Long before the invention of electronic calculators, Pauline Harris’s bank-employee father, Hugh McHarg, added and subtracted pounds, shilling and pence with an ingenious little gadget billed as “the world’s smallest adding machine”.
Hailing from Walwa, working in Yarrawonga and sent on short notice by train to take up a new job in Western Australia in the 1920s, Mr McHarg made good use of his Exactus Mini-Add for many years.
The little machine, operated by a stylus, became redundant by the 1970s but it wasn’t thrown out. Daughter Pauline kept the Exactus and this year she provided it to Hyphen Wodonga Library Gallery for the Thingamabobs and Whatchamacallits exhibition in the Community Gallery.
A collection of contraptions and gizmos from days gone by, the exhibition celebrates odds and ends that once were useful items in local households but now serve as a window into the simpler times of the past.
Mrs Harris also donated butter pats from the family farm at Walwa, a multi-purpose bottle and can opener, a porcelain milk saver and a “Teasmade” machine she believes dates back to the 1950s. This comforting gadget, which still works, automatically brewed pots of tea overnight so the sleeping householder could awake to a hot “cuppa”.
Mrs Harris, who describes herself as ‘the one in the family that keeps all the bits and bobs”, was delighted to share part of her collection with Hyphen.
“I like things that have a story,” she said.
“I like making people happy – I’m more of a giver than a receiver – and if I’ve got things I like to share them.”
Her donations are among about 50 Thingamabobs and Whatchamacallits on display at Hyphen.
Ranging from a home-made children’s xylophone to a magic lantern projector from the turn of the 19th Century, some of the items will be familiar to older viewers and others are a testament to the inventiveness of previous generations who often made what they couldn’t buy.
In an age of mobile phones and satellite technology, the Thingamabobs and Whatchamacallits provide an intriguing walk down memory lane and a reminder of the way we were.
The exhibition is free to view and is open until November 20.