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The Sunshine harvester

Leah Bartsch, National Museum of Australia, 10 March 2010

SHARON CASEY: Leah Bartsch has worked at the National Museum of Australia for almost two years. For the past year and a half she has been working with the Gallery Development Team on the Landmarks: People and Places Exhibition. Before this, she was studying museums and collections at the ANU [Australian National University]. She is currently completing her MA, which looks at the development of exhibitions about migration in Australia. Today she is going to talk to us about the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine, a suburb imagined as a model factory town, and the Sunshine Harvester Works. [applause]

LEAH BARTSCH: Thank you. Today I hope to give you a little glimpse into the Sunshine exhibit, which is one of the places being explored in Landmarks. Sunshine is an industrial suburb in Melbourne’s west, where for a large part of the twentieth century it was home to the Sunshine Harvester Works, an agricultural implements manufacturing empire. Sunshine falls into the theme ‘Land of opportunity’, which looks at three places where people have endeavoured to declare a just society and enjoy a quality of opportunity, along with the ability to shape their own society.

The other two places which are being looked at in this module are Robe in South Australia, which Jennifer Wilson talked to you about last year, and Old Parliament House, which of course is just across the lake. This is a map to get you in the mindset of where Sunshine is [shows map]. Up there is a screen dump from Google which shows on the right-hand side where the factory actually originally was.

Before it was known as Sunshine, this area or village, as it would have been at the end of the nineteenth century, was known as Braybrook Junction. This was a small settlement that grew up next to the Bendigo and Ballarat railway junction. The junction was created in 1884 when a line to Ballarat was added as an offshoot to the Melbourne-Bendigo line. You can see the junction in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen dump. This is the junction here, and this is where the factory was. So you can see the railway lines running up here.

During the economic boom of the 1880s, Braybrook Junction attracted attention from land speculators and industrialists. At this time, a number of manufacturing businesses established themselves at Braybrook. However, the 1890s depression hit the small community hard, and many of these companies collapsed. Because so many residents in Braybrook relied on the local manufacturing industries for work, there was also widespread unemployment in the area.

In 1904, Ballarat agricultural implements manufacturer Hugh Victor - or HV - McKay, purchased the Braybrook Implement Company for £3,651. This included the buildings, along with four acres of land. He also had the option to buy another 16 acres of land which were attached to this site at £15 per acre. HV was the son of a farmer. He was the fifth child in a family of 12. He grew up in Drummartin which is a small town near Elmore in country Victoria, and members of McKay’s family, descendants of HV’s brother Jim, still farm the property today. This is the farm here [shows image] and down here is a house which HV built for his mother at the beginning of the twentieth century.

In the 1880s, McKay, with the help of his father and some of his brothers, successfully built and tested a stripper harvester which was a machine that could strip fresh winnow in bad grain. This machine cut down the time and manpower needed to harvest grain, as well as reducing wastage. Here we have a photo of the famous smithy - up in the top corner - at the McKay family home in Drummartin, which is where McKay made his first harvester. Alongside the smithy there is a stripper harvester, and unfortunately we don’t know who’s standing in the picture. But the family who lives on the property now thinks that the smithy, because the smithy was removed from the farm in the 1920s or the 1930s, was located down here [indicates]. There are also some wood slab huts in the same style as this smithy still on the property.

In 1883 the Victorian government offered a prize to the first person to build a working stripper harvester. While HV didn’t receive the prize, it went to James Morrow, he did however persist with his harvester. There is some dispute as to whether the harvester was built and tested in 1883 or 1884, but we do know that McKay patented his design on 24 March 1885. He then set about trying to find a company to manufacture his harvester as well as customers to buy them. He eventually succeeded in finding a manufacturer. The North Melbourne company McCalman, Garde & Co. built his first machines. I think they were contracted to build five machines at first, and obviously he found some customers.

Throughout the late 1880s McKay set about building his business. He established first an office and by 1890 he had a small factory at Ballarat. However, the bubble soon burst, and the company was forced into liquidation in 1892 due to the economic depression. McKay, however, would not be defeated and with the help of family and friends he was able to buy back the company’s assets. In this time he also refined and improved his harvester design, making it lighter and therefore more efficient. In August 1894, about the time that McKay was making improvements to the harvester, he attended a lecture given by traveling evangelist Dr Talmage. Inspired by Talmage’s sermon, the subject of which was ‘the sunshine of your life’ or something along those lines, he named his harvester ‘The Sunshine’. In 1895 the company produced 12 harvesters, but by 1901 annual production had increased to 500.

