Category Archives: Transport

Neons and museums

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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.
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Rolling map leads to 1906 Navman prototype

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Powerhouse Museum Collection, object 97/189.

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.

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Holden is history

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The famous Holden 48-215 (FX) standard sedan, production No. 1440 S, made in 1951. Powerhouse Museum collection. B1662.

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.

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Taronga Park Zoo monkey bike

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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.

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.

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The Nota Fang – an Australian-made sports car

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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.

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.
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These petrol pumps are history, but what’s the future?

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Detail of Powerhouse Museum Collection object B1465.

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.

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Vintage Farm Machinery – a Museum volunteer’s experience

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Advertisement for an "18-30 Super-Drive" tractor made by Ronaldson Bros & Tippett Pty Ltd, The Austral Engineering Works, Ballarat, Vic, Australia, c.1925

Advertisement for an “18-30 Super-Drive” tractor made by Ronaldson Bros & Tippett Pty Ltd, The Austral Engineering Works, Ballarat, Vic, Australia, c.1925.

Before my recent role as a volunteer, any semblance of interest towards farm machinery and equipment came from when I was as a small child, diligently preparing the family vegie garden by raking the soil with all the exuberance that a young child could muster. Continue reading

Ford to close in Australia: an Australian icon, the 1965 Ford Falcon XP

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Sectioned XP Ford Falcon, Powerhouse Museum Collection. Gift of the Ford Motor Company of Australia, 1966. B1644

Sectioned XP Ford Falcon, Powerhouse Museum Collection. Gift of the Ford Motor Company of Australia, 1966. B1644

On 23 May, 2013, Australians were stunned to learn that Ford was to finish production of cars in Australia in 2016. The first Ford cars were sold in Australia in 1904 and a sales office opened in Melbourne in 1909, established by Ford of Canada. In the same year a local manufacturing plant was established in Victoria, at Geelong, 70 km SW of Melbourne. The Broadmeadows assembly plant, 16 km N of Melbourne, was opened in 1958 and an engine machine shop built in the expanded plant two years later. This enabled production to almost double from 50,000 to 90,000 units in 1961.

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National Historical Machinery Rally, Mudgee 2013

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Powerhouse Museum Collection, object B1067. Gift of the University of Sydney, 1947.

Powerhouse Museum Collection, object B1067. Gift of the University of Sydney, 1947.

Mudgee is the place to be from 19th to 21st April. Historic engines and tractors will be there in force, but there will be a lot more to interest visitors, from Clydesdale horses to old-style games for children. Powerhouse Museum curators have selected a group of highly significant objects to take to the event, including this early Daimler high-speed petrol engine, four early gas engines, specimens of fine wool grown in the Mudgee area, a rare woollen convict jacket and an amazing fine-wool jumper knitted by Mudgee’s own Myra Mogg in 1935.

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Revisiting the 1988 ultralight flight from England to Australia

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The CFM Shadow ultralight aircraft, 'Dalgety Flyer' flying from England to Australia in 1988. Photo courtesy of Brian Milton.

The CFM Shadow ultralight aircraft, ‘Dalgety Flyer’ flying from England to Australia in 1988. Photo courtesy of Brian Milton.


Imagine flying from England to Australia in a tiny ultralight aircraft with a cockpit not as big as a coffin and a flying speed of 90 kph. Well Brian Milton did just that as part of Australia’s bicentenary celebrations. After the record-breaking flight Milton’s ultralight was given to the Museum. Now 23 years later its English pilot has contacted me with a gripping account and photos of his very dangerous ditching in the Persian Gulf during the flight:

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