Ok, so let’s be clear – this isn’t one of those places that pops up on TripAdvisor after votes from 20,000+ people. It’s in a far-flung part of north-west Tasmania without too much going for it. I dropped in on the recommendation of a friend, and I can honestly say the $2 I paid for admission to Shorty’s Private Collection was the best money I spent all trip. It may have been the best money I spent all year.
Zeehan is a mining town, but its glory days were about a century ago. In fact, on my very quick visit it appeared to be going through its cup-of-yak-fat-with-a-pubic-hair-in-it days. Ray Keating, appropriately known as Shorty, spent several decades mining tin in the area, and he is now sharing his collection of curiosities with interested folk passing by.
And what a collection it is!
The sign on the front says ‘Don’t miss a truly unique experience’. Unlike the way real estate agents use (and abuse) the word ‘unique’, Shorty is almost understating how unique his private collection actually is.
Inside you will find everything from historical light fittings from the local masonic lodge to a handsome collection of branding irons and bricks with convict thumb prints embedded in them. Then there’s the stuffed champion racing pigeon Wayward Rambler from the 1970s and uranium glass that glows in the dark. And his house is linked to the backyard shed via a mining tunnel. Yes, really.
Shorty is also an avid driftwood collector and carver. Inside you’ll find driftwood carved into into gummy sharks, Mr Squiggle, aliens, telephones and more. And they all bear at least a passing resemblance to what they are supposed to be.
Possibly the jewel at the heart of this collection is Shorty’s R-rated cupboards of carved driftwood – one for the ladies and one for the gents – which he will unlock for visitors of appropriate age upon request. And while I’m not going to spoil the surprise by posting any pics, I will say that the driftwood knobs look they have been lavished with much more love and attention than the driftwood lady parts in the other cupboard, which are much closer to how nature intended them to look.
There is much, much more and it is all genuinely fascinating and wonderfully eccentric. And the incredible diversity is quite overwhelming. The following label from one exhibit will give you an idea of what waits for you at Shorty’s Private Collection:
One of two bad accidents happened to No. 13 A.S.U. Beyer Garrett when the locomotive hit a tree that had fallen across the track on 28 July 1955. The engine was thrown onto its side, losing its tender-full of Newcastle and Tasmanian coal down into a steep ravine. The driver and fireman were both dazed, but not badly injured. This is a piece of that coal, collected on Wed 1-5-2002
It is amazing. It is surprising. It is delightful and it is a true original which you should definitely – definitely, definitely – take the time to swing by if you are in the area. Just make sure you take some loose change for the admission fee.
I need to say a huge thanks to Ainslie and Scott Fraser (@fraseville on Twitter) for pointing me in the direction of this one – it’s not in the guide books.
Please get in touch if you have suggestions of your own for unusual places or characters to profile.
You can find on me Twitter via @FarOutOz.