History & Technology

DISPLAYING POSTS FILED UNDER: History & Technology (110)

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 Ken Porter

by Liza Dale-Hallett
Publish date
12 October 2015
Comments (1)

Liza Dale-Hallett is Senior Curator Sustainable Futures at Museum Victoria.

After a number of years of ill health Ken Porter passed away on Saturday 3 October. Ken was a key player in the interpretation and development of the HV McKay Sunshine Collection and has been an invaluable contributor to Museum Victoria. 

The H.V. McKay collection dates from 1884 with the extraordinary story of the ‘energy, vision and pluck’ of Hugh Victor McKay. Who, at the age of 18, built a stripper harvester prototype and went on to create the largest manufacturing enterprise in the Southern Hemisphere, known as the Sunshine Harvester Works.

In the mid-1950s the McKay family sold its interests in the company to the global giant Massey Ferguson. The name of McKay was unceremoniously chiselled off the Sunshine head office buildings, the timber panelling and desks were painted over with Massey Ferguson grey, and hundreds of workers lost their jobs.  Ken Porter started his 41 years work as a ‘Massey Ferguson man’ in 1956, right in the middle of this difficult transition.

Man with crate Ken Porter with the mysterious crate he rescued from a dumpster.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria

The breath and scale of the H.V. McKay Sunshine Collection was the result of what Ken called a ‘quirk of fate’. In 1991, he spotted a wooden crate in a dump master, during a major clean-up at Massey Ferguson.  He thought the box might have been of some use to him at home, but when he recovered it he noticed that a square of cardboard had been nailed to it reading, “The plaster cast of H.V. McKay.  Not to be opened until another one needed”, signed Cecil McKay.

Ken knew this was important.  And with the help of a colleague Ron Doubleday, over the next two years they secretly rescued nearly 100 years of history. This ‘rubbish’ was squirreled away in the old Director’s Garage.  Ken liked to call this ‘Jurassic Park’ – it was long forgotten and littered with the skeletons of pigeons. The perfect hiding place for history. In 1993 Ken successfully secured the support of the company secretary, Ted Pask, to formally offer this substantial collection to Museum Victoria and the University of Melbourne Archives.

In 1996 Ken Porter worked closely with Senior Curator Liza Dale-Hallett to establish the McKay volunteer project.  He conscripted and led a team of 20 volunteers to identify and document the collection.  They represented a company experience of over 800 years.  About 200 ex-employees from across Australia also offered their expertise and memories. The McKay volunteers have catalogued and provided expert analysis of 28,000 images, 750 films, nearly 500 artefacts, over 10,000 trade and marketing publications. They have written stories that describe the 84 factory departments, the hundreds of types of farming equipment manufactured and the special stories associated with being part of the ‘Sunshine family’.

Ken also provided strategic advice on key themes and areas of research, identified opportunities for collection development and actively promoted the project to key stakeholders and community groups. His tireless commitment and enthusiasm has been an important ingredient in maintaining the volunteer team since 1996, and has been fundamental in increasing the significance of the collection and facilitating its public access.

Ken and his team were celebrated for their efforts in 2002 when they received the Victorian Museum Industry Recognition Award for the “most outstanding volunteer project in the Victorian Museum sector”.  Ken was also awarded an Honorary Associate by Museum Victoria in 2002 for his contribution to the development and interpretation of the McKay collection.

group of people with an award Ken and his team of volunteers received the Victorian Museum Industry Recognition Award for the “most outstanding volunteer project in the Victorian Museum sector".
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria

Ken described himself as a ‘Massey Ferguson man’ – and by jumping into a rubbish skip he became a man who made history. His special efforts, passion and vision were fundamental to creating and documenting one of the most significant industrial heritage collections in Australia.

Ken has not just made history – his commitment and enthusiasm has substantially enhanced the lives of hundreds of ex-employees who have been involved in documenting their lives and this remarkable history.

Ken was a great colleague and friend. He was loved by everyone.  He will be greatly missed.

H.V. McKay Sunshine Collection

Two fathers from WW1

by Shane Salmon
Publish date
3 September 2015
Comments (0)

Shane works on touring exhibitions at Museum Victoria.

The impact of World War One took a particularly tragic toll on families, as great numbers of fathers and sons failed to return home from the front line. The worry and grief of fathers and mothers knew no boundaries, whether in Australia, England, Germany, or elsewhere. 

Melbourne Museum is currently hosting two exhibitions on the subject of the First World War. Both contain powerful stories about those who served in the war, and the impact their loss had on families. With Fathers’ Day approaching this weekend, we reflect on two fathers who fought in the war, and tip our hat to all absent fathers this Sunday.

'My three kids'

Robert Stewart Smylie, a 42-year old father of three, died on the Somme with a photograph of his wife and three children in his shrapnel-damaged wallet.