In 1902, drought struck the Australian farming community, and disaster once again was looming in the distance when the company was left with around 200 complete but unsold harvesters. Sam, HV’s brother, suggested launching into the South American market and, obviously convinced by Sam’s argument, HV agreed. So Sam took 50 harvesters and three experienced workers to Argentina where he sold all 50 harvesters and took orders for many more, firmly establishing the company’s first international market. With the order book rapidly filling, the factory site at Ballarat was fast becoming too small and, let’s face it, was a mishmash of badly organised buildings.

On the advice of another of his brothers, McKay purchased the defunct Braybrook Implement Company at Braybrook Junction. With the railway close by, his domestic market and his international market could be easily serviced. The new site also gave him room to expand the factory in an orderly fashion. And finally, the new location meant that he was out of reach of the control of the wages boards. When he first bought the Braybrook Implement Company, McKay continued to manufacture the implements and machinery produced by this company, the company that he had taken over, in order to win over their customers. He eventually phased out their products, replacing them with his own.

[Image shown] This is a beautiful poster of the Sunshine Harvester, which is one of the items we are loaning for the exhibit. It was printed by a Ballarat company I’m guessing in 1905 or 1906. The poster shows, at the time this was printed, McKay was manufacturing at both Ballarat and Braybrook. You can see it is still Braybrook and not Sunshine yet. It also lists the state’s company officers along with one in Buenos Aires. As you can see from the lists of places, McKay had been extraordinarily successful in building his company in such a short period of time.

I think that McKay’s business success came from his ability to market and sell his harvester, combined with his strong, personal convictions. Other agricultural implement companies had achieved moderate success in manufacturing and selling, but I think McKay’s success came through establishing and marketing an icon, the Sunshine. Sunshine is such an evocative name and advertising slogans like this one, which goes along the lines of ‘The farmer, the implement maker and Australian sunshine, the result is Australia’s golden grain,’ and others like, ‘Invented by a farmer for farmers’ and ‘Supplied by farmers to farmers ‘ helped him to relate to his customers.

He was also very patriotic, which shows through some of his advertising campaigns and his catalogue covers. Australian symbols like the coat of arms, [image shown] which is quite small but is on the bottom of this catalogue, along with imagery like ‘Australia and sunshine at the heart of Australia’ - this is an image of the factory - together with slogans like ‘Buy Australian made’ were emblazoned across catalogues and posters. And that particular line, or a variation of this line, even made it onto seats used on harvesters and other machinery. Over in the case you can see a seat from a harvester or similar implement and if you look closely in the middle it has the words, ‘Buy Australian goods’.

From 1906 to the middle of 1907, McKay moved his factory base from Ballarat to Braybrook. Many of his Ballarat employees followed, moving their families to Braybrook and surrounding suburbs like Footscray. In 1906 McKay purchased 276 acres of land opposite the factory site to develop as worker housing. In April the following year, McKay advertised 76 allotments for sale in the new Sunshine estate, which was established directly opposite the Harvester Works. The philosophy behind the size of the housing blocks was that anyone who wanted a garden, a cow or chickens needed room so the blocks needed to be large. McKay’s house in Talmage Street called The Gables was one of the first to be built. McKay was obviously proud of what he had achieved, which is one of the reasons his house and the Sunshine estate face the railway lines and the Harvester Works rather than backing on to it. The town’s name was officially changed to Sunshine in April 1907, obviously named after the Harvester Works which had begun to dominate the town’s landscape. I think at this point having a town named after his Harvester Works cements McKay’s success as a manufacturer.

