The H. V. McKay Collection

The H. V. McKay Collection relates to archival material of Hugh Victor McKay (1865–1926) and the companies that carried on his successful agricultural manufacturing enterprise. It charts the remarkable business career of McKay and the rapid development of Australian agriculture and industry in the 20th century.

Since the 1960s, Museum Victoria has received material from family members and past employees as part of its Technology Collection. In 1993, Massey Ferguson Iseki donated a large collection of documentary material to Museum Victoria and to The University of Melbourne’s Business Archives.

The H. V. McKay Collection documents key events in the business and personal life of McKay through private notes, legal papers and newspaper articles. The Collection also houses a number of important objects relating to the company. These include a fully restored 1906 harvester and the original McKay bush ‘smithy’. The audiovisual part of the collection contains over 13 000 images and 700 films.

Museum Victoria’s Trade Literature Collection provides information on all phases of the McKay manufacturing process. It holds design plans, field test results, operation manuals and product catalogues.

H. V. McKay

Hugh McKay was a farmer who became one of Australia’s leading industrialists. During his long business career he also devoted time and energy to advancing national interests. McKay was consulted by the Federal Government in matters of defence and economic policy, and contributed financial support to the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Photo of Hugh Victor McKay

Hugh Victor McKay in about 1912
Source: Museum Victoria

McKay grew up on a farm in Drummartin near Elmore, Victoria. At the age of 18 he responded to Government incentives to produce an agricultural harvester that combined the functions of stripping, threshing, winnowing and bagging. In 1884 he developed the successful stripper harvester in a log smithy. He capitalised on its efficiency and established manufacturing works at Ballarat, before moving to Braybrook Junction near Melbourne in 1906.

The new factory, known as the Sunshine Harvester Works, produced a range of agricultural equipment and was the largest industrial plant in Australia. At its peak the company employed 3000 workers and the work site covered more than 30 hectares.

The complex was completely self-sufficient, manufacturing every item required including metal tubing, nuts and bolts, woodwork, and even the bikes used by plant supervisors. Mass-production techniques reduced labour costs and increased McKay’s competitive edge.

The ‘Sunshine Family’

In 1907 the name Braybrook Junction was changed to Sunshine in recognition of the importance of McKay’s industrial works to the locality. McKay’s business vision encompassed not only the creation of an industrial complex at Sunshine but the development of a thriving community.

Advertisement for ‘The Sunshine’ harvester

Advertisement for ‘The Sunshine’ harvester
Source: Museum Victoria

McKay implemented major infrastructure projects, including public buildings, parklands and a school and library. He also organised access by his workers to housing, which could be purchased on freehold title through interest-free loans. These were important schemes for social and industrial harmony and helped the company foster the concept of the ‘Sunshine Family’.

In reality, McKay had a complex relationship with his workers and organised labour. He respected his employees as individuals but was strongly opposed to radical unionism. Conflict erupted with the Harvester Works Strike in 1911, when McKay supported 12 of his workers who refused to join the Agricultural Implement Makers Union.

Global relations

McKay farm machinery was sold internationally. Sunshine Harvester Works developed Australia’s early export markets to Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Russia and South Africa.

The company competed successfully with local manufacturers but found itself in difficulty trying to compete against industrial conglomerates of the United States. McKay’s response was to fight vigorously to obtain tariff protection for Australian industry, putting his case before a Royal Commission. In 1906, largely as a result of McKay’s efforts, the Federal Government passed legislation giving some tariff protection.

The last 100 years have seen changes to the name of the McKay Company, highlighting the shift towards a global economy, changing fortunes in the agricultural industry, and increasing foreign ownership and control. After McKay’s death in 1926 the company was gradually absorbed by various global corporations (Massey Ferguson, Iseki and Agco) and stopped manufacturing equipment in the 1980s.

Visitor Information

An appointment to access the H. V. McKay Collection may be made by arrangement with the appropriate curator.

Further Reading

Lack, J. 1986. ‘Hugh McKay’. In B. Nairn and G. Serle (eds), Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press.

