Field Telescope – the real deal

You may have read a post I wrote ages ago about an inexpensive Indian-made “training” telescope? Well, here’s the real deal. A while back I was lucky enough to acquire a very nice 1917-vintage old-timey brass military telescope to use alongside my 1900-ish deer stalker’s telescope, and of course the half-sized, Indian-made “decorative” telescope.

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1917-vintage Broadhurst, Clarkson & Co Sig., Tel (MkIV) in its natural environment, being used as an aid for field panorama sketching. Seen here a couple of months back on a mid-winter swag walk in the mountains west of Sydney.

Here’s a tip if you’re ever looking at one of these old telescopes online or at a second hand store with a view to buying it – If the seller says it must be broken because it won’t focus, then you’re probably very close to getting yourself a bargain. Why is that? These multiple draw telescopes won’t focus if you just twist the eyepiece. In fact, if you do that with this particular model, the eyepiece will unscrew and fall off! Nope, to focus these you must push in or pull out the last draw tube until the image comes into focus.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, on to my telescope. The telescope is a World War One era British signalling  and general service telescope. It was used by signallers before radio communications became commonplace. Flashing electric light or signal mirror Morse code or perhaps semaphore flags were used to send messages over long distances and the message was received by an observer with a telescope.

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Trainee signallers at a South Australian army camp circa 1915. Two heliograph (signal mirror) units on tripods are the “transmitters”. A telescope on a tripod  is the “receiver”. Until well into the 1940s, this was the most common use of the military telescopes – on land at least.  SLSA B46130/235

Probably more famously, these were used by British and Commonwealth snipers in the First World War and while they were replaced in British service by a lighter model, this particular model of telescope soldiered on with Australian reconnaissance parties, intelligence officers and snipers during the Second World War too. In fact, I can’t lay my hand on the photo, but I’m pretty sure there’s a picture of an Aussie sniper spotter using one of these obsolete telescopes during the Korean War of the 1950s.

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Simply captioned “Snipers 5th L.H., one firing and other pointing with telescope.”, I believe that this image shows famous Australian Light Horse sniper Billy Sing and one of his two main spotters, “Jack” Idriess on Gallipoli in 1915. The spotter here is seen using one of the telescopes in question which has been camouflaged with hessian strips. Idriess of course would later become well known as the author Ion L. Idriess. AWM P10522.024.003

The telescope is marked with the following –

“TEL. SIG. (Mk IV) also G.S.
BROADHURST, CLARKSON & Co
LONDON
1917
22084”

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The Low Power eyepiece is shown above its leather pouch. With a relatively narrow field of view, sometimes it’s easier to use the telescope with this lower power 20x eyepiece fitted.

As far as I can tell, it’s a variable 20x to 40x telescope with a brass body and has a leather covering on the barrel and the extending sun shade. It has two leather end caps, a shoulder strap and a small tubular leather pouch threaded onto the shoulder strap which holds the low or high power eyepiece – whichever isn’t fitted to the telescope at the time.

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The telescope extended. It’s over a metre long and in fantastic condition for a 100 year old piece of equipment.

I bought it online from overseas with very little info from the seller. The pictures supplied by the seller were promising, with the 100 year old leather components looking almost pristine. I figured that if the leatherwork was in such great condition, then the rest of the telescope would be too. Sure, there was a risk that the objective lens may have been infested with fungus or smashed, but it was worth the risk and I was not disappointed. It’s a truly beautiful instrument.

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If you look closely you can see the markings.

The weight was a huge surprise to me. I’ve taken the telescope along on several overnight bushwalking and swagwalking trips and you definitely notice the extra weight of the telescope and tripod.

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The telescope is carried by the shoulder strap. The tripod seen here is not original to this telescope, it’s actually a few decades older and was originally a deer stalker’s or target shooter’s tripod since it came with a rifle rest attachment as well. When strapped up in this fashion, the tripod can also be carried on the telescope’s shoulder strap.

I’ve been using it for field panorama sketching and it really helps with the details. You could use binoculars for this purpose, but I think that to get the same sort of powerful magnification as with this telescope, the binos would be huge and prohibitively heavy for this sort of work.

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When all closed up with both leather end caps fitted the telescope is very well protected and quite compact. Still very heavy though!

