History & Technology

DISPLAYING POSTS FILED UNDER: History & Technology (108)

History & Technology

Research and collections that document Victoria's history since European settlement, including community and domestic life, cultural diversity, technological change and innovation, and major historical events.

Vale Bill Woodward

Author
by Charlotte Smith
Publish date
23 January 2015
Comments
Comments (5)

Dr Charlotte Smith is MV's Senior Curator, Politics and Society.

This week, Museum Victoria volunteer Bill Woodward lost his fight with cancer. Bill was the quintessential quiet achiever; for almost 24 years he spent every Wednesday morning researching, cataloguing and filing documents relating to the history of the Royal Exhibition Building (REB).

Bill Woodward Bill Woodward next to Ivy Raadik. The photo was taken under the dome of the REB in 1996, at an REB Museum Volunteers dinner.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

It was around 1991 that Bill first began working on the ‘REB Museum’ project. At this time, the REB was managed by a government-appointed body of Trustees. While responsible for ensuring the financial viability of the REB’s event and conference business, the Trustees also recognised the need to document the building’s past. In 1988 the Trustees appointed museum professional Nina Stanton to develop a collection and archive. Nina’s call for volunteers in September 1990 attracted over 65 applicants. Not all made it through the intensive interview process!

Bill joined the team about a year later. Each team member had a role: some spent their days researching at the Public Record Office or State Library, another spent her time developing a chronological list of events, while others traced the history of pictures exhibited at Melbourne’s two International Exhibitions. Bill’s role at this time was to key all the information gathered by fellow volunteers into the computer. Other members of the team then filed the documents and images into filing cabinets.

In 1996, custodianship of the REB was transferred to Museum Victoria. As part of the transfer, the museum acquired a significant collection of objects, a growing archive, and a team of amazing volunteers.

Bill Woodward and woman Bill chatting with a fellow volunteer at a casual gathering in the REB, early 1990s.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

I joined the museum as Senior Curator responsible for the REB collections in 2007. At this time, the REB volunteer team had shrunk to two regulars: Deidre Barnett and Bill Woodward. Deidre retired at the end of 2008, so it was just Bill and I who used to get-together early on Wednesday mornings for a chat.

My first indication that Bill was not completely well was about four years ago, but in typical Bill style he refused to give in to his illness. Every Wednesday morning he would be at his desk, typing away with research he had done at the State Library. There were weeks when he’d go off for treatment, but he’d always return with enthusiasm and a wide smile.

Bill died surrounded by his family. His wife tells us he had a smile on his face; a wonderful and evocative image for those of us who knew Bill well. Many of us in the Humanities Department will miss Bill immensely; I will definitely miss my Wednesday morning chats, but find solace in the knowledge that Bill’s legacy will live on in the amazing archive he spent a quarter of a century developing.

Desperately Seeking Graham

Author
by Nick Crotty
Publish date
19 January 2015
Comments
Comments (2)

Nick is a Collections Manager at Scienceworks. He likes piña coladas, walks in the rain, Star Wars and hiding away from the light.

This radio recently came off display in The Melbourne Story. I was returning it to storage when I noticed that a conservator had bagged a small piece of paper while cleaning the radio in 2008, and had suggested that it be kept with the object. 

Radio from 1933 Broadcast Receiver (radio) made by Astor. This is the Mickey Mouse, model circa 1933 (ST 028290).
Image: Nick Crotty
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This torn slip of paper was not originally part of the radio, but tightly rolled and inserted inside a small hole on the side.

Side of old radio The side of the radio showing the hole with a piece of paper rolled inside.
Image: Rebecca Dallwitz
Source: Museum Victoria
 

On one side of the paper was typed 'TAKE A PAIR OF SPARKLING EYE...' (the paper was torn here), and on the other, was beautifully handwritten in pen 'I put on the paper “Do you like Graham” and she said “Of course I do”!!!'