It’s time to introduce one of the star attractions of this exhibit. This is the Sunshine Stripper Harvester from the National Historical Collection. In Landmarks, the Harvester has two roles. In the Sunshine exhibit we’re looking at the people and the factory that made it. It also forms part of the Wagga story - I forget the name of the module but I think it’s ‘Never Enough Grass’ – where we’re looking at its life beyond the factory and on the farm and the people who used it to harvest grain. This harvester was made in 1911, which means next year it will be 100 years old. In 1911 there were 2161 harvesters made at the works. The serial number of this particular harvester falls at the beginning of the range, which leads me to believe that it was made in the first part of 1911. It has a wood frame with a five foot cone or cup. Wood frame machinery started to be phased out by the mid-1910s to be replaced by steel frames. Unfortunately I couldn’t bring the harvester here today, as much as I would have loved to, so the pictures will have to suffice. While you can see the years of wear and tear, it still has quite a magnificent presence, I think. The Sunshine logo pressed into the sheet metal still stands out proudly and you can see, if you look closely, some of the repairs that have been made by the farmer, perhaps in the field.

One of my favourite parts is the grain bin - this is not a very good photo but you can see it at the top here [image shown] - mainly because of the paintwork that remains on it. On the left-hand side in the scroll at the top you can see ‘HV McKay’ has been written and on the right-hand side in the same type of scroll ‘Sunshine’ has been written. And below these, I think, having seen images of other similar harvesters there are images of the factory at Sunshine on one and a field of golden grain on the other. This is an illustration of the factory around 1910 [image shown]. When he first moved to Braybrook I think these were the only buildings on the site. He’d been manufacturing here for not quite four years and he’d achieved a lot, I think. Within years of being established, the factory and its operations had more than doubled in size. In the early days, the manufacture of machinery like harvesters and also items like seeders happened in two seasons because obviously farming happened in two seasons, it didn’t happen all year round. Obviously in the off seasons McKay couldn’t afford to keep his workers on without having something to make. So to avoid losing some of his good workers, in the off season he started to manufacture gates, which is why you’ll see a lot of Sunshine gates on farms. In the suburb of Sunshine there are quite a few people who have gates at the end of their driveways which were manufactured here.

A large variety of skills were needed to produce Sunshine machinery and farm implements. While the workforce at Ballarat had been like a close-knit family and predominantly non-union, at Sunshine a new factory management structure was needed as the workforce rapidly expanded. Workers began to unionise in order to protect their rights in the factory. I mentioned earlier that one of the reasons McKay had moved the Sunshine Harvester Works to Braybrook was to escape the control of the Victorian wages boards, which had been set up to regulate the wages and workers in different trades. Unfortunately for McKay he couldn’t run from the wages boards forever.

In 1907 the Agricultural Implement Makers Wages Board was established. McKay, rather than being pushed around by a system he hated, was among the first employer representatives on the new Wages Board so he could try to influence it - and influence it the employers did. The Wages Board took two years to produce their first wage determinations. [laughter] He was very intelligent and a very good businessman.

Later in 1907 McKay’s Harvester Works was the subject of Justice HB Higgins’ harvester judgment. McKay had applied for exemption from the excise tariff that had been applied to any agricultural machinery sold in Australia, and this included stripper harvesters. The tariff stipulated that manufacturers could be exempt from paying the tariff if they paid a fair and reasonable wage to their workers. By allowing manufacturers who paid a fair and reasonable wage exemption, the Commonwealth government could indirectly ensure that workers were receiving a reasonable rate of pay.

Higgins, who was the first President of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court, chose McKay’s application as his factory ‘was one of the largest and had the greatest number and variety of employees,’ and his application was to be keenly fought. After considering evidence set forth by the McKay party as well as evidence from the Agricultural Implement Makers Union, Higgins ruled against McKay’s application, ordering him to pay thousands of pounds in tax. I think it amounted to somewhere near £20,000. The following year, after a bit of McKay influence, the High Court declared the Excise Tariff Act invalid, meaning that McKay no longer had to pay the outstanding taxes. [laughter] As you can imagine, by now workers in Melbourne’s agricultural implement factories, particularly those who were union members, were beginning to feel very frustrated. Attempts that had been made through the Excise Tariff Act and the harvester judgment to acquire a fair wage along with attempts to secure better wage rates through the wages boards had been unsuccessful. The wage determinations given by the Wages Board in 1909 fell up to six shillings short of the standards set by Higgins in the harvester judgment.