This is a powerful telescope – really powerful. Last full moon I set it up in the backyard to check out the moon. The image was spectacular. Clearly defined raters and debris trails from the meteor impacts. Due to full time auto focus on my phone’s camera I unfortunately I haven’t yet worked out how to take a photo through the telescope, but when I do I’ll take a whole lot and post them. It has to be seen to be believed.

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Waltzing Matilda with a swag, Part 5 – Eating

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In this picture showing the contents of the nosebag you can plainly see the eating equipment usually carried.

The swagman’s eating equipment is simple and  concise. I use vintage and vintage-style eating equipment. It consists of a tin plate, a silver-plated spoon, three-tine fork, bone handled butter knife sharpened to a razor edge and the quart pot’s pannikin.

As seen in the last post, the tin plate is a multiple-use item since it doubles as a frypan and hot plate. You could also use it as a pan for gold prospecting if you wish. It’s lightweight and easily slips down the side of the nosebag. Speaking of goldpanning, I have recently started using a 9 inch spun carbon steel gold pan as a plate/frypan/gold pan while swaggin’ it. It’s a bit heavier than the tin plate, but it has multiple uses. More on these in my forthcoming book On the Wallaby Track: A Swagman’s Handbook.

The spoon is probably antique, dating to at least the 1910s. It’s made of brass which has been silver plated. The silver plating is just a non-tarnish finish applied to the spoon, but it’s possible that there are health benefits to using silver or silver-plated utensils, which may be why they used them.

The three-tine fork is a Colonial-era item which could date back as far as the 1870s. It is carbon steel so it can rust and needs to be carefully dried before being placed in the nosebag after use. It has riveted wooden grip scales and a nice patina from more than a century of use.

The bone-handled knife is made from carbon steel and using a butcher’s steel, it comes up to a razor-sharp edge. As described in a previous post, this isn’t your mum’s butter knife, but it will butter damper quite nicely. The knife is multi-purpose and is a very effective carving knife and vegetable chopper.

Like the knife, the pannikin has already been described in a previous post. It is made from tinware and has folding wire handles. Like any tin cup, it can be placed on the fire to boil water when water is at a premium. Another type of tinware cup I use is a colonial-style tin cup which dates from at least the 1910s.  Since I am not sure whether the solder in this one contained lead, I use it very rarely, and never place it on the fire.

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Colonial-style tinware cup.

Waltzing Matilda with a swag, Part 4 – Cooking & Food Preparation

Making your tucker on the wallaby is an exercise in minimalist food preparation and cooking. Sure, you can take modern pre-prepared or freeze dried foods with you instead of the stuff the old-timers carried, but between you and me… that’s cheating. Taking a gas cooker or even an alcohol stove is cheating too. If the bushfire fire danger allows it, you use an open fire for your cooking. If it doesn’t then stay home or “cheat” and use a Jetboil and freeze dried slop-in-a-bag.

You’ll find that the “minimalist” concept I’m talking about relates mostly to your cooking equipment. There’s no cast ironware, enamel boilers or fold up grills here. Since you’re carrying it all in your nosebag, you want your cooking equipment to be as light as possible while still being effective.

The cooking gear described in this post is more of a Queensland style used by swagmen travelling that great state. It’s traditional, but there are many other options for preparing your tucker as the swaggies did. You can read more on this in my soon-to-be-released book On the Wallaby Track: A Swagman’s Handbook.

Something to boil water in

For the purposes of this post, we’re boiling in a quartpot. Traditionally, a quartpot was a small billycan with a pannikin (cup) stuck inside. Made from tinplated sheet metal or from copper, the quartpot was a very common piece of equipment for the bushman, whether he was a swaggie, drover or prospector. The quartpot even pre-dates the billycan by about 40 years. You can see references to them in books and newspaper articles circa 1810s since an earlier, but very similar design were issued to convicts as a type of mess tin. They are still in use by stockmen today, as well as by some of us who like to bushwalk and camp in the old style since they are twice as useful as a billycan.

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Some of my quartpots – from left – Stainless steel oval section quartpot and pannikin made by Ord River, John Williams Beltana pattern round pot and pannikin, vintage station-made round pot and pannikin – made from kerosene tin sheet metal and fencing wire.

My own quartpot and pannikin were sold by RM Williams and were made by RM Williams’ son, John. They seem to have gone out of production sometime in the last 12 months, but hopefully they’ll be back. The type of quartpot and pannikin I use are a round type. You can find quartpots with a “D” profile or oval or rounded rectangular profiles. These are stockman’s patterns designed so they don’t stick out too far when strapped to the side of the saddle.