Detail of hand-written note The two sides of the note found inside the radio.
Image: Nick Crotty
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Well, this is interesting! Immediately I started wondering; who wrote the note? And why did they place it inside the radio? Were they trying to hide it, or save it for reading later? Or were they just using it to stop excess noise coming out of the radio (or bugs getting in?!). 

Who is the 'she'? Who was 'Graham'? His name was written with the H underlined three times. Was there another Graeme without an H? What made Graham special? Did it refer to Graham Kennedy? He was on the radio in the early 1950s and on In Melbourne Tonight from 1957 to 1970.

Graham Kennedy A signed photo of Melbourne television personality Graham Kennedy in 1957, sitting on the set of his live variety program In Melbourne Tonight which was filmed at the studios of GTV Channel 9 in Richmond, Victoria.
Image: Athol Shmith
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Was there meaning behind the typed piece of paper? A quick google search of the words brought up a Gilbert & Sullivan song called Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes from the operetta The Gondoliers. It’s a song sung in Act 2 by Marco Palmieri, a Venetian Gondolier, and is described by one critic as 'the most saccharine and chauvinistic ditty' of the Gilbert & Sullivan canon.

Two men in costume Rutland Barrington and Courtice Pounds as Marco and Giuseppe from the 1889 original production of The Gondoliers.
Source: The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive
 

Then I thought, was this a note passed in class? I wonder if school kids still do, or do they just text each other now? Of course this note was about another note ('I put on the paper'). Is this an old fashioned version of forwarding? Has anyone done anthropological research into the act of childhood note-passing during class?

I thought perhaps the source of this object might provide some clues. It was bought for the collection on 25 February 1972 from the Salvation Army Op Shop in Abbotsford, presumably by a curator. Our collection database says that during early January and February 1972, eight electronic valves were also purchased from the same shop.

Normally the museum acquires objects with a good provenance or story as that helps form exhibitions and captures the imagination of visitors. Sometimes, particularly in the Technology collections, we collect objects because of the part they played in technological development, especially if they are in good condition. The famous Astor Mickey Mouse was the biggest-selling radio in Australia during the 1930s.

Unfortunately I have reached a dead end. It might just be one of those mysteries that will never be solved. Nevertheless, the story of what could have happened has piqued my interest for a few days.

If you or a family member donated an old radio to the Abbotsford Salvation Army Op Shop in the early 1970s and knew a friend that had a liaison with someone called Graham (with an H) please leave a comment. I’d love to hear the full tale, especially if there is a happily ever after.

WWI honour boards - can you help?

Author
by Deb Tout-Smith
Publish date
10 November 2014
Comments
Comments (3)

Deb is a senior curator in MV's Humanities department. She was the lead curator of WWI: Love & Sorrow.

In the wake of the tragic experience of World War I, thousands of honour boards, memorials and cenotaphs were made to remember those who served and died. They were commissioned by many organisations including community groups, schools, employers, government departments and agencies. Those which survive today are increasingly significant as testaments to community experience and the need to create lasting memorials in the face of nationwide grief and loss.

Honour board inscribed with soldier names Honour Board - Kildonan Presbyterian Homes for Children, World War I, circa 1920 (SH 901000)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), in collaboration with Museum Victoria, is seeking information on World War I honour boards commemorating the military service of members of the Victorian public sector. The CPSU hopes to compile information about surviving public sector honour boards and support the preservation of these boards for future generations. If you know of any, perhaps in your own workplace, please contact the CPSU on ww1@cpsuvic.org.

Another significant honour board is currently on display at Melbourne Museum’s moving new exhibition WWI: Love & Sorrow.

Timber honour board inscribed with soldier names Honour Board - Associated Stock & Station Agents of Melbourne, circa 1920 (HT 33129)
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This board was made around 1920 to commemorate the service of workers at the Associated Stock and Station Agents of Melbourne, which was closely linked to the Newmarket Saleyards. It was donated to Museum Victoria by the Yarra Glen Returned Services League (RSL) Sub Branch.

If you can provide any information about the people named on the board, please contact our  Discovery Centre.

