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Vintage 1912 McDonald ‘EB’ oil tractor joins National Museum’s collection
One of the oldest locally-made tractors highlights Australian innovation and engineering capabilities
The McDonald ‘EB’ oil tractor was produced by AH McDonald & Co of Richmond, Melbourne, over 110 years ago and is one of Australia’s earliest tractors that were made on local soil.
Now, visitors to the National Museum of Australia (NMA) in Canberra will be able to see the machine in the flesh at the Gandel Atrium following the museum’s recent acquisition of the unit with help from the Australian Government and an anonymous benefactor.
The NMA says the addition of the tractor substantially adds to the Museum’s National Historical Collection and supports its mission to tell remarkable stories from Australian history.
The McDonald ‘EB’ oil tractor is one of three complete examples manufactured in Australia by AH McDonald & Co. In 1908, Melbourne engineers Alfred and Ernest McDonald produced the first Australian-made, oil-powered tractor, known as the ‘EA’. The improved design of the ‘EB’ followed in 1912.
It provides a glimpse into the global transformation in automotive and agricultural practices triggered by the invention of the oