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The Rebirth of the Long Tunnel Cannon

From the "Walhalla Chronicle", November, 1995
Newsletter of the Walhalla Heritage and Development League Inc

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The "Long Tunnel Jubilee Gun" was built by David Loutit in the workshops of the Long Tunnel Gold Mine at Walhalla in 1887 -- the Golden Anniversary of Queen Victoria.

The cannon was in the Walhalla Mechanics Institute when the fire occurred in 1945. The gun barrel only survived. I do not know what happened to it immediately after this but I first became involved in about 1973.

The gun barrel was in the possession of a gun collector and dealer in Toorak. It became a case of "possession being nine-tenths of the law", so one evening, I accompanied a delegation of about four members of the Walhalla Improvement League to "liberate" the gun barrel.

It was loaded onto my vehicle and taken back to Ringwood to await restoration. It remained under our double bed for a while until I could get onto the job of restoration. My son James was a keen helper on this project and his son -- James -- visits the "cannon" whenever they are in Walhalla.

The hardest part of the project was to get details of the "truck" (the mounting for the cannon) as the only photo I could get my hands on was in "Walhalla Heyday". I drew it up and took it to the gun collector who had it previously. He made the comment that it was too high and if the cannon was fired it would turn over backwards -- so I reduced the height slightly. However the story goes that one time when the cannon was fired on an official occasion it did fall over backwards so it would appear that my original design was probably correct.

The truck was made out of 3-inch Wandoo -- the wheels were turned out of of laminated blackwood. I found out later that the original wheels were cast iron -- but by then it was too late. The iron saddles, axles and other metal parts were made up by a friend in a workshop in North Mebourne. He wanted to see the finished job, so I loaded it onto my HQ station wagon and took it to work.

It was loaded with the barrel pointing out the back of the vehicle and packed so that it would not move. I had to drive into Melbourne on business in my lunch hour, but that day was the moratorium on Vietnam which Jim Cairns had organized. I was rather nervous in case I was arrested for "subversive activities".

The completed cannon was placed in the Museum in 1975 and has been on display ever since except when it has been removed for "firing".

The policy seemed to be, "Now we have a cannon -- let's use it!" The first occasion was on the 4th of July, 1976, and the following is a reprint from the August 1976 Walhalla Newsletter describing when the cannon was fired twice on the one day:

1776 AND ALL THAT

Sunday 4th July was to go off with a bang in Walhalla!!

American exuberance mixed with Australian hospitality at Walhalla made a perfect cocktail recipe at the Walhalla Lodge Hotel on the night of 3rd July.

The hotel lounge was full of merrymakers all bent on seeing how much they could reduce Phil's stock of liquor. They eventually rolled out of the lounge into the street at midnight to witness a magnificent fireworks display and also "the event of the century" -- the firing of the Long Tunnel Jubilee Cannon. (This cannon was made by Davie Loutit in the workshops of the Long Tunnel Mine in 1887 for the Golden Jubilee Celebrations in Walhalla of Queen Victoria. It was partially destroyed by the fire which burnt out the Mechanics Institute in the 1940's. It was restored by Peter Graham and reinstated in our Museum at Walhalla about twelve months ago).

Lionel Smart and Ollie Dobratz, dressed in uniform, were the only two brave enough to take on the heroic task. Lionel fashioned a ramrod for the occasion and, with the help of ½-lb of black powder and some wadding, raised hell!!

The noise would have woken the dead in the cemetery and the smoke filled the valley. The reverberations of the blast broke windows in Wombat's garage -- much to Kath's disgust. There was also a command performance firing the next day.

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The second time the cannon was fired was to commemorate the unveiling of a plaque to honour the founder of Walhalla, Edward Stringer. We are again indebted to Peter Graham, editor of the Walhalla Newsletter, for permitting us to reprint his article (from the May 1977 issue) detailing this event:

The Unveiling

The Australia Day weekend this year (1977) proved to be a "Red Letter Day" in Walhalla's history. It was chosen as the occasion for the unveiling of a plaque to Edward Stringer and his partners in memory of the finding of gold by them at the junction of the right and left arms of Stringer's Creek on December 26th, 1862.

Sunday at about 2:30 was chosen for the historic event, and the junction was full of people and cars. The weather was perfect, even a little hot. Grass had been cut, and generally the corner hadn't looked better. Every vantage point was besieged. People sat in the creek keeping cool, others under the Band Rotunda, on chairs or in the War Memorial enclosure.

The occasion was for the Unveiling Ceremony, and to herald the event, the NOW famous Long Tunnel Cannon was fired, much to the surprise of those within the range of its concussion. The echo resounded through the valley for some seconds -- some people in Windsor House commented that the building vibrated.

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The third occasion was on March 27th, 1977, when the cannon was used to start and finish both innings of the second cricket match against Melbourne Cricket Club.

The following extract is from a report of the day printed in the Walhalla Newsletter of May, 1977:

THE CRICKET MATCH OF THE YEAR

Because of the great success, both socially and financially, of the Cricket Match held in Walhalla between Walhalla United and Melbourne Cricket Club last year, it was decided to hold it again this year. It was held on 27th March on the Walhalla Cricket Ground.

... The day was perfect when people started arriving, about 10:30 a.m.

... At midday the start of the match was heralded by a blast from the "Long Tunnel Cannon". Melbourne "won the toss" or rather, to be more accurate, Lindsay George decided that, as they had batted first last year that the visitors should bat first this year ...

