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The Working Life Collection

Maryanne McCubbin

The collection includes several discrete collections or 'case studies' in working life, reflecting some exciting and unusual collecting opportunities that arose in the early 1990s. Tape-recorded interviews and images, along with other primary and secondary material, help demonstrate broader historical contexts, and illuminate the value, meaning and historical uses of the collection. Three snapshots from the collection make clear the unique contribution that museums, with their focus on objects, can make to the preservation of processes , practices, experiences and even emotions that would otherwise be lost, and give voice to people who otherwise would be silent in the historical record.

Simpson's Glove Factory
'We were craftsmen and took pride in creating a well-made quality product,' reflected Hazel Eddy (nee Morgan) about the handbags she had made, forty-five years after she left Simpson's Gloves Pty Ltd to have her first baby. Simpson's, founded in 1924, moved to Victoria Street, Richmond, in 1928. Hazel joined the Company as a teenager in 1931, a year before she was legally permitted to work, hiding in the toilets when the union delegate visited the factory. Later, her sister Gwen also joined Simpson's.

recruitment sign mm008030
Recruitment sign from the Simpson's Glove Factory collection, c. 1930s
Source: Museum Victoria, History & Technology Collection

Simpson's manufactured leather apparel, including driving gloves, driving helmets, coats and jackets, for an up-market local clientele. Hazel and Gwen worked with about forty other women in 'Handbags', introduced as a new line in 1930. Both had completed four-year apprenticeships as 'assemblers'. Paid by the piece, Hazel's weekly wage averaged £2 8s in March 1935, but the seasonal nature of the trade meant her income fluctuated. In the same year, Hazel did Simpson's proud when she was crowned, 'Most Popular Business Girl in Richmond'.

In 1988, when Simpson's relocated to Glen Waverley, the Museum collected 1,200 items from the old factory. The inclination of the original owner to hoard, along with a lack of reinvestment in capital equipment, means that the collection offers a rich archaeological insight into Simpson's in particular, and the leather and clothing trades of Melbourne's inner suburbs more generally. All the tools and machinery Hazel and Gwen used in handbag assembly are in the collection, including leather, moulds, knives, glue brushes and pots, punches, mallets and pliers. There are also several assembly stools, but Hazel's recollection that assemblers used them only for lunch, and always stood when assembling handbags, demonstrates the critical value of oral history in understanding a collection.

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