Probus invites Alf Cantrell, Banjo Paterson historian and museum operator for monthly talk

Probus: Kay Munro, Cecily Wilson, guest speaker Alf Cantrell and Peter Sheridan. Photo: Daniel Shirkie
Probus: Kay Munro, Cecily Wilson, guest speaker Alf Cantrell and Peter Sheridan. Photo: Daniel Shirkie

Wellington’s monthly Probus meeting has come and gone and attendees at the morning engagement at the Wellington Bowling Club were treated to a riveting talk from Yoeval stalwart Alf Cantrell. 

Probus, an organisation for retirees hoping to stay active and challenge themselves, promotes opportunities for members to foster friendships, learn from guest speakers and participate in activities, travel and exploration. 

The Wellington branch of the organisation had planned to host John Sarkissian, an operations scientist at the Parkes Radio Observatory, but unfortunately Mr. Sarkissian had to cancel shortly before the planned talk. 

Mr Cantrell spoke about the hard work that goes into the administration of the Banjo Paterson Museum in Yeoval. 

Previously the Wellington branch of Probus have hosted meetings with guest speakers such as photographer Robert Bruce, who travelled from Orange to speak with the group about his life’s work.

Mr Cantrell’s museum was opened in 2014, on the 150th anniversary of Paterson’s birth. The famed poet and storyteller spent his formative years in Yeoval on his father’s property and the experiences there shaped much of the man’s later life work. 

Mr Cantrell operates the museum with his wife, Susan, and the two had specific goals in mind when they first opened the building on Forbes Street.

“We set out with two specific things in mind, one was to build something in Yeoval that would make it a destination or somewhere good to stop whilst travelling through and also to put together the best collection of Banjo Paterson in the world, because Yeoval is the place where he lived,” Mr Cantrell said.

“Also, on the side, we were both retiring and it gave us something to do, so we opened the museum. It’s run by an incorporated body and we all volunteer there, no one gets paid, but it definitely works; it gets people to stop and I think we’ve been getting very good acclaim.” 

The museum is held in such singular regard that the curators frequently field requests from national and international museums looking to learn about or use items that the Paterson museum has on display.

“We get people like the Australian museum calling us up to say ‘mate, we need this, have you got it? Can you bring it down?’ We’ve had numerous overseas visitors which is always surprising, one bloke from America recently called in because he'd done a thesis on Banjo Paterson after he was so impressed with his poetry and he came here and his first stop was us,” Mr Cantrell said.

Thanks to the wide variety of experiences Paterson had and how his writing was inspired, the museum is able to include as much Australian history as it has personalised history, informed by Paterson’s experiences and own family lineage.

“We were very fortunate recently to have purchased an original letter from Banjo Paterson’s father and uncle writing to their bank in Scotland, talking about their arrival in Australia and their intentions there,” Mr Cantrell said. 

“We try to incorporate as much of the broader Australian history in it.”