby’s. We will be the poorer for its passing.




This superb shed, that of Institute of Backyard Studies Technical Director Dr Chris Block, is one of many featured in the Institute’s latest tribute to deep shed culture, the book Makers, Breakers and Fixers. Many a day or evening, Chris is to be found in this workshop working on some project of stunning complexity. It’s high, well-draughted structure that has huge doors for the dirty great ship he is going to build in there one day. In the meantime, preparations are well under way for the reconstruction of Henry Hoke’s apocryphal truck-mounted audio weapon “Hoke’s Quack of Doom” as shown below in hitherto secret photography of US Army tests during World War 2. Security considerations require that we should draw a discrete veil across further information about this invention until the time is ripe.

.A rare WW2 photo of Henry Hoke's Quack of Doom undergoing field testing. Albert Einstein wrote to Henry recommending that nuclear power was a safer option than this terrifying weapon.


Sir Isaac Newton’s Shed


Recent investigations by Institute staff at an undisclosed location have discovered the original shed of all-round smartypants Sir Isaac Newton, best known for his 3 Laws of Motion (you know the sort of thing – “once moving at a steady speed in a straight line and so on and so on”)

In a shock revelation, documents recovered at the site reveal a hitherto unknown aspect of late 17th century shed culture: that Sir Ike was on the turps – in fact a sort of India Pale Ale – a good deal of his illustrious career. Detailed forensic analysis of some of The Newt’s (as in ‘Pissed As’) vomit-covered notebooks is currently being undertaken. IBYS Deep Shed Research Director Mark Thomson told an only slightly packed news conference that there is every possibility that there were in fact two more Laws of Motion but as the great man was too shickered on the day, he forgot to tell anybody.

Mr Thomson invites speculation and conjecture from the shed community – deeply experienced as it is in engineering, beer and sheds- on the subject of these two possible new laws – what were they measuring or defining?Your contribution on the comment link is welcome.



There was rain forecast on the television last night. Oh that’s good, everyone says, but there’s an edge of doubt in how they say it.

Three days a week I work in Renmark in South Australia’s Riverland region, where I am helping some friends compile a book on propagating citrus. There’s an irony to this task as the country has been hit by severe drought and the once mighty flow of the Murray River’s irrigation waters – that gave the citrus industry an essential ingredient in what would otherwise be desert – have lessened to an increasingly sluggish and salty trickle.

Despite this change, there is a great beauty about the place in the time before dawn, when I go for my daily walk.

I walk through arrow-straight rows of oranges and vines, laid out in flat precise grids and dotted with modest houses. Each house, apart from its 10 or 20 acres of fruit trees, is surrounded by its own protective clump of palms, gums and ornamentals to stave of the heat of a baking summer. These homes were established in the twenties and thirties, the products of unbounded optimism and of ‘the blockies’ – fruit block owners who got up at 4am and worked very hard all day.

In the still air of the deep violet dawn in the east, there’s a sense of momentous occasion to the place; it’s as though it’s all a film set and an orchestra is playing some inspiring overture. The rich red sand and dark green trees are slowly and softly set aglow by horizontal golden light in the rising dawn. You can almost hear the violins sawing away.

In this pleasant setting every morning I try to take a different route through the grid of roads spreading out from the town. This morning, the air is chilly but not unpleasant: the rain has, once more, failed to materialise.

There is no-one else around.

As I approach one house, close to the road, I see a man is sitting on an armchair on his verandah.

He would not expect anyone walking along the road at this time of morning and has not seen me. He is in his fifties, scrawny, very suntanned and wearing a bleached Drizabone raincoat over his shorts. His posture on the armchair is not comfortable: he is sitting on the edge of chair, looking down at the ground, with his hands clasped together between his open legs.

He is completely lost in his thoughts and I stare at him, feeling a sort of embarrassment for intruding. Perhaps he really had expected it to rain when he got up and put on his raincoat as some gesture of optimism.

Then my clumsy steps passing him by alert him to my presence and he glances up.

He has the look of a haunted and troubled man and for a moment I feel I am witness to some grievous personal tragedy. Maybe it involves the family or the banks or the bills piling up or the fact that the fruit block his father carved out of the scrub may soon return to that state and after a lifetime of hard work he, the son, will have failed. I don’t know.

He gives a brief nod of acknowledgment and I do the same. The blockie gets up and goes inside, slamming the screen door behind him.

Walking back to my comfortable desk work on the computer for that day, I suddenly realise perhaps I disturbed him praying.