Higgins decided that an unskilled labourer should be paid 42 shillings a week. The Wages Board, however, thought they should only earn 39 shillings. Blacksmiths, who Higgins thought should earn 60 shillings, under the Wages Board only received 54 shillings a week. Having compared the Higgins wage rates and the Wages Board wage rates, I think the wages Board just went, ‘OK, we’ll pay them three shillings less,’ and ‘we’ll pay them six shillings less,’ because it’s either a three shilling or a six shilling difference. Strikes and disagreements between factory management and the unions who had workers in the factory were a common occurrence. The union provided a platform for workers to fight for better conditions, for better wages, and for shorter working hours. In the exhibit we’re focusing on one particular strike which took place in 1911. While it’s not the biggest strike or the longest strike in the factory’s history, it was the first significant union action to take place at the Harvester Works. After years of being pushed around by indecision on the Wages Board and the employers, the Agricultural Implement Makers Union, who I’m going to refer to as the union after this, decided they’d had enough.

At the end of January 1911, the union executive demanded that all non-unionists join the union within three weeks or else. By ensuring that all workers in this industry were part of the union, they had a better chance of garnering change which would potentially mean better working conditions and wages. By the end of the three-week period, all but 43 implements workers from across Melbourne had joined the union. Not happy with this result, members of the executive visited manufacturers with lists of the non-union workers, encouraging manufacturers to force these workers to join the union or there would be a strike. Some factories were declared clean, meaning that there were no unionists employed. At the Sunshine Harvester Works, however, 12 workers still refused to join the union. Sunshine had by far the largest workforce compared to other Melbourne agricultural implements factories. McKay refused to give in to union pressure and supported the 12 workers at his factory who refused to join. By the following day, 16 February, when the strike was declared, five of these workers had caved to union pressure. However, the remaining seven stood fast. At Sunshine, an estimated 1200 workers went on strike because these seven men wouldn’t join the union. In a counter action, McKay led Melbourne employers in a lockout, raising the number of people out of work. Across the ensuing weeks, mediation and intervention was offered by government leaders including Prime Minister Andrew Fisher. Justice HB Higgins, who was still President of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court at this stage, could finally intervene when union workers in Gawler, South Australia, struck in sympathy. The dispute was no longer a state issue. Having crossed state lines, it was a federal issue which means that the court could intervene. Higgins tried to force the two parties to come to a settlement. He did not, however, succeed.

The union’s purpose for striking actually changed throughout the strike. They initially went out on strike because manufacturers wouldn’t enforce closed shops, meaning that they wouldn’t employ only union labor. When they realised that this reason wasn’t going to cut it for the employees to end the strike, they continued striking because they objected to the implementation of piecework and they wanted shop stewards, who were official union representatives in the factory, officially recognised by the employers. The strike lasted 13 weeks, which broke the union financially.

The events of the strike were well reported in Melbourne’s newspaper and received coverage in other Australian newspapers like the Sydney Morning Herald and the Adelaide Advertiser. These are cartoons that were printed in the Melbourne Punch and, as you can see by the bottom one, some of them were quite graphic [images shown].

Aside from the newspaper reports there’s very little evidence of the strike. There are a few letters like this one, which is from McKay to Prime Minister Fisher. It’s dated 26 February when Fisher was offering to intervene in the strike and bring about a settlement. Part of the letter reads:

I wish to personally thank you for your kindly intervention in the dispute in our trade and to tell you how much I appreciate the candid way in which you talked over the matters affecting the unfortunate strike. I put the matter to the employees at a full meeting which lasted from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Saturday. The employees all expressed their appreciation of the spirit in which you made the offer to mediate. The issue, however, is a clearcut one and there is no room for compromise.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Can you go back and read the captions of those cartoons?

LEAH BARTSCH: This one says ‘when mice riot.’ Basically what it’s showing is a unionist or a striker literally holding a gun to McKay’s head to try to force the free labour, the non-unionists, to give in to the union, but you can see that McKay is refusing to do that. Down here this is called ‘An object lesson in torture.’ Here we have one of the strike leaders demonstrating the humane method to treat non-unionists. [laughter]

Then up in the corner we’ve got a cartoon which is titled ‘Conciliation and arbitration’ which shows HB Higgins at the top, and McKay and one of the union leaders fighting, and Higgins is trying to force them to come to terms and be friends. I can’t read the caption but from memory it’s clear that Higgins is on the side of the union.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you for that.

