Henry 'Harry' Curran
Born: 1867; Died: 1956; Married: Agnes Gribble
Henry Roland Curran - known as ‘Harry’ - was the last full-time blacksmith of the ACT. He worked at the Ginninderra Blacksmith’s Workshop first as an apprentice for his uncle, George Curran, from 1882 to 1889. In 1891 he returned to take it over in his own right after Alexander Warwick walked out. He stayed there until he retired in 1949, aged 82. At that time, he was also the oldest professional blacksmith in the country.
Harry’s father was Henry Joseph Curran, a journalist with the Catholic presses in Goulburn, Boorowa and Sydney. He and his wife, Anne (nee Lodge), both died suddenly, so that in 1882 fourteen-year-old Harry found himself orphaned and responsible for his five younger siblings. He did his best with factory work in Sydney, but he was forced to put the baby in the care of a Catholic orphanage. Fortunately, his uncle, Patrick Curran, intervened to broker places for all the children amongst different family members. The solution for Harry himself was to be sent to Ginninderra as an apprentice blacksmith and wheelwright to his uncle, George.
Back in Ginninderra, Curran wasted little time in marrying local girl, Agnes Gribble, from The Valley. It also seems that he worked the smithy in the early years in partnership with Agnes’ brother, George. In 1893, he found himself indirectly involved in a criminal case brought against his brother-in-law, who was charged with stealing seed corn from John Southwell, and stowing it in the blacksmith’s shop. Fortunately, Gribble was acquitted.
By the late 1890s, George and Agnes had built a weatherboard home with a corrugated iron roof, situated about 100m east of the workshop. Family members recall Harry sitting by the fire, smoking a pipe and punctuating his conversation by spitting directy into the coals. In 1923, artist, Eirene Mort, when compiling a collection of works on the Canberra district, visited Curran and made a pencil sketch of him at work at his anvil. Her drawing is now part of the collection of the National Library of Australia and is on loan to the Canberra Museum and Gallery’s permanent display, which also features Curran's smaller anvil and swage block.
Harry Curran might have been a rough diamond, but his workmanship was not. He quickly established himself as the region’s most skilled smith. On occasion, he even had to defend the integrity his work, as some thought it was of such high calibre that it could only have been machine-made.
Curran was also prominent in the organisation of the first shows of the Ginninderra Farmers Union. He was the inaugural treasurer and organised some of the first ploughing matches. He is also recorded as one the founders of the Royal Canberra Show, for which he toiled as an active committeeman until August 1944, when his son, Henry 'Babe' Curran, reported his father’s desire to step down after 40-years service.
Ultimately, life in Ginninderra was good for the Currans. Their daughter, Vera, was the driving force behind the earliest local women’s cricket team and was one of the district’s first professional nurses. She married William Carney, a Gallipoli veteran and spent much of her life in the Ginninderra district. Harry’s two boys, ‘Chappie’ and ‘Babe’, both became graziers. Babe, in particular, was renowned for putting Canberra on the Australian wool-growing map.
In February 1954, when the Queen visited Canberra, Curran was one of seven elderly ‘pioneers’ invited to the Albert Hall to meet the royal party. Lionel Wigmore recorded that, when he was introduced to the Duke of Edinburgh, who remarked, ‘you must have worked very hard’, Harry’s laconic reply to young Phillip was, ‘Too right I did!’ Just two years after he was introduced to the Royal party, Harry Curran, the last professional blacksmith of the ACT, died.
- Gillespie, L.L., Ginninderra: Forerunner to Canberra, Campbell, 1992
- Maher, B., In Praise of Pioneers: an Account of the Keeffe and Curran Families - Queanbeyan District, Canberra, 1981
- McDonald, J., ‘When Ginninderra Grew the Golden Fleece’, Canberra History Journal, no. 75 (2015), pp. 15-23
- McDonald, J., ‘The Gribble Who Came to Queanbeyan’, Quinbean, Vol. 9.1 (2016), pp. 10-15
- Newman, C., Gold Creek: Reflections of Canberra’s Rural Heritage, Ngunnawal, 2004
- Smith, L. R., Memories of Hall, Canberra, 1975
- Wigmore, L., The Long View: a History of Canberra, Australia’s National Capital, Melbourne, 1963