Cars, engines, aircraft, boats – these are what conservators call the large technology in the National Museum's collection. Conservators have to hone their engineering skills and understand a range of historical technologies to care for these hefty mechanical objects. Preserving and passing on these specialist skills and knowledge is as much of a challenge as preserving the objects themselves.
Some large technology objects are returned to working order to preserve the experience of using them and being near them when they are operating. These sounds and smells can be powerful reminders of an object’s history and significance.
The decision to keep an object functional has significant implications for the workload of the conservation team. Working objects have to be exercised – engines run and vehicles driven – and regularly serviced and maintained. Tasks such as determining the correct oils and engine fluids for older vehicles may require extensive research and testing.
The skills required to service and maintain older objects are not formally taught, as newer technologies emerge. So we rely on skills being passed from those who know and can do, to conservators who have the background and the drive to learn these valuable skills as they become rarer.
DE 36hp Daimler landaulette, 1948
The Daimler landaulette was one of a small fleet of government cars used for Queen Elizabeth II’s first tour of Australia, in 1954. It was sold after the tour and gradually deteriorated during a period of use on a farm and being kept outdoors.
Although significantly damaged, it still retained its impressive bodywork and most original fittings. This included its cord and leather upholstery, walnut dash and engraved light-fittings. The car was fully documented and a mechanical survey was conducted as part of the Museum Workshop exhibition in 2011. The Daimler conservation was completed in 2019.