Preserving Toowoomba history one piece at a time

HISTORICAL JOURNEY: Ray Ashford OAM and co-manager wife Pat had no idea how popular the pioneer village would become.
HISTORICAL JOURNEY: Ray Ashford OAM and co-manager wife Pat had no idea how popular the pioneer village would become.

TWENTY years ago, Highfields Pioneer Village opened its doors for the first Easter Vintage Festival and they are ready to celebrate again.

Last year the festival, the village's major fundraiser, attracted about 12,000 people over the three-day weekend.

"We must be doing something right," said village founder Ray Ashford OAM.

Ray, from a farming background, had always been interested in history and old artefacts.

When his dad took him to a vintage car museum on the Gold Coast, he didn't know what he was starting.

"I figured so much of our history was being lost and someone should do something about it and preserve what was left," Ray said.

He bought 20 acres of land at Highfields in the 1960s, when there was little there but a general store and land was cheap.

He collected machinery, then a building, then more machinery and another building.

"It kept growing and growing, and now we can't stop it," Ray laughed.

"We didn't have the luxury of many historical villages of planning what you want, going out and just buying everything.

"It's all donated, so it has grown naturally, the way any village would have in the old days - first a blacksmith, then a church, doctor's office and a school.

"It's been a very interesting journey."


BROUGHT TO LIFE: Volunteers work the grain thresher at last year's festival.
BROUGHT TO LIFE: Volunteers work the grain thresher at last year's festival.

That journey has seen the village go from opening only on weekends in 1993 to a seven-day operation, all fully volunteer-run, boasting 60 buildings and an untold number of artefacts.

The secret, Ray said, is that despite the fact "there's no flashing lights", the village brings the 1920s to life.

Rather than just static displays, the machinery is all in working order and there are craftspeople carrying out the old skills.

And despite relying on the funding of visitors through the gate rather than borrowing money, between one and three new projects are completed at the village each year, so there is always something new for visitors to check out.

"The sky's the limit," Ray said of the village's future.

"You can't slow down or things become stagnant. That's never happened here."

A restored bike shed, built just after WWI as part of the old foundry (recently demolished for the new Bunnings), will be officially opened over Easter.

The village's bike collection will hang from the rafters, as workers would once have hung their bikes.

There is now talk of a police museum and, Ray said, it could become a reality as the village already has an old jail on site.

Every artefact - whether it's a thimble, machinery or a building - is thoroughly researched before display.

"We've got a wonderful group of volunteers here, all from different walks of life and with all different skills and ... we just make things happen," Ray said.

Topics:  general-seniors-news highfields pioneer village noticeboard

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