(Contributed by Peter Graham, 39 Hygeia Parade, Ringwood.)

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Editor's Note: Peter, who is a Past President of the League, is one of the many unsung heroes who have contributed more than their fair share of work to "patch up" and restore Walhalla. These things are usually forgotten with the years and your personal satisfaction in knowing you have "played your part" is so often the only reward at the end of the 10 or 20 years of voluntary work.

Thank you Peter for the many things you have done for Walhalla -- and for the help you have given me with this edition.

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The following article provided by Ollie Dobratz is a 'first-hand' account of the firing of the cannon on American Independence Day, July 1976:

At the beginning of this year Connie and I did a five week tour in our campervan of South Australia. Did a lot of fishing, looked up some of the places where I worked some 40 years ago and had a good look around the old copper mining areas of Wallaroo, Moonta and Burra. Once goldmining really got going in Victoria, a lot of the "Cousin Jacks" left those places and no doubt some finished up in Walhalla. A lot of preservation of early mining history has been done in South Australia, and done very well indeed.

On the way back to Gippsland we called in on Debbie and Peter -- (Peter Musgrove) -- better known around Walhalla as "Carpets". They now live at Casterton and Peter is the Forestry Officer for that area. I am sure you will recall Peter around the 1970's and -80's -- he was very much a fixture in Walhalla and lived in the old Hospital, Jackie Reynolds' bungalow, and a caravan near the Hotel, to name just a few locations.

Debbie and Peter made us very welcome indeed and insisted that we stay a few days. Naturally Walhalla featured in our talks quite a bit. (Did we talk about anything else?) The second day of our stay with them, the League newsletter arrived in the mail with the article about the "Long Tunnel Cannon", well that started us really going! Of course, Peter Graham restored the carriage some time ago (truck is the proper term) and did an excellent job indeed. 1976 was of course the 200th anniversary of American Independence and great celebrations were planned at the "Walhalla Lodge Hotel". Mine host, Phil Mouritz, had a lot of friends from the USA in Melbourne and all of them were coming to Walhalla for that weekend -- 4th of July was on the Sunday. It was suggested that the cannon should be fired to mark the occasion. I had a good stock of black powder in those days, so there was no reason why we should not have a blast.

One fine day during the week, Peter ("Carpets") and I took the cannon to the vacant block where the new Mechanics Institute has been rebuilt. We poured the contents of a small canister of "Curtis's and Harvey" No. 4 gunpowder down the barrel, rammed a wad out of old underfelt (trust "Carpets" to have that!) on top of the powder and then lit the fuse. Well -- it sure went off with a bang!! To my knowledge it was the first time since the olden days that the cannon had been fired. People around at the time were made aware of what we were going to do and were prepared. But we forgot to tell Nancy Coleman who lived with her husband Lloyd in the cottage just below the church! As she told us later, she was hanging out her washing on the back verandah when we "let her rip" -- Nancy was nearly blown off the verandah with just the sheer noise of the bang!

So, we had had our test shot and were ready for the 4th of July. The idea was for us to fire the cannon at the stroke of 12 midnight (Saturday to Sunday) and that would be the signal for the start of the fireworks.

Across from the Hotel on the old "Empress" mine site, the "Yanks" had set up the fireworks. Next to what is still the entrance to the carpark of the hotel there was a small shed, functioning as a small garage. As a matter of fact, Lloyd Coleman used to sell oil and petrol to the public from there for a while. The shed had two glass panes of about 6' x 5' facing the road. (Please note, I said had two glass panes -- more of that later!)

At the time I was employed by Phil and Kate Mouritz as barman and my work took me to 10 o'clock at night. The town was full of people, the Hotel was packed and everyone was having a great time. Lionel Smart, "Carpets" and I were in charge of the cannon. Since I was working flat out behind the bar I left it to Lionel and "Carpets" to look after the cannon. Towards 12 o'clock we placed the cannon in the middle of the road in front of that little garage shed and loaded up. There were "wall-to-wall" people between the Hotel and the creek, a safe distance away from the cannon. I had never seen such a crowd in Walhalla.

As I said, everybody was having a great time, and since I was working late I was stone cold sober, Lionel was alright and "Carpets" had his "rocking boots" on well and proper! Come 12 o'clock we lit the fuse -- can't remember who lit it, but it wasn't "Carpets"! Off she went with a great bang! Being so close to the little garage, the concussion sucked the two glass panes out and they shattered into thousands of pieces in the middle of the road!! Phil Mouritz stood not too far away and I can still picture him in my mind, he had turned around looking at the shed, pointing his fingers to the empty space where once the two glass panes were firmly fixed and stuttered, "Look, l-look, l-l-look what they have d-d-done!" "Carpets", Lionel and I melted away into the crowd keeping a fair distance between Phil and ourselves!

As arranged, after the cannon blast the fireworks were started. Truly magnificent! Any amount of beautiful rockets going up into the very dark Walhalla sky and just above the ground a blazing 1776 - 1976. I still think of it, how really great this fireworks display was in tiny Walhalla in 1976.

Shortly after I moved to W.A. for a while and took a trip overseas to visit my family and my home town, Hamburg, after migrating from there 26 years previously. The cannon was fired on further occasions while I was away -- the cricket match, unveiling of the "Ned Stringer" plaque, etc. But I have not heard it since that 4th of July 1976.


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Editor's Note: We thank Ollie for his colourful description enabling us all to experience the firing of the cannon on the 4th of July 1976.

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