Walking down the main street of Sheffield towards the pub, we came across a visually run-down building with dirty, smeared windows. Peering through the panes, I had discovered an engineering treasure I will never forget.
Engineering: Treasure Lost in Tasmania
Looking out from the other side of the window was a life size, shiny metal kangaroo holding a stubby of beer. I marvelled at this feat of modern day engineering and wanted to see more. The one-time shop was closed but the sign told me it would be open at 9am the next day.
We got there a bit later than that and the greeter was sitting in a rocking chair busily knitting. Mark Wasley never did tell us whether he was a local but, to this day, I’m sure he was the right guy for our daughter Carly. He was a smashing bloke with the temperament of a Labrador. In a dashing tweed jacket he was handsomely bearded, intelligent, interesting and, more interestingly, he was a knitter! What more could I want in a son-in-law? On cold nights the loving couple could sit by the open fire sharing a hot chocolate and singing choruses while knitting in harmony for their soon-to-be child.
Mechanical Engineering: Pneumatics & Mechatronics
For all of my working life, I’ve been involved in mechanical engineering and I’ve a good understanding of the expense involved in the manufacture of the working models inside the dingy building. Having recently been to MONA, I see them in a class way above some of the similar exhibits I saw there.
Briefly, all of the robotic working models were controlled by compressed air. Pneumatics is the technical term for this field of engineering. Mechatronics is the term used for mechanical and electrical systems that control motions such as pushing, pulling, rotating and gripping. If you’ve ever seen The Terminator you’ll know what I mean.
Apart from the beer drinking kangaroo, talking cockatoo and six-foot tall Terminator, there was a ten minute show. But first I had to feed coins into a slot to see the models perform. As The Terminator went through his routine, I was listening to the pneumatics opening and closing valves and exhausting without fail. I envisaged countless hours of milling, turning, drilling, fitting and polishing to achieve the end result.
As I was feeding my last coin into the Cockie’s cage, I glimpsed Mark the knitter preparing for the remote controlled Tiger’s Tale. Along with a few others, we were ushered up the stairs into a small, dark theatre and onto the stalls. We didn’t know what to expect as a life-like person sat above us with a large TV camera. Was he real?
The props portrayed a farm yard with a dog kennel, chook house and dunny. Apart from the sound effects and the lights, everything else in the show was controlled by pneumatics. As far as I can remember, the farmer was trying to shoot the Tasmanian Tiger that continually stole his chooks, but that hardly matters.
We were in stitches when the farmer sat on the dunny and from behind the door his pants lowered to the ground. All the time, the cameraman was filming away and all the time the pneumatics performed the actions. The show ended dramatically with the Tassie Tiger getting his chook and the farmer ever frustrated.
The knitter was no engineering expert. Someone else owned the models. All the knitter had to do was cue the show and press the start button. In the unlikely event of the air mechanisms failing, the show could not go on. Perhaps the expert lived a few doors away where the glass marble shop is now.
We went back to Sheffield a few years later. The murals and views of Mount Roland were as good as ever but the robot show had gone. I’m not one for change and found it hard to accept everyday bric-a-brac as a replacement. I could understand the departure, but a unique display like this would rake in a fortune in the major cities. I would estimate the cost of the models to be in excess of $0.5m but you couldn’t put a price on the one that got away. Knit a row, purl a row…
Roger Findlay spends all his holidays in Tasmania, then writes about the experience for Think Tasmania. If you’d like Roger to visit you in the name of research (so we can publish information about your business), please contact us.