(With acknowledgement to the Sydney Morning Herald and Saffron Howden, Rural and Indigenous Affairs Reporter)
They were the reliable source of unreliable rumour and gossip - the original office water cooler. Australian men preparing for battle during World War I at military camps would gather around the Furphy water cart, swapping unlikely and absurd stories. And thus, it is believed, the Australian slang - a ''Furphy'' – the term for a wild rumour, was born. The use of the upstanding Furphy family name to denote unsubstantiated rumour was first seen in print in R Graves's On Gallipoli in 1915, according to the Macquarie Dictionary. One theory is that the drivers of Furphy's water carts - used to transport water to the troops during the war around the Middle East and Europe - spread gossip between camps. ''Soldiers would gather around the cart and gossip,'' the Macquarie Dictionary editor, Susan Butler, said. The famous steel and cast iron tanks, designed and produced in rural Victoria by the Furphy family engineering company, were invented in the 1880s. They were in heavy demand by farms, stock agents and the military in Australia and abroad as a convenient way to transport water by horse.
Cocky Robinson on a Furphy water cart on Furphy's farm in about 1900.
This weekend, a 180-gallon tank dating back to 1930 will go under the hammer on the Liverpool Plains near Gunnedah in NSW as part of the ''Pinecliff'' farm clearing sale. Bearing one of the original messages from Methodist creator John Furphy on the end plate - ''Good. Better. Best. Never let it rest, till your good is better, and your better - best'' - the cart was used by Pinecliff's founder, Arthur Heath, to feed the animals when he worked as a stock agent.
'It was used when my grandfather and his brother came here'' … Malcolm and Russell Heath with the Furphy water cart at Pinecliff farm, near Gunnedah.
His grandson, Malcolm Heath, 67, who has worked the 5700 hectares grain and cattle property most of his life, said his grandmother was a Furphy and the cart was used up until the 1960s.
''That's the family connection,'' he said. ''It was used when my grandfather and his brother came here.'' The cart will be among a number of collectables auctioned on Saturday to raise money for motor neurone disease research in honour of Malcolm's cousin and fellow farmer, Phillip Heath, who passed away in 1999. While many disused Furphy tanks remain on farms around the country, the Pinecliff cart could fetch up to $10,000, one of the Furphy family said. ''There's interest growing in them,'' Andrew Furphy, 68, the great-grandson of the company's founder, said.