Ever wondered how an object becomes part of the Queensland Museum collection?

Queensland Museum Senior Curator, Mark Clayton writes about a toy car that was recently donated to the Museum and sheds some light on the accession process.

In common with other large collecting institutions, Queensland Museum periodically has to decline donation offers. Partly because of storage and display space limitations, offers are now being subject to ever more scrutiny with curators being increasingly called upon to provide long-term financial and policy justifications for proposed acquisitions.

Occasionally however we’re presented with an offer so appealing, that it seems capable of effortlessly clearing all these administrative hurdles. Pictured here is one such object, a highly modified pedal car made by the Sydney-based toy-maker – Peerless – in the 1930s.

The donor in this instance was just three years old when, in 1952, he succumbed to the infantile paralysis (poliomyelitis) epidemic then ravaging Queensland. Keen to help him regain some of his lost mobility his uncle and father – an electrician and mechanic, respectively – set about modifying the pedal car so it could be safely operated by the driver, using just his left arm.

Motive power was provided by an electric motor salvaged from a disused washing machine. Both motor and battery were housed within the large fairing behind the driver’s seat. Since the donor at that time could only use his left arm (his right arm having also been paralysed), the car was operated via a lever – on the left side – which had a button on the top. Pushing it forward caused the vehicle to move forward, and pulling it back caused it to reverse.

The car and its driver – accompanied by his pet cattle dog – soon became a local fixture as they made their way into town each day to collect the groceries. In the small south-eastern community of Inglewood, where the donor lived, the local policeman even issued a special permit allowing the vehicle to be driven along the footpath. It also became a feature of the region’s annual street parade.

Eventually the donor outgrew the vehicle and fully recovered from the disease, after which the car was returned to his uncle’s shed (where it remained for the next half century). Aside from its obvious visual [exhibition] appeal, the vehicle could potentially enhance the State Collection in several other ways.  On the one hand it documents – at a personal level – the impact of the State’s most damaging poliomyelitis epidemic. It could also be interpreted as a children’s toy (the Peerless range being unrepresented within our collection), or as a local history artefact, there being nothing else relating to Inglewood’s social history recorded within our collections. It could be read also as an advertisement, or as documentary evidence for recycling, making-do, and post-war austerity practices.

Those years spent in the back shed have taken their toll however and, as with all such offers, conservation advice will used here to inform our final decision.

*Once the acquisition decision has been made, we will update this post, watch this space.*