Roberts Stewart Smylie's wallet. Family photos in Roberts Smylie's wallet.
Source: Imperial War Museums

Smylie was a school headmaster who had taught English, Latin and Mathematics for 20 years. Despite his age and responsibilities, on the outbreak of war he joined the army and eventually travelled with the 1st Battalion in Flanders.

While stationed in Flanders, he wrote a long poem about his experiences to his three children, ending with the hope that they would all soon be together again. A full transcript of the poem appears at the end of this post.

Poem in notebook Smylie's poem for his children.
Source: Imperial War Museums

Smylie's sketchbook appears in The WW1 Centenary Exhibition

A scrapbook of grief

Frank Roberts was recently married when he arrived at the Belgian battlefields in 1917. His first daughter Nancy was born soon after. He kept in close correspondence with his family, including his father Garry, until his death in a fierce battle at Mont St Quentin on 1 September 1918.

The loss of his son Frank cast a shadow over the rest of Garry Roberts’s life. He spent countless hours contacting soldiers who served with Frank, meeting them, trying to piece together what had happened.

From his massive collection of articles, photographs, letters and other memorabilia, Garry compiled 27 huge scrapbooks documenting Frank’s life and the world in which he had lived. The scrapbooks are among the most poignant expressions of grief ever made.

big scrapbook of photos One of three Roberts’ Scrapbooks on display at in the WWI: Love & Sorrow exhibition at Melbourne Museum.
Source: Museum Victoria


You can see the scrapbook and other traces of Frank Roberts in WWI: Love and Sorrow.


Transcript of poem written by Robert Smylie, 19 November 1915

I am writing this tonight, My three kids
By a little candle-light, My three kids
And the candlestick’s a tin
With some dry tobacco in
And so that’s how I begin, To my kids

Now I wonder what you’re at, My three kids
Moll and Bids and little Pat, My three kids
Why of course there’s two asleep
But perhaps Moll’s thinking deep
Watching little stars that peep, At my kids

Since I left you long ago, My three kids
There’s a lot you’d like to know, My three kids
That has happened to your dad
In the varied luck he’s had
In adventures good and bad, My three kids

I have soldiered in a trench, My three kids
Serving under Marshall French, My three kids
Once a shell dropped with a thud
Quite close, covered me with mud
And it’s lucky ‘twas a dud, For my kids

And I’ve crossed the ground outside, My three kids
It’s at night that’s chiefly tried, My three kids
And the bullets sang all round
Overhead, or struck the ground
But your daddy none has found, No my kids

I have mapped our trenches new, My three kids
And some German trenches too, My three kids
I have sprinted past a wood
Counting steps, for so I could
Judge the distance as I should, My three kids

I have placed our snipers where, My three kids
On the Germans they could stare, My three kids
And they killed their share of men
Quite a lot for snipers ten
From their little hidden den, My three kids

And I’ve slept in bed quite warm, My three kids
But I haven’t taken harm, My three kids
When upon the ground I lay
Without even straw or hay
In the same clothes night and day, My three kids

When they sent us back to rest, My three kids
Then they seemed to think it best, My three kids
To send your dad ahead
To discover where a bed
Could be found, or some old shed, My three kids

And new officers were trained, My three kids
And the men we’ve lately gained, My three kids
And while that work was in hand
I was second in command
Of B Coy and that was grand, My three kids

But it didn’t last all through, My three kids
There was other work to do, My three kids
When they made me adjutant
I was busy as an ant
And it’s not much catch I grant, To my kids

I have ridden on a horse, My three kids
Captured from a German force, My three kids
And I’ve marched and crawled and run
Night and day in rain and sun
And shall do it till we’ve won, For my kids

And I’d rather be with you, My three kids
Let you know I’m lucky too, My three kids
Lots of men I used to know
Now are killed or wounded, though
I remain, and back I’ll go, To my kids

And I hope you’ll all keep well, My three kids
Just as sound as any bell, My three kids
And when this long war is done
We shall have some glorious fun
Moll and Bids and little son, My three kids.

Explore our collections 24/7

by Ely Wallis
Publish date
28 August 2015
Comments (1)

Over the past two years, a team of programmers, designers, curators, collection managers and database experts from across Museum Victoria have been working on a new, integrated website for our collections. We are excited to announce that the MV Collections website is now live.

The new site provides a single website to explore our Humanities (including history, technology and Indigenous collections) and Natural Sciences (including zoology, palaeontology and geology) records, with over 1.14 million item and specimen records from our collections, and over 3000 authored articles and species profiles, representing our research.

Museum Victoria Collections website homepage Museum Victoria Collections website homepage  

As well as providing lots of information, there are more than 150,000 images on the site. Over 80,000 were taken by our own MV photographers and staff. We have applied a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license to these images so that anyone can reuse them, as long as the image is credited back to MV. In addition, 31,000 more images are shown as being in the public domain, which means that there are no known copyright restrictions on their use.