LEAH BARTSCH: Back to the letter. While this isn’t one of the objects in the exhibit, it will be in the multimedia interactive that we’re developing. There are also some union ledgers and some company records of the strike. Despite being on opposite sides, I think there was a great deal of respect felt between McKay and the union because each stood fast to their principles. Following the strike, McKay was able to successfully implement piecework in different areas of the factory. While workers could earn more on piecework rates, these rates were not set by the Wages Board, meaning that employers could set their own piecework standards. This left workers open to exploitation.

Over the coming years work methods in the factory changed as the latest techniques in mechanical production and scientific management methods were implemented. By the 1920s, women began to be employed in particular areas of the factory where the work, while dirty, wasn’t as difficult. This lovely lady here is working in the bolt shop. This is a newspaper photograph from The Argus [image shown].

In 1927 an inquiry was launched into the employment of female workers at McKay’s. The Trades Hall Council objected to Harvester Works employing women because they took the place of male workers. The inquiry, led by Dr Kate McKay, a woman of no relation to HV, explored whether the work that these women were employed to do was too strenuous. The inquiry found in favour of the works. By the 1920s, the Sunshine Harvester Works had become the largest agricultural implements manufacturer in Australia. During peak production, the Works employed up to 2500 men and women. It produced everything the factory needed from chains and tools to nuts and bolts and even furniture that was used in the offices.

Here’s a photograph of a factory plan from 1924 which will be on display in the exhibit [image shown]. I hope you can read it. Unfortunately it’s quite large and the dates are quite small. It shows the different workshops that covered the site from the blacksmith shop, which I think was located around here, to the timber yards which are not on this plan but they were around here in later years. The foundry which is down here and other shops like the core shop where women were employed down here and the factory offices which were across here.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Does it look like a shadow?

LEAH BARTSCH: That’s me taking a photograph. This is actually coming to the Museum as a donation as a result of my research. This was taken at the donor’s home, so excuse my shadow. [laughter] It’s quite big [the factory plan] so it was difficult to take a photo of. The plan also shows the internal railway system. You can see railway lines up here and coming off are tracks which lead into different areas of the factory. There were five lines, in later years that entered the factory at different points which serviced different factory workshops. This meant that raw material could be brought in on railway carriages and removed using huge cranes, and the finished products could then be packed and shipped directly from the factory.

If you think back to the earlier image I showed you of Sunshine today, you can still see some of the factory boundaries which are shown by the roads. There’s a road down here that is still there today, this road up here is still there and there is a road down here called Foundry Road which allows access to the site. Luckily for us the factory was really well documented in photographs and films, because it was such a prominent factory. If you’re interested in looking at some of the films, I know Screen Australia have some clips on their website which are fun to watch.

For many years Sunshine was dominated by the imposing presence of the Harvester Works, the factory whistle could be heard across town. Over in the right-hand corner is a steam whistle which is another item we are loaning from the Sunshine Historical Society. It was located at the top of the bulk store, which is one of the buildings in the middle of the site. Every working day the whistle would sound at 6.30 a.m. as a warning that work would begin in an hour. Forty-five minutes later at a quarter past seven it would sound again, warning that you should almost be ready to start work, and at 7:30 the whistle indicated that work had started for the day. At 12 p.m. this whistle signalled lunch and at 25 minutes past 12 it would warn that work would begin again in five minutes. And at 5 p.m. the final whistle of the day sounded indicating the end of the working day. A special train collected Sunshine workers in the morning, beginning at what was called Spencer Street station, which I think is in the docklands of Melbourne, and stopping along the way to Sunshine. An afternoon train would take workers home again.

In the 1970s this little whistle, which only about this big [indicating] so it’s quite cute, was removed due to noise regulations. Residents, however, complained that its removal disrupted their day, particularly those who used it as an alarm clock in the morning. [laughter] I understand that the whistle was reinstalled for the Harvester judgment celebration that was held in the bulk store, this building here, in 2007. I think they removed it again because the sound had been altered so it just wasn’t the same, which is unfortunate.

