The main image above shows the Blue Pool formed over thousands of years by flood waters on the Freestone Creek as they blasted out through the narrow gorge upstream. The raging torrents gouged out a deep pool and threw up a pebble beach on the opposite side with a splendid selection of flat skipping stones. Photo: Peter McHugh – July 2019..

Box of Wonders… “The Archies” Gippsland History

Full credit for all photos and information goes to Peter McHugh, information sourced from the Gippsland History Facebook page

An eclectic house and garden known as “The Arches” was the home of Archie and Edna Hair, an elderly couple with a rare spirit of generosity.

They lived in the bush on State forest at the popular swimming hole known as the Blue Pool on the Freestone Creek, which is just north of the delightful village of Briagolong in Gippsland.

Please don’t make the common mistake of calling it the Blue Pools…. there is only one pool…

Archie Norman Hair enlisted at Traralgon into the 23 Battalion during WW1 and saw service at Gallipoli and France where he was wounded. He returned home in 1919 to farm at Willung before finally retiring with Edna to Briagolong in the mid-1950s to do a bit of gold prospecting.

There had been a brief flurry of mining activity after the discovery of gold in 1864 by 16-year-old schoolboy Tanjore Boyce. Old mines and relics remain scattered throughout the bush.

Archie and Edna built two houses on the same piece of State forest. Their first began in the mid-1940s as an abandoned miners hut made of bark, which was progressively extended and improved. But it was destroyed in the 1965 bushfires. Undeterred, a second house was built soon after.

Both houses looked like something out of a Mother Hubbard storybook and neither had mains power or town water… but Archie and Edna had a pet kangaroo named Skipper.

Legend has it that Archie had a wooden box, the contents of which were a source of fascination. He called it his “Box of Wonders” in which he kept simple things that he had collected from the bush. He held children captivated as he spun elaborate stories associated with each rock, tiny fragment of pebble, brown bottle or prized bird’s nest.
There was a large “listening tree” nearby under which Archie told tales of the forest to adoring children (and adults).

Archie also set up treasure hunts around the bush for the local scouts or other visitor groups and would lend them his unique handmade walking sticks… some with secret compartments containing clues.

Many say the house was on a Miners Right and while I haven’t dredged out the Departmental File, I suspect The Arches was probably made legal as a non-transferable “Permissive Occupancy” under the Crown Lands Act. Not that it really matters…

Edna died on 10 May 1966 aged 75 and Archie on 21 December 1980 aged 89. The local District Forester at Maffra generously agreed to the family’s request not to remove The Arches until after his death. The house was still there and occupied by Archie when I worked at Briagolong in 1979-80 but it’s gone now and little trace remains.

Archie and Edna had become the unofficial and unpaid custodians of the Blue Pool, so it was in the interests of the Department to allow them to stay.

Sadly, I know little else about Archie and Edna Hair.

But I do know there were many other examples of these types of mutually beneficial and informal occupancy arrangements on State forest, often with quirky caretakers, but most of the buildings have now been removed and their history lost.

The Blue Pool is also very important to local Aboriginal people as a sacred birthing pool for Braiakaulung women.

The Blue Pool (not Blue Pools) is a very popular swimming hole on the Freestone Creek north of Briagolong. This secret gem on State forest and is proudly maintained by the local DELWP crew from Briagolong.

The Blue Pool is also very significant to Braiakaulung women as a sacred birthing pool. Tragically, members of the tribe were removed in about 1864 to Ramahyuck Mission Station which is on the shores of Lake Wellington near Sale. During Reconciliation Week in 2008 Wayne Thorpe, a member of the local clan, conducted a Welcome to Country and a Smoking and Cleansing Ceremony. Source: State Library Victoria.ngs.

The original Arches – Circa 1950-60s. Source: Stratford Museum.

Archie Norman Hair enlisted in the 23 Battalion during WW1 and saw service at Gallipoli and France where he was wounded. He returned to farm at Willing before retiring and building a home at the Blue Pool near Briagolong in the 1950s. Seen here convalescing in France. Photo: Annette Power.

The generous and welcoming Archie and Edna Hair holding his handmade walking sticks. Source: Stratford Museum.

Treasures from Archie’s “Box of Wonders”. Photo: Brian O’Keefe.

Archie and Edna at “The Arches” with his hand-carved walking sticks complete with attached gadgets resting against the fence. They were shaped from bush timbers and had secret compartments. They were used together with “clues” to conduct hunts for small treasures which he had hidden in trails about the bush. Circa 1950-60s. Source: Stratford Museum

Freestone Creek in full flood at the notch in the rocks just above the Blue Pool – July 2016. Photo: Seb Nieuwesteeg.

Gold prospecting on the Freestone Creek. Circa 1867. To me, it looks very much like the Blue Pool. Picture: Charles Walter. Source: National Library Collection

Upstream of the Blue Pool the Freestone Creek catchment is forested with steep dissected sides which acts as a giant funnel. It’s also very rocky with shallow skeletal soils so rain doesn’t soak in easily. Typically, it floods under the influence of an east-coast low-pressure system that brings several days of heavy rain to Gippsland. Its catchment is said to produce some of the fastest rising floodwaters in Victoria. Photo: Peter McHugh – November 2018.

The original Arches at Briagolong. Circa 1950-1960s. It was burnt down in the 1965 Gippsland bushfires. Source: Stratford Museum.

The original Arches started in the mid-1940s as an abandoned miners bark hut. Archie and Edna added to the four-room building over time, but it had no mains water or electricity. It had an open fire and kerosene fridge. Their home-made ginger beer and ANZAC biscuits served to the many visitors were legendary. Circa 1950-60. Source: Stratford Museum

The first Arches was destroyed on either 6 or 7 March 1965 when huge bushfires spread through Gippsland from Glenmaggie to Bruthen, The fires lasted 17 days and burnt over 300000 ha. Some of the family sheltered from the blaze in a nearby mineshaft. This photo shows the second Arches was built soon after. Source: Brian O’Keefe.

The second Arches was built after the 1965 bushfires swept through Gippsland and was still standing in 1980. The treasure-hunters are carrying walking sticks made by Archie Hair. Photo: Linda Barraclough. Circa 1965-1969.

Archie with a group of little people holding his hand-made walking sticks. Circa 1970. Source: Brian O’Keefe.

Archie had a standing order at the local Briagolong butcher for several pounds of sausages which he cooked up and fed to the hungry Kookaburras and Magpies. There were also lots of parrots and a secret bowerbird nest near the house. Photo: Brian O’Keefe.

Archie doing a bit of gold prospecting at the Blue Pool.

The Arches was at the southern end of the Blue Pool picnic ground. It was removed some time after 1981 and very little evidence remains other than a few rogue garden plants. The popular picnic site has deteriorated in recent years and is looking a bit tired but pleasingly is slated for a much-needed spruce up. I hope to see an interpretive sign for Archie and Edna Hair. Photo: Peter McHugh – November 2018.

The unique post and rail fences were hand hewn from local timber by talented DELWP craftsmen from Briagolong using traditional tools and techniques. Photo: Peter McHugh – July 2019.