Visitors to the National Museum of Australia won’t be able to miss the latest acquisition, all six tonnes of it.
A 1912 McDonald’ EB’ oil tractor has joined the museum’s collection as one of the earliest surviving tractors manufactured in Australia and the first of its type.
While other manufacturers were still hankering after the steam age, AH McDonald & Co of Richmond, Melbourne, were pioneering oil-powered internal combustion.
Engineers Alfred and Ernest McDonald produced the first Australian-made, oil-powered tractor, known as the ‘EA’ in 1908. The improved EB design followed four years later.
This particular tractor started its working life with Frank William Chilcott from ‘Lillesdon Park’, a 403-acre farm located on French Island in Victoria’s Western Port Bay. Apparently, its arrival caused no small amount of consternation in the town, with a local noting it required a police escort and caused Frank’s young nephew to take fright, run inside, and hide under the bed when he “saw it coming over the hill”.
The EB was likely used for land clearing as part of the local chicory cultivation industry, a prolific industry on French Island until the mid-1960s when it ended up in a salvage yard.
Now a little worn but in “fantastic condition” on the whole, the tractor was acquired with the support of an anonymous benefactor and an Australian Government heritage grant of $250,000 for its part in the “global transformation in automotive and agricultural practices”.
Museum curator Dr Ian Coates said its historic significance is tied to its association with Australia’s first tractor manufacturer.
“Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the early tractors produced by AH McDonald & Co was the relative sophistication of their engineering, which included coil ignition, a three-speed gearbox and automotive rack-and-pinion steering,” he said.
“This reflects Alf McDonald’s capacity to improve the contemporary design of imported American tractors.”
It will be on display in the museum’s Gandel Atrium until 23 June 2023, but we got the rundown from senior conservator Nathan Pharoah …