In 1913 the Sunshine Technical School was opened. This is another of McKay’s pursuits. It would provide formal training and an academic education for his apprentices. It had been in his plans for a good six years. He pledged five acres in Darby Road and £2,000 to the establishment of the school. Classes began on 7 July. Day and evening classes were offered in blacksmithing, carpentry, fitting and turning, freehand drawing, electricity, English - I could go on but you get the idea. A special course which included science, art and workshop practice was offered to apprentices for ten shillings a term. McKay’s apprentices were given half day per week at full pay to attend classes, which is a first for this time to be offered to be paid to go to school, but they were also required to attend classes three nights a week unpaid. By 1920 the need for a separate girls school had been apparent and a preparatory technical school for girls was opened in 1922. The teacher was appointed to first take dress making and art classes, which were appropriate lessons for girls.

We’re moving away from the operations of the factory now and into the suburb. As well as providing employment opportunities, McKay provided facilities for the communities which were starting to spring up at Sunshine. He envisioned tree-lined streets with large housing blocks. There were community gardens adjacent to the Sunshine estate which could be enjoyed by residents and works employees alike. I think on the Screen Australia site that I mentioned earlier there’s a clip from a film from the 1950s that shows the Sunshine gardens and some lovely young ladies enjoying the prize-winning chrysanthemums. A bowling green and tennis court were also part of the gardens. [Image shown] Down here you can see the opening of the Sunshine bowling rink and HV McKay standing there. This is the entry to the gardens, which I think is now called HV McKay Memorial Gardens, and the church up here is called the HV McKay Memorial church.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: What denomination was that?

LEAH BARTSCH: He was a Presbyterian. Other sporting and leisure clubs were established from football to quoits. This next photo shows the soccer team in Argentina.

The Sunshine Review - you can see a couple of copies of the Sunshine Review across in the case - was a company magazine for employees which reported sporting results and social events. The Sunshine Harvester Works social and welfare organisation organised many of these events in clubs. Some of the activities organised included art shows, a choir and the Harvester Works picnic. I think the early picnics were held in Mornington, and in later years the picnics were held at Frankston and Williamstown. Specially organised trains would carry the picnickers to and from Sunshine, and of course the picnics were an opportunity for factory management and workers to mingle, and they were sports and novelty games along with activities for children.

Let’s go back to the church [image shown]. People still attend the Presbyterian church, which is now called the HV McKay Memorial Church as I mentioned before. McKay laid the foundation stone just weeks before his death in 1926, and the following year his wife - now his widow - officially opened it. If you go inside the church you will find there are memorial plaques as well as memorial stained glass windows which are dedicated to members of the McKay family and other prominent Sunshine residents.

In 1911 McKay was granted permission to supply the town of Sunshine with electricity from the Harvester Works. The library opened in 1912, so by all accounts Sunshine was moving along. The Sunshine Masonic lodge was consecrated on 26 April 1913, and McKay was installed as the first worshipful master. Other Sunshine employees and residents held positions in the lodge. Until 1926 when a temple was built in Sunshine, meetings of the Sunshine Lodge were held in Footscray. This is a program which is coming to us as a donation from the Lodge consecration in 1913. It contains a menu for the evening as you can see [image shown]. I’m not sure if you can read it but for dessert they had apple meringue pie, which sounds lovely. You can also read the drinks they had. It also contains the different toasts that were made, and a list on the other side of this page lists officers for the first year.

In 1930, the Sunshine Harvester Works merged with Canadian company Massey Harris, and in 1955 the McKay family sold all their shares to the company that would become Massey Ferguson. The factory ceased manufacturing in 1986, and almost all of the buildings had been demolished by 1992. Today just one factory building remains standing on the site and one building that was actually used for manufacturing purposes, which is the bulk store that I showed you earlier. The factory gates stand displaced opposite the factory offices that were built in 1927. [Image shown] The factory offices were here. Unfortunately the photos aren’t brighter because both times I was in Sunshine it was cloudy and rainy [laughter] so it wasn’t really living up to its name.

The interior of the office building has been restored to its former glory with wood-panelled walls and a wood-panelled staircase, which you can see here [image shown]. And upstairs the original boardroom table stands in the boardroom, which you can see here. One of the chairs which is around the boardroom table will be on display in the exhibit. I just put this in [image shown] because I liked the comparison between the factory executive in 1927 or 1928 and the boardroom today.