The text is also all available for reuse and there’s a handy ‘Cite this page’ reference for students and teachers.

Use the site on your mobile device

The website has been designed to be used on whatever size screen suits you best. Desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile phones of all sizes will all work.

For programmers

For programmers and developers, the Our API section makes our data available for use by other institutions on their sites. You’ll already find MV data in DigitalNZ, the National Library of Australia’s Trove and the Atlas of Living Australia.

Also, the website code is available as open source on GitHub in Museum Victoria’s repository for any developers who wish to explore what’s under the hood.


The search function is powerful, and quick, but there are a few hints that are handy to know.

Firstly, you don’t need to enter any search term at all – and if you don’t, you’ll get back every record in the system. That’s over a million results!

Each word you type is searched separately. For example, a search for Melbourne fashion will give all records with Melbourne plus all records with fashion. Records with both words should come up high in the results.

Museum Victoria Collections search with search term of "Melbourne fashion"Museum Victoria Collections search with search term of "Melbourne fashion"

If you want to force the system to search on a phrase, use quote marks “” around the phrase. E.g., try “Port Phillip Bay”.

Search on a phrase: “Port Phillip Bay”Search on a phrase: “Port Phillip Bay”

If you have already done a search, e.g. for the word tractor, you can add extra terms by typing in the additional word or phrase then click the “plus” button to the right of the search box. Adding an extra term will result in a smaller set of results. For example, the search below will give you results for all tractors in the collection that are associated with Shepparton.

Search which will give results for all tractors in the collection associated with SheppartonSearch which will give results for all tractors in the collection associated with Shepparton

Another way to refine your search results is to use the filters on the left of the screen. You can turn on or off as many filters as you want.

Museum Victoria Collections website search filters Museum Victoria Collections website search filters  

Features coming soon

We’re still working on a few features. Next up to be added is the ability to download images.

In the meantime, we hope you enjoy exploring MV Collections, any time of the day or night.

First Machines in Action Day for 2015

by Matilda Vaughan
Publish date
10 April 2015
Comments (0)

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.

This is not the most awkward photograph I’ve ever taken, but definitely uncomfortable. I am lying under our Cowley Steam Roller, having just put back the fire grate bars, one by one. A great workout for the upper arms and the muscles around the belly.

Beneath the Cowley roller. Beneath the Cowley roller.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria

Every two years some of us are lucky enough to get this view.  Our restored and working steam vehicles, the Cowley Traction Engine, the Cowley Road Roller and the Sentinel Steam Wagon, were due for their biennial boiler inspections. So back in February, the crew removed all the boiler fixtures and cleaned the firebox and fire tubes, ready for inspection. The cleaning is a dirty job but it is a great way to get a closer look at how they are made.

All three boilers passed their inspection and last month we put them back together again, steamed them up and checked that there were no leaks. All clear and ready to roll this Sunday at our first Machines in Action Family Day for the year.

Cowley traction engine and the Sentinel steam wagon The Cowley traction engine and the Sentinel steam wagon, ready for action on the Scienceworks arena.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria

Invisible Farmer Project

by Catherine Forge
Publish date
8 April 2015
Comments (3)

Catherine Forge is Curator of the Invisible Farmer Project at Museum Victoria. She grew up in regional Victoria (Gippsland), which is where she developed her love for cheese, the outdoors and rural Australian history.

Cartoon of statue of female farmer labelled 'The Unknown Farmer' Unknown Farmer Cartoon
Source: Sea Lake Women on Farms Gathering Proceedings, 1991

Women in Australia play a vital role in farming and agriculture, contributing at least 48 per cent of real farm income through their on and off-farm work. Sadly, however, women’s contributions to agriculture have continued to be ignored, unrecognised and rendered invisible. Farming women have been excluded from censuses and official documentation, stereotyped as ‘housewives’ or ‘domestics’ despite their significant contributions to the farm economy and blindsided by a popularist vision of Australian agriculture that idealises masculinity and posits rural Australia as a ‘male domain.’ As a 1992 Government Report argued, rural women have too often been relegated to the position of the ‘Invisible Farmer.’

Liza Dale-Hallett at lectern Liza Dale-Hallett delivering keynote address at the Yarra Ranges Women on Farms Gathering.
Image: Alison Griffiths-Hoelzer
Source: YRWOFG Committee

On 21 March 2015 Senior Curator Liza Dale-Hallett (Sustainable Futures) launched Museum Victoria’s Invisible Farmer Project during a keynote address, Making Women Count, at the Yarra Ranges Women on Farms Gathering. Presenting in a panel alongside Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan and Victorian Rural Woman of the Year Julie Aldous, Liza introduced the main aims of The Invisible Farmer Project:  

  • To interview some of the 24 remaining women who were part of the first cohort of female agricultural graduates from the University of Melbourne.
  • To work alongside other institutions such as the State Library of Victoria to establish strategic collecting processes to document the Rural Women’s Movement and to uncover the stories of rural women.
  • To identify, as a matter of urgency, those that were pivotal in shaping the Australian Rural Women’s Movement.