Praying that his hopes won’t curdle, that the farm won’t go for a pathetic song at auction.

For just a bit of rain that won’t make him feel like a fool for putting on his raincoat.

he experience has stayed with me because it was the briefest glimpse into some unknown region. Perhaps it was what climate change might mean at the personal level. Or the fate of farmers and people on the land throughout history. Or of just someone else’s life.


Henry Hoke’s Guide to the Misguided

Henry Hoke’s Guide to the Misguided is the story of an unsung inventive genius whose work could have revolutionised the modern world. From an isolated workshop in a distant windswept town came a constant stream of dazzling leaps of mechanical imagination, culminating in the extraordinary Random Excuse Generator. The long weight, the wooden magnet, the glass hammer, dehydrated water pills – the man’s mind was truly a fountain of innovation. Unaccountably, all these brilliant tools have now all but disappeared. In this groundbreaking new book, deep shed researcher Mark Thomson uncovers the true story behind our greatest inventor – or why, as Henry Hoke himself was known to say: ‘There’s no tool like an old tool.’


View the store here


Stuff about resourcefulness

Shed culture is about resourcefulness – or for our purposes, not throwing things out and finding a use for them.

It all comes down to the properties of things. How often have you looked at a machine part or a piece of discarded material and thought: that looks as though it could you can see it would be useful in some context. You know enough about how things are made to see that there has been a lot of energy and resources invested into the thing you’re looking at. Furthermore, you can see it has properties that make it useful: it might have bearings in it or a perfectly useful motor or transformer. Or it might just be very strong or flexible.

Take those plastic tongues you use to join chipboard flooring together. They’re often discarded around building sites and you often see builders pick them up and take them home. The stuff is just so strong and flexible – it’s damn near indestructible. But what can you do with them?

This section of the IBYS website is dedicated to your suggestions about smart reuse of such things. We want you to share your ideas and contributions.

I’m not talking about making things into decorative objects ie turning discarded typewriter keys into hair decorations or Coke cans cut up into mobiles but make use of the physical properties of otherwise to-be-discarded goods into useful things that have an extended and very functional life.

Third world countries do this already of course(see photo)

Shoes from drink bottles - a drastic (but impressive) African solution

It’s just us slack-jawed wasteful westerners who have got into some very wasteful habits.

The Russians have a big tradition of this too and you might want to check out Mr Vladimir Arkhipov’s rather unusual website to see some of his unusual collection.

In the meantime here’s a few more ideas;

What can you do with old bicycles? I’ve seen bikes made into water pumps, knife sharpeners, even drinks blenders. (Any photos appreciated) or old clothes hoists it all sorts of lifts and other devices.

Windscreen wiper motors are put to a thousand uses too.


Check out the Institute’s Forum

Show and Tell Sheds: the place to post your own shed stories and photos

Resourcefulness: share your thoughts about resilience, resourcefulness and general handiness

Ideas: inventions, thoughts, ideas – float them here!

Any Questions? Got a shed problem? Need some help? Ask your question here and see if anybody has the answer

Shed Buy, Sell and Swap: a good place to look for things you need, or offer things you don’t need any more

Everything else: general chatter

Forum Housekeeping: the rules of engagement, dedicated to keeping the Forum friendly

Start by entering a username and password, and then you’ll be registered as a member of the Forum. You’ll need to use the same login every time you go to the Forum. We look forward to sharing some lively discussions, debates, creative ideas and inventions, as well as seeing your own shed stories and photos. So don’t hold back, start writing. (At the moment we are getting a lot of spam – we’re trying to eliminate it. However we can spot the difference between your genuine contribution and ads for bloody I-phones)

IBYS Membership

For an annual fee of $20 the benefits of belonging include the following:

  • A dandy, important-looking (and highly framable) Certificate of Associate Membership from the Institute.
  • The choice of a ‘Good Shed’, ’Shed Science’ or ’I tinker, therefore I am’ sticker for your shed or car.
  • A space on the Institute of Backyard Studies website to display your own shed stories and up to three photographs. (The Editor reserves the right to edit stories and pictures as he deems necessary.)
  • A 5% discount on the advertised price of all items in the Institute’s online Shop.
  • Regular emails advising of the Institute’s new projects, publications and products.
  • The option to receive email advice whenever new posts or comments are added to the site.
  • Advice about upcoming events in your region at which the Institute will have a physical presence.
  • Other good things as we think of them.
  • And absolutely nothing involving goats.

Price: (AUD)


View the store here