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Model trains
Ferris electric train set in its original box. Jason McCarthy, National Museum of Australia

Fine collection of O gauge trains

These O gauge model trains, collected by Bruce Macdonald, were made by more than 30 different manufacturers from across Australia and New Zealand between the 1930s and the 1960s. The O gauge was a popular choice for hobbyists and a number of manufacturers chose to specialise in that scale. The gauge of a train model is measured between the inside edges of the load-bearing rails, with O gauge generally measuring 32 millimetres, at a scale of 1:43.

Slideshow of model trains

Learn more about some of the model trains and scenery on show at the National Museum, with information on each manufacturer, from Bruce Macdonald’s 2005 book Spring, Spark and Steam: An Illustrated Guide to Australian Toy and Model Trains. Photos by George Serras, Jason McCarthy and Katie Shanahan.

Slideshow

Austral Railways model trains (from left): New South Wales Railways SBS air-conditioned saloon car, Victorian Railways country passenger car, New South Wales Railways SFS air-conditioned passenger coach, and New South Wales Railways guard/power van. These models were made with pressed metal rooves, wooden chassis and die-cast bogie components, by Frank Slovnic in Sydney, about 1951. Slovnic established Austral Railways in Sydney in the late 1940s. The company produced a range of products for basic tinplate enthusiasts and serious modellers. During the 1950s, Slovnic began to produce detailed rolling stock kits with increasing diversity, until age and hearing problems forced him to give up his shop in 1965. National Museum of Australia

Ferris electric train set in its original box. Jason McCarthy, National Museum of Australia

‘Boomerang Milk Express’ box car, with wooden chassis, printed cardboard, diecast bogies and printed paper, by Frank Slovnic, Sydney, 1953. National Museum of Australia

New South Wales Railways four-wheel open wagon made of wood, with turned brass wheels, by William Christie, Sydney, about 1938.

William Christie began constructing and displaying O gauge items at his Rose Bay home from 1936, moving the sale of model railway material to his umbrella shop in Bathurst Street, Sydney, in 1938. Along with his range of New South Wales rolling stock, parts and accessories, Christie also stocked a range of Fleet products and items produced by Frank Fitzgerald. National Museum of Australia

Solid metal road bridge with side ramps made by FW Strong and associates of Melbourne, in 1949.

Born in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1910, Frederick W Strauss established his business as a toolmaker and die caster manufacturing handbag fittings and toys under the name FW Strong in Melbourne from 1946. Working from his home with business partner Rudolph Hersch, Strong produced a range of traffic lights, signs and railway signals for O gauge and HO scale, in die cast metals and plastic. From 1949, Strong’s products appeared in boxes with the title ‘Bonnie Toys’ and an image of a black Scottish terrier – believed to represent the family’s pet dog on whom the trade name and mark were based. Strong later produced die cast parts for the automotive industry, until his death in 1966. National Museum of Australia

Box cover for solid metal road bridge with side ramps, made by FW Strong and associates of Melbourne, in 1949. National Museum of Australia

Model train production in Australia

Following the Second World War, local manufacturers responded to shortages in imported products by creating quality toy and model trains for a growing market. During the 1950s and 60s, the Australian toy and scale model train industries prospered, creating products for children and serious collectors.

Australian manufacturers, including Ferris, O Gauge House, Maurlyn and Robilt, produced trains modelled primarily on New South Wales and Victorian rolling stock. While model trains of the 1930s and 40s were often made of wood or simple tin-plate, by the 1950s and 60s complicated and highly detailed pressed sheet metal trains that ran on electric tracks were being mass-produced.

Lifetime love of trains

A colour photograph of Bruce Macdonald with his train collection.
Bruce Macdonald with his train collection, 2005

Bruce Macdonald received his first train set at the age of five, the start of a lifetime love of trains. As an adult, he was involved in the restoration and conservation of historic full-sized steam-powered engines, including items in the Museum’s collection. During the 1970s, Macdonald returned to his interest in O gauge toys and models and spent decades collecting examples of the main Australian and New Zealand manufacturers.

A member of the Australian Railway Historical Society since 1943, Macdonald is one of Australia’s foremost authorities on industrial railways and steam power in both full-size and miniature forms.

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