I also had to put these photos in. When I was first in contact with a curator from Museum Victoria about Sunshine - Museum Victoria hold a lot of the McKay collections - this particular curator said to me, ‘If you go to Sunshine you need to go into the men’s toilets in the office building,’ so I did, [laughter] along with the ladies who work in the office area which is surrounding the boardroom. And a man did walk in - I must say he was quite surprised to see us there. These are some of the tiles that adorn the walls [image shown]. Here you can see Australia and Canada showing the relationship, a man harvesting with a sickle, a man plowing with the harvester and of course there’s the rising sun back here. This is the smithy, harvesting, and of course the factory with the train lines and the suburb at Sunshine.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: What’s the building now?

LEAH BARTSCH: The building has been divided into different offices. I think there are about four or five different offices and a café who occupy it.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Are these upstairs or downstairs?

LEAH BARTSCH: These are upstairs in the executive suite. Obviously the little people didn’t use them, it’s for management. The second time I visited the offices I went with two men who had previously worked at the factory called John and Jim. Jim had been a personnel officer and had worked in a different part of the factory offices, whereas John had only been in this building once and neither of them had been into the executive suite. So it was a lovely moment, feeling their awe at being in this place which I guess had such significance to them.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Was that all the tiles?

LEAH BARTSCH: There might be a couple of more; that’s all I have photos of. But I also must mention that in the toilet cubicles there were little ashtrays so you can imagine what business went on in there.

Just to finish off, the Sunshine Harvester Works had a long tradition of employing family groups, and it’s been my good fortune to meet some of these people who have lived and worked at Sunshine like John and Jim. I’m going to talk about a couple of these people now. Jim Learmonth’s family has a combined 225 years of service to the factory at Sunshine. This included his grandfather, some of his uncles, his brothers, his wife and his daughter, and of course Jim. The Learmonth family moved to Sunshine in 1910 from rural Victoria where they were farmers. Jim’s father Alec served an apprenticeship at the works and I believe was one of the apprentices to enter the technical school. He was an apprentice and then he went on off to war and he returned to the works after serving in the First World War. His service to the factory actually recognised the years that he served in the army, which is kind of nice. So his service started in 1910 or 1911 and went through to the time he retired, rather than being broken by the time he served. He retired after 50 years of working at the factory when I think he was about 65.

Jim’s father and grandfather were engineers, and in the time of horse-drawn technology Jim’s father Alec would travel to farms to set up machinery for customers and also to give a final check to see that there was nothing wrong with the machinery so that it wouldn’t fall apart as soon as he left. Jim is now in his eighties, and he began as an apprentice with the factory in 1941 at the age of 15. He completed his apprenticeship in the engine department and went on to take different roles, eventually becoming a personnel officer. Jim lost his job at the factory in 1977 after 36 years of service due to job cutbacks which went on across Massey Ferguson. The other person I want to talk to you about today is John Ayton, who’s different from the previous John I was talking about. John’s grandfather Robert began working at the Harvester Works in 1909. He was a blacksmith and had been working for a stagecoach company on Ballarat Road in Sunshine. At the Harvester Works he was employed as an experimental blacksmith, developing ideas for improving Sunshine machines. One example John gave me of the work his grandfather did was that he helped develop the steel frame binder. Previously binders had been wood framed but one of his jobs was to make a steel frame binder.

Other members of John’s family worked at the factory, including his mother, uncle and father. John began at the Harvester Works as a fitter turner apprentice in 1954. He took various roles in the company before ending up a production engineer. John finished with the factory in 1989, and during his last phase was involved in preparing factory items ranging from tools to furniture for public auction. We’re borrowing a number of items from John - I don’t actually have photos here - including a watch which was presented to him in 1979 when he became a member of the Massey Ferguson Quarter Century Club. The Quarter Century Club started in 1962 and recognises the service of employees who had worked at the factory for more than 25 years. The club, despite its dwindling membership, still meets annually today in Sunshine. The other item we’re borrowing from John is a seat - I know, another seat. I was counting, and we have four seats in this exhibit. This seat was one of the last pieces that was made at the Harvester Works. Three hundred seats similar to this one were pressed using a giant beam press and the original Harvester seat tooling as mementos for employees and factory residents, whoever wanted one. Thank you for listening.

Date published: 24 May 2010