Lack, J. 1990. The Legend of H. V. McKay. Victorian Historical Journal 61(2,3), 124–157.

Sunshine Harvester website: http://museumvictoria.com.au/sunshine/

Museum Victoria Collections Online:
http://museumvictoria.com.au/collections/

Picture Australia: http://www.pictureaustralia.org/

Comments (13)

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Ellie Newsome 22 March, 2010 11:23
I have some old photos of inside the factory taken by my husband's grandfather. Are you interested in them?
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Discovery Centre 22 March, 2010 16:21

Hi Ellie – Thank you for your kind offer. You can make a formal donation offer through the Discovery Centre’s ‘Ask the Experts’ enquiry service. Before submitting your offer please also read Museum Victoria’s donation guidelines.

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Denise Meadley 29 March, 2010 14:20
I have a 1928 original photo taken of my grandfather A.E.Thomas and employees who have been with the firm 25 years and upwards. Also a photo of the R.M.S.'REMUERA'ship he sailed on to Argentina.Wondering what to do with them
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Discovery Centre 30 March, 2010 10:30

Hi Denise. Your images may be of interest to a cultural institution, such as Museum Victoria. If you are interested in making a donation offer you can do this through our Donations page. Before submitting your offer please also read the donation guidelines.

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bob stephens 28 June, 2010 22:13
could you please tell me if their is a list of everyone who worked at hvmckays.
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Discovery Centre 29 June, 2010 12:06

Hi Bob. The HV McKay archives can be found in the Australian Trade Union Archives at the University of Melbourne. They should have employment records from the company.

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Ian Ennor 17 September, 2010 22:03
I came across an article in The Argus of 24/9/1929 which in part reads "With a view to catering for the bulk of the trade in the Commonwealth a new company had been formed". The online copy is barely readable at this point but I can make out "Mr. H. McKay of H. V. McKay" and "Sunshine". I understand that H.V. McKay died in 1926 so could you please tell me who H. McKay is and what is the company that was formed?
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Ron Nash 18 October, 2010 20:28
I came across the remains a truck tipping body many years ago, and a plate on it, proudly proclaimed "H.V. McKay Shunt Tip". This was fitted to the remains of a 1934 Ford truck, and comprised a tipping body mounted on rollers, that was winched to the rear of the truck - whereby it tipped up, and emptied, once the mid-point was reached. The empty body was then winched back onto the truck again, and latched in place. Does anyone know anything about this unique, early, tipping truck body? Do any still exist? Are there any photos of one? Thank you in advance.
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Discovery Centre 16 November, 2011 14:38

Hello Ron

We have contacted Volunteers at the Sunshine Harvester Project and they have no knowledge of this McKay Tipping Truck, but would very much like to see a photograph of this plate. If you happen to have a photograph please e-mail the Discovery Centre.

douglas comfort 10 June, 2011 01:26
while living in kitchener ontario canada,i purchased a sunshine bike.it seem to be from the 40's.,with solid handlebars,solid rubber tires,but most interestingly,a belt drive!can you send me a link to find more info on that or similiar models.i have collected antiques for 45 years,as well as a good selection of older bikes.thanks for your time.i will,this year be restoring this bike.
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Discovery Centre 17 August, 2011 15:11

Hi Ian, the Museum's apologies for the delay in getting back to you. We suggest you try here and here which should be of assistance.

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Discovery Centre 20 August, 2011 10:06

Hello Douglas - an interesting one! We've checked with our expert staff from the Sunshine Harvester Works Collection, and as far as we are aware, there were no bicycles made by Sunshine.  They certainly used bikes to get around the works site and all had pneumatic tyres, and were chain driven with no gears - quite different to the belt drive you describe. If you could send a photo via the 'contact us' link at the bottom of the page, we would love to see it - especially if it has ‘Sunshine’ on it.

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Hannah Cole 8 September, 2011 17:14
Hello, ive got an agriculture assignment ive been working on and i cannot seem to find how the original Sunshine harvester actually worked and how it removed the husks from the grain etc. I have only found how the modern combines do this, by using air to blow them off. please help!
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