In use, a quartpot has to be filled to the brim to stop the solder from being burnt out. It is pushed into the side of the fire, downwind of any prevailing breeze so that the flames lap around the whole pot, making it boil quicker. The oval profile quartpots excel here since the surface area is greater they tend to boil quicker.

If water is at a premium, you can boil water in the pannikin itself. As with the quartpot, you need to make sure the pannikin is filled to the brim or you’ll ruin it.

You wouldn’t try to make a stew in a quartpot, but it’s quite OK to use it to brew up tea or coffee. A burnt-on stew is a bit harder to clean up than coffee grounds or used tea leaves.

Something to fry on

Frying an egg is a challenge unless you have some sort of hotplate or frypan. You don’t want to carry a frypan but since you have a tin plate, it can be heated up on the fire and will become a… hotplate.

I usually drill a couple of holes near the edge of my plate when I want to take it off the fire, I’ll simply hook it with a piece of bent wire and drag it out.

Eggs aren’t the only thing fried on a hot plate. Johnnycakes and even corncakes come up beautifully when  fried. As does bacon or slices of corned beef. To flip your tucker while you’re frying it you need some utensils. I have made simple tongs out of fencing wire and a lightweight, but effective spatula out of a flattened corned beef tin and a length of deadfall timber secured to it with wire.

Something to grill on

You can of course make your own campfire grill out of some bendy green sticks, but if you do, you’re a vandal. You see, they only last for one use so you’ll have to make up a new one every time you want to grill a bit of meat or apple as you as go along, killing a bunch of saplings or stripping live branches in the process. Nope, in today’s environment you need to make up one which lasts, and which you can rely on even if there’s not a green stick to be found.

The traditional swagman’s solution was a bit of fencing wire bent up into the shape of the swagman’s hand. When not in use it was folded up and slid down inside the nosebag. It weighs very little and is highly effective. I’ve cooked bacon on one, grilled sausages, bits of steak, slices of apple and have toasted up pre-cooked johnnycakes on one.

Something to make damper in

You don’t really want to carry around a big mixing bowl and unless you have tons of water available, mixing damper in your quartpot or billy will lead to a huge mess. The swaggies mixed their damper on a bit of cloth laid over a depression they kicked into the dirt.

The well-equipped swagman used a square of canvas brought along specially for the purpose, but everyone else used the back of their coat or even the underside of their canvas swag cover. Some even used a wool blanket. If you first put down a lot of flour you don’t get much dough sticking to the mixing sheet. When it’s dry it can be blown or scratched off anyway.

I tend to use a square of calico myself.

Cooking Damper and Johnnycakes

Damper is best cooked directly on the coals or in the ashes of the fire. You’ll find that the ash and coals don’t stick and can be brushed off easily. With the sand method described below, the sand brushes off easily too.  Cooking them this way is nowhere near as bad as it sounds. The secret is to coat the uncooked dough with a layer of dry flour.

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Johnnycake cooking directly on the coals.

For the best damper, it’s actually best to cook it in hot sand. Make a depression in the sand and light a fire which burns down to a nice hot bed of coals. Brush aside the coals and lay the damper on the hot sand underneath. Brush the coals back over the damper and then bury the whole lot in sand. Mark your damper with a stick so you don’t lose it.

After the damper has cooked you need to completely cool down the hot sand with copius amounts of water before you move on.  If any person, stock or native animals walk over the hot oven they can be seriously injured. Don’t leave it until you’d happily walk on the dug up damper hole with bare feet.

How do you know when your damper is done? You stick in a twig or your knife blade. If it comes out clean then the damper is cooked. If it has dough on it, then leave the damper in for another half an hour.

Johnnycakes can be cooked in exactly the same way as dampers, but I find I prefer to cook them on the tin plate over a medium-hot fire. You can cook a bunch of them at a time and the process is just more controllable.

Something to cut on and with

To cut up cheese or corned beef or pork belly or vegetables, I just tend to use the tin plate. You can carry a plank of wood around as a chopping board or you can carve one from a bit of deadfall timber on site. The best improvised cutting board I have found is a coolamon made from a sheet of bark from an old flood-felled sheoak (casuarina) tree. Works great

The most important cooking utensil is a knife. I carry a sharpened vintage butter knife which sees more use as a food chopper and slicer utensil than anything else.

I haven’t covered any food hygiene here. More on that in a later post.