The National Museum of Australia has a significant collection of historical motor vehicles. Unlike many museums, the National Museum preserves both the form and the function of the vehicles - keeping both technologies and the knowledges of the technologies alive for the future. The vehicle collections include the 1946 Holden Prototype no. 1, a 1923 Stanley Steamer, the 1923 5CV Citroen that was the first motor vehicle to cross Australia, a 1925 Sundowner Bean car and the bus used by the People for Nuclear Disarmament in their protest in the mid-1980s.
The Museum specialises in the form and function approach to vehicle conservation. Many of the large technical objects in the National Museum’s collection are treated in a way that steers away from the process known throughout the industry as ‘mothballing’. When an object is mothballed it is treated for the purposes of display only without consideration for conserving its function. As a social history museum, the Museum can show visitors how the vehicles worked, how they sounded, even how they smelled. And this approach to conservation conserves not only the objects themselves, but the technologies, skills and knowledges required to keep the vehicles running. The historical motor vehicle fleet is grounded in a large technology program and workshop, including the storage of vehicles in ‘carcoons’ - plastic bubbles that maintain temperature and humidity conditions.
The vehicle collections are significant both because the objects comprising the collection are significant in Australia's social history and because the Museum's approach to preservation also conserves the technological social context of the vehicles. The documentation of the vehicles, including manuals, parts specifications and other technological information is an invaluable resource for technology researchers.
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