Highlighting the fact that the stories of farming women are often intangible and undocumented – existing instead in living memory – Liza articulated an ‘urgent plea to move beyond the unknown farmer and to catch this history before it is lost.’

audience in lecture theater Delegates at the Yarra Ranges Women on Farms Gathering, March 2015.
Image: Alison Griffiths-Hoelzer
Source: YRWOFG Committee

It is significant that the Invisible Farmer Project was launched at a Victorian Women on Farms Gathering. These Gatherings have been occurring annually throughout rural Victoria since 1990 and were one of the major seedbeds for the Rural Women’s Movement that occurred in Australia during the 1980s-1990s. Senior Curator Liza Dale-Hallett first attended a Gathering in 1993 and has since had a long association with them that has included the establishment of Museum Victoria’s Victorian Women on Farms Gathering Collection. This innovative and award-winning collection has paved the way for the institutional recognition and preservation of rural women’s stories. Liza hopes that the Invisible Farmer Project will go one step further by inviting cultural institutions to collaborate in recognising, collecting and preserving the history of the Australian Rural Women’s Movement, before it’s too late.

The Invisible Farmer Project is funded by the McCoy Seed Fund and involves a partnership with the University of Melbourne as well as involvement from other collecting institutions (e.g. State Library of Victoria). If you would like to hear more about the Invisible Farmer Project, please get in contact with Catherine Forge (Curator) via email: cforge@museum.vic.gov.au or phone: 03 8341 7729.  

Six generations of Satchells

by Kate C
Publish date
1 April 2015
Comments (3)

John Satchell grew up with a colour photograph of a model steam train hanging on his bedroom wall. Not uncommon for small boys, perhaps, but John's train had a direct link to his ingenious ancestors. His train—a perfect, working scale replica of a shunting engine from 1857—was built by his great grandfather, also John, and painted by his great-great grandfather James Satchell. The model train itself, eventually donated to Museum Victoria in 1990, is now on display in The Melbourne Story.

  Steam Locomotive Model Steam Locomotive Model - Hobsons Bay Railway Pier Shunting Engine, No.5. (ST 038379)
Source: Museum Victoria

John's father Tony hung the photo for his son and often told him the story of the train. "Dad's a genealogist, and he's researched both sides of the family. He just loves history," says John. "He's always made me more than aware that this train exists and took me to see it in the museum. I loved steam trains as a kid and still do."

With Tony's 80th birthday approaching at the end of March, John and his wife Danielle searched for a unique and meaningful gift for him. They thought of the 1868 photograph of the elder John and James Satchell with their magnificent model, and how they might replicate it with the youngest Satchell, their toddler James. Until young James was born, John explains, genealogist Tony was anxious that "the Satchell family name was running out."

James & John Satchell, 1868 Photograph from 1868 of the Hobson's Bay Railway Pier shunting engine model with modelmaker John Satchell, and his father James Satchell. (ST 037829).
Source: Museum Victoria

The Satchells recruited a friend to photograph John and James next to the train's exhibition showcase, but the tricky lighting and reflections meant no success. Danielle wrote a letter to the museum asking if there was any way we could open the showcase so they could get a perfect shot. It was an irresistible opportunity to link six generations of Satchell men, so last week before the museum opened, exhibition and collection management staff brought out the train. MV photographer Jon Augier captured the historic moment.

Child, man and model train Young James Satchell with father John posing with the model train built in the 1860s by their Satchell ancestors. Note the authentic Victorian-era gravitas.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria

The senior John and James both worked at Melbourne's first foundry, Langlands, originally established on Flinders lane. John was an apprentice there in the 1860s when he built the model, and his father James was a foreman. The model earned John a medal at the Intercolonial Exhibition of Victoria in 1866, and later, when he sold it, enough money to buy a block of land in Caulfield. The story is recorded in the Satchell family history written by Tony Satchell in 1988.

The surprise birthday gift is sure to delight this family historian. It might continue another family tradition, too. Says John of Tony, "he's brought up a couple of times that he thinks James should have a picture of the steam train in his bedroom. I've been saying 'oh yeah, that's a good idea' but leaving it at that because I don't want Dad to start thinking of getting a picture… it could ruin the surprise!"

Museum Victoria wishes Tony a very happy 80th birthday.

Satchell family The whole family: James Satchell with his mum Danielle and father John.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria

About this blog

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