Lebbeus Hordern’s Farman “hydro-aeroplane” floating on Sydney Harbour in May 1914
Gift of S. Dyson, 1982. P3283-1. Collection: Powerhouse Museum
Not content with dazzling crowds in Sydney and Newcastle with his aerial acrobatics, on May 8, 1914, French stunt pilot Maurice Guillaux also made the first seaplane flight in Australia, test flying a Farman “hydro-aeroplane” imported into the country by Lebbeus Hordern (1891-1928), a member of the wealthy and influential Sydney merchant family.
Neville Wran announcing the Powerhouse Museum project, 1979.
During the late 1970s I was living in England researching a doctorate. I also enjoyed a lot of museums including during a visit to Paris the Centre Pompidou, which had only been open for a year or so. I remember being totally blown away by it, astonished by this new take on the idea of a museum, and especially the way it made you look at art afresh, and how it had become a social centre, encompassing activities a long way from artistic contemplation.
It didn’t occur to me that anything like the Pompidou would be possible in Australia. Little did I know that another Australian traveller had also been impressed. It’s urban legend that recently elected NSW premier Neville Wran said to his wife Jill after a visit to the Pompidou: ‘I want one of those’. The Powerhouse is Neville’s Pompidou.
Maurice Guillaux flying his Blériot monoplane over Victoria Racecourse. Gift of S. Dyson, 1982. Collection: Powerhouse Museum
Flying in Cloudland! Looping the Loop! The World’s Most Daring Aviator! Aviation Extraordinary! Not long after his arrival in Sydney on April 8, Maurice Guillaux began to make headlines, as his promoters and newspaper reporters searched for superlatives to express the excitement of Guillaux’ aerial performances.
A view from Level 1 in the Boiler House looking up at Maurice Guillaux’s Bleriot XI soaring above the Transport exhibition with other historic aircraft. L611. Image: Powerhouse Museum
Soaring above the Transport exhibition is one of the Powerhouse Museum’s treasures, a tiny Blériot XI monoplane. With fewer than 30 aircraft made before World War 1 still preserved around the world, this aircraft would be significant for its rarity alone. But this Blériot, together its French pilot, Maurice Guillaux, also holds an important place in Australian aviation history, pioneering civil aviation in this country by carrying the first airmail from Melbourne to Sydney in July 1914.
To celebrate the centenary of the first Australian airmail, I will be contributing a series of posts on this blog over the coming months, charting the story of Maurice Guillaux, his aircraft and their important contributions to early aviation in Australia.
William Street, Sydney about 1968. Photo by David Mist, Powerhouse Museum collection. Gift of David Mist.
A few years back I was interviewed about the fate of Sydney’s neon advertising signs:
‘The great age of neon has passed,’ laments Charles Pickett, a curator of design and society at the Powerhouse Museum, an institution that houses the AWA sign that once sat atop the eponymous1930s skyscraper, and a red neon greyhound removed recently from Wentworth Park Raceway. ‘The days of William Street being a gallery for neon are long gone. The Coca-Cola sign is all that’s left.’
Since then we’ve added the Sharpies Golf House sign to the Powerhouse collection, another of many well-known neons to disappear from Sydney nights (there’ll be an article about the Sharpies sign in the next issue of Powerline). The decline of neon as a marketing and visual medium is partly one of advertising fashion and technological change – LED signs are cheaper, less fragile and use much less electricity than neons.
Powerhouse Museum Collection, object 97/189.
Simple objects can take us on fascinating journeys into the past. This Roll-a Road caught my eye in our basement store because of its resonance with modern GPS navigation devices. It is about the same size as a Navman and served much the same purpose, but it was designed for manual operation, its format is portrait rather than landscape, and the user had to know where they were before they could start using it to guide them to their destination. Online research revealed that a similar device was patented as early as 1933, and a newspaper report from 1906 made an even stronger link to the navigation tools available today.
The famous Holden 48-215 (FX) standard sedan, production No. 1440 S, made in 1951. Powerhouse Museum collection. B1662.
Australians are reeling with the announcement on 11 December, 2013, that Holden, an Australian icon, will stop building cars here in 2017. How has this happened? With some 66 makes available in Australia these days, twice the choice US drivers have, clearly we don’t like football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars quite enough any more.
Tandem monkey bicycle with toy monkeys. The bike was made by the Edworthy Cycle and Motor Works of Sydney from metal tubing and re-spoked pram wheels. Powerhouse Museum collection 2008/197/2. Gift of Kenneth Edworthy, 2008.
Do you remember the monkeys riding tiny bicycles at Sydney’s Taronga Park Zoo? This miniature tandem bicycle was made for the Zoo’s monkey circus and used between 1936 and 1940. It’s one of the most unusual bicycles produced by the Sydney firm, Edworthy Cycle & Motor Works.
Nota Type IV ‘Fang’ sports racing car, chassis No. 224/71, made by Chris Buckingham, Nota Engineering, Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia, 1971. Powerhouse Museum collection 90/557.
This Australian-designed and built sports racing car is the prototype for the Nota Type IV ‘Fang’ in the RT (Road Track) Series. It was manufactured in 1971 by a small Sydney-based automobile manufacturer, Nota Engineering, of 40 Smith Street, Parramatta, probably the oldest specialist manufacturer of sports cars in Australia.
Powerhouse Museum Collection object B1465. Gift of the Shell Company, 1961.
Young Sydney engineer Frank Hammond invented the ‘visible volumetric’ petrol pump around 1920 and licensed his patent rights to manufacturers in Australia and the UK. Garages purchased visible pumps to ensure that they were supplying an accurately measured volume of petrol, or ‘motor spirit’, to each customer. They wanted to convince customers that they were getting a fair deal, they didn’t want to lose money by supplying more petrol than customers paid for, and they wanted an innovative edge over competing garages.