It was the year of 1999, Ross Harmer was the Chairman of the Works and Finance committee of the struggling West Wyalong show society, and he was looking to raise enough money to give the show community the celebration it deserved for it’s centenary year.
He had a passion for history, a lifetime of local knowledge and a mind overflowing with idea’s.
“I had the idea to put together some footage about the area to raise some money for the Centenary show,” said Ross.
“I put the call out to the community for old film and we had a great response.”
“When I eventually left the show society I continued to search through the National Film and Sound Archives, and collecting more footage from personal collections.”
This is how West Wyalong Movies was born.
Twenty DVD’s later, Ross continues to balance his days between the farm and documenting the unique history of his local area.
Ross likes to say that he is “using our heritage to preserve our heritage.”
His first two films; West Wyalong Movies in 2008, and West Wyalong Movies 2 in 2010, recounted the famous local stories of beef, wheat and sheep production as well as the rich history of gold in the region.
More than 4500 copies of these original films have been sold, with most of the $70,000 raised from these titles being used to improve the West Wyalong Showground.
Later films looked at the use of machinery and farm equipment.
Ross has also released compilations of old news footage from the Riverina and a series of films on historic townships.
Fast forward to 2018, and Ross Harmer’s film production process shows no signs of slowing down.
Due for release in April, Ross is currently putting the finishing touches on a DVD which includes three separate films relating to the West Wyalong area.
The first is a history of fine wool in the 1950’s, the second a documentary on Charlie Walder, who Ross describes as ‘the man who made Wyalong’, a prominent stock and station agent who, after being fired from a local agents office after just two weeks, ended up owning close to the biggest private agency in the state.
Ross says that when Mr Walder’s business went under in 1931, he was owed so much money that if Walder had called in his debts he would have bankrupted most of south west NSW.
The third film on the DVD is called ‘Draw a Circle’, a documentary which focuses on the birth of the Kelpie breed.
According to Ross, if you were to draw a 100km circle around West Wyalong, you could trace almost the entirety of the breed development in Australia back to that area.
When we met at the Wagga Wagga production studio where his video is edited, Ross did not attempt to hide his excitement over telling the stories of the local heroes of old.
This new film tells, in part, the story of James Moore, an Englishman who emigrated to our shores aged 11 with his parents and two sisters, settling at Trundle in the Central West of NSW.
“James was a young guy who emigrated to Australia and started to work on the development of the breed. He put his Kelpie pup, Newton Jerry, in the novice section of the Royal Sydney Show dog trials and he won.”
“The very next day he backed up with a win by an even bigger margin in the opens section, no one had done that before and no one has done that since.” said Ross.
A look at Ross’s body of work presents multitudes of larger than life characters and stories, passed down from generation to generation.
Thanks to Ross and his team, these iconic stories have been given a sense of permanency on film, safe from the inevitability of fading memory.
He is well placed to be the teller of these local tales.
Growing up on “Strathnoon”, West Wyalong, Ross learnt the ropes cropping and working with wool. He has run cattle on the property for the past 25 years.
Ross says he became interested in young James Moore’s life when he stumbled upon a story from The Land printed in 1953, which had been digitized and added to the National Library of Australia’s online archives.
The story spoke of a short film entitled ‘A Man and His Dog’, which told the story of Moore and his aforementioned outstanding Kelpie. Ross later tracked down this footage for use in his own film.
Ross says that James’ story is indicative of the interconnected nature of stories from the bush.
“Jim worked for a time on Cowal West, now the site of Evolution Mining. The last property that Jack Gleeson worked on was also Cowal West and Jack Gleeson was the man who truly started the Kelpie breed as a working dog. It is a great variety of people involved, but you can really trace the history back to right here.”
Also set for release this year is ‘Aussies in the Saddle’, an in-depth look at the history of horse use in Australia.
“We want to tell the stories about people’s love of horses. We have looked at all aspects of horse use across the country. We discuss the evolution of horses and how we have worked with them through time.”
For this latest venture, Ross has collated 8 and 16 milometre footage from over 30 people’s personal collections, as well as still photographs.
Speaking to Ross, it is clear how forcefully he is driven by the task of re-connecting Australians to their history.
Though not planned, he says a great deal of his films are sold on to retirement homes.
“We find that the people in the homes use them to reminisce on the old days, and help jog memories.”
“The nurses will come in to turn off the TV before meal time and the older folks say ‘Don’t touch that dial!’.”
“They like to remember what life was like back then.”
With more films in the works and stories to tell, we can be sure that Ross will continue to connect Australians to their history for some time to come.