Steaming through Williamstown

Author
by Matilda Vaughan
Publish date
3 October 2014
Comments
Comments (1)

Matilda swapped a life working as an engineer for a life curating the museum’s historical Engineering collection. She’s very curious about how stuff works, how it’s made and why. If a machine’s got a switch, she’ll definitely flick it.

A very satisfying part of my job is participating in the Scienceworks Working Machines program. How else would I find myself steaming down the main street of Williamstown in a historic steam truck a couple of Sunday mornings ago?

View from inside the truck Entering Nelson Place in a historic steam truck from The Strand, Williamstown.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

A small and dedicated team of staff and volunteers help demonstrate some of our heritage vehicles to the public on four selected Sundays a year – Machines in Action Days. On four other Sundays we are busy learning and practising the skills needed to safely operate such historic machinery. I spent the first couple of hours in the morning bringing our Cowley Traction Engine up to steam ready for the team, and then it was time for some training by Richard on the Super Sentinel Steam Waggon (circa 1924).

Richard inside the truck Heritage machinery program volunteer, Richard Hayes, behind the wheel of the Super Sentinel Steam Waggon.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Our heritage vehicles have special permits so they can travel on public roads. So on some days, instead of practising around our arena, we get to survey the streets of Spotswood and Williamstown from behind the wheel of one of our steam-driven engines.

Man on vintage bike Sharing the road with another piece of vintage machinery.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

So what skill did I practise during that trip? Well, it was basically shovelling the coal into the firebox of the boiler to maintain the correct pressure to suit Richard’s travel speed and load. And make sure the water to the boiler was kept topped up. Sometimes I had time to wave to people in the streets, those enjoying their breakfasts, and even snap a few pictures. But not many – I had too much coal to shovel.

Tower and car park in Williamstown Sentinel in the car park behind the Williamstown Timeball Tower.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We got as far as the historic Williamstown Timeball Tower before it was thought best to head back to Scienceworks, before we ran out of coal. No handy coal depots nearby any more.

Finding the Orchard Pacemaker

Author
by Matilda Vaughan
Publish date
29 September 2014
Comments
Comments (2)

Matilda swapped a life working as an engineer for a life curating the museum’s historical Engineering collection. She’s very curious about how stuff works, how it’s made and why. If a machine’s got a switch, she’ll definitely flick it.

A recent Discovery Centre enquirer asked whether there were any images of a Sunshine Massey Harris tractor in a particular trade literature document in our collection. Unfortunately that document did not have the picture she was hoping for. But, as we have such an extensive holding of Sunshine Massey Harris material, I was convinced that there must be a picture of this tractor somewhere amongst it all. So armed with her photo of the tractor’s radiator only, the hunt was on.

detail of tractor Photo of the Sunshine Massey Harris tractor sent in by the enquirer.  

I started with the Price Books. They are not just lists of numbers and descriptions; they often have small illustrations or photos of the product. From these I was able to see, based on the shape and features of the radiator, that the particular tractor was the Orchard Pacemaker model. But the images were too small to make out the feature she was most interested in – the 'SUNSHINE MASSEY HARRIS' impression on the radiator. The Price Books did however reveal that these tractors seemed to have only been available between 1940 and 1942. 

Tractor catalogue An image of the Orchard Pacemaker (bottom line, middle) among other tractors in the Sunshine Massey Harris Price Book.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria Trade Literature Collection TL41010
 

After more searching, I finally found a photograph in a general publicity brochure for tractors (dated 1941) of the Orchard Pacemaker, clearly showing the radiator.

tractor brochure The Sunshine Massey Harris Orchard Pacemaker in a publicity brochure for Sunshine Massey Harris Tractors, W.A., 1941.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria Trade Literature Collection TL45120
 

detail of tractor Detail of the radiator of the Orchard Pacemaker.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

It was not an easy search and most times these types of searches turn up nothing. So it makes these little finds all the more special and it’s immensely satisfying to be able to provide more information to the public. 

