February 24th, 2022Still floating ideas, after all these years
Fantasyland is a carousel that sits out the back of Tom Henderson’s place. It seats four, with two people propelling it by cranking an arm up and down.
For 20 years the idea of the carousel sat in Tom’s head. He made it a reality for the Daylesford New Year’s Eve Parade.
And so, with its 300 mirrors, it joined his award-winning floats for Melbourne’s Moomba Parade and a mechanical wonderland of trucks and bizarre machinery.
Tom Henderson’s story is at once humble and exciting. Born 74 years ago in the Daylesford Hospital, he grew up as the second of six children on a dairy farm at Shepherds Flat.
After two years compulsory National Service in the Army, he went logging for Ogden’s Sawmills, then in East Street.
It was the early 70s and his work was, he says, tough but fun, working with machinery in the open air. “No one was watching you.” As well, he had to be a bush mechanic.
This was around the time that he saw a chance to improve the standard of floats in Daylesford’s New Year’s Eve Parade. “I wasn’t frightened to step outside the square,” he says.
Enter his Professor Know-All’s Water Pumping Machine. Then a Crutching Crew, all about shearing.
Six months’ work, “on and off”, went into these floats. “It was fun, and the people building them would operate them.” This joy and imagination was recognised in 1976 by the Melbourne Moomba Parade Lord Mayor’s Prize for best country float, pictured right. It hangs framed on a wall of his home.
This was for the Jim Crow Creekers, an astonishing float, initially for Daylesford, which carried 10 people who sluiced for gold and ran a blacksmith’s shop, with forge bellows. Blokes worked a water wheel powered by a hidden pump, while a baker produced bread along the Moomba procession (“The smell was just fabulous”).
Behind a sledge was a delivery cart, connected to the wagon.
The twist here was that the local Apex Club entered the Moomba Parade. Trouble was, the club didn’t have a float and so latched on to Tom’s New Year’s Eve model.
Suffice to say, Tom won the Moomba prize again the following year.
He and his team made a Santa Claus Workshop for Daylesford about 20 years ago. Elves and fairies fill a log cabin as they make toys. Santa’s sleigh is on another set-up, all pulled by a vintage tractor, a single cyclinder 1937 Lanz Bulldog.
But before the workshop, he built Sideways Suzuki, with two “drivers”, one steering the front axle, the other the rear axle. If both turned left, it went sideways.
He sums up: “I don’t have trouble building them: they just come together luckily enough. I could ‘see’ the carousel before I started”
He returns to the carousel, built for the cancelled 2020 parade. Last year it won the People’s Choice award, a $100 prize. The 13 people involved with the float got $7 each. Tom put a $5 note and change in each envelope. His team that built it were Nessa Fritchley, Adam Tori and ‘Maka’ Thomas, plus artist and neighbour Marina Pribaz, whose artwork adds enchantment.
“That’s my last big float,” says Tom. “There’s space in the procession for someone younger to fill.”
Words: Kevin Childs | Images: Contributed