Links:

Trade Literature Collection

Publicity Brochure - H.V. McKay Massey Harris Pty Ltd Tractors 1941

Working at the museum is dead interesting

Author
by Meg
Publish date
21 July 2014
Comments
Comments (0)

We just took receipt of a beautiful Crested Pigeon, in excellent physical condition except for the fact that it was dead. But it will make a useful contribution to the museum’s body of research material. With the locality data carefully recorded, said pigeon was duly deposited in its new (temporary) home – our freezer – to await its final afterlife journey to the collection store.

Crested pigeon specimen. Crested pigeon specimen.
Image: Meg Lomax
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Temporary resting place - the Discovery Centre freezer. Temporary resting place - the Discovery Centre freezer.
Image: Meg Lomax
Source: Museum Victoria
 

As I closed the freezer door on our latest acquisition, I found myself feeling grateful, as an inhabitant of the twenty-first century, for the electricity we have to power our freezer in which we deposit our dead things, which we collect for exhibition and research purposes. In contemplating this luxury, I was reminded of a fun fact I learned during a meal at an old country pub while on holiday in Tasmania a couple of years ago – in colonial Australia, not only was there no electricity, but there was also no such thing as a town morgue, and so the remains of the recently departed were best stored in the coolest place in town, the local “house of public accommodation” – the pub. Yep, the bodies were in with the beer; the stiffs with the stout; the late with the lager; the passed with the pilsner, if you will. Encouraged by my interest, the enthusiastic new owner led me to the front room of the nineteenth century pub to be shown the very place where the bodies would have been laid out. I asked the new landlady if she was bothered at all by the history of her new business venture – she laughed and replied “not at all.” I asked her what she did before becoming a publican – she answered “I was a funeral director.” True story.  

Meanwhile, over the course of my internet wanderings on the topic of hotels-as-morgues, I came across a great little newspaper article about the dual function of Melbourne pubs, but then found myself back in Tassie when I unexpectedly tripped over this little nugget:

“The morgue motel: Plans to turn a ‘home’ of the dead into accommodation for the living”

Apparently, a local Tasmanian motel owner is currently in the process of converting the mortuary of the decommissioned Willow Court psychiatric hospital in the town of New Norfolk into somewhere for folk to sleep, although, unlike the original occupants, it is hoped that these guests wake up again.

Which brings me back to the Museum Victorian collections, for just yesterday I was photographing some mortician’s tools that were acquired from the former Sunbury Lunatic Asylum in Victoria. While the outbuildings of early Victorian asylums routinely included a morgue for the storage of the bodies of patients who had died within the asylum walls, it wasn’t until the proclamation of the Lunacy Act 1903 in Victoria that provision was made for the employment of a full-time pathologist to the Lunacy Department. The pathologist was tasked with conducting autopsies and undertaking pathological examinations to attempt to associate post-mortem lesions in the brain with ante-mortem symptoms. The development of this new clinical-pathological approach to psychiatric research was one of the outcomes of the increasing secularisation of medicine (and studies of the natural world more broadly), that emerged following the dissemination of the Darwinian theory of evolution towards the end of the nineteenth century.

A selection of objects from the former Sunbury Lunatic Asylum. A selection of objects from the former Sunbury Lunatic Asylum.
Image: Meg Lomax
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Unidentified mortician's tool, Caloola Training Centre (formerly Sunbury Lunatic Asylum). Unidentified mortician's tool, Caloola Training Centre (formerly Sunbury Lunatic Asylum).
Image: Meg Lomax
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Unidentified mortician's tool, Caloola Training Centre (formerly Sunbury Lunatic Asylum). Unidentified mortician's tool, Caloola Training Centre (formerly Sunbury Lunatic Asylum).
Image: Meg Lomax
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Like Willow Court in Tasmania, many of the pathology blocks associated with former Victorian psychiatric hospitals remain, although as yet none of them are offering bed and breakfast. One does, however, offer a fully-funded kinder program. Again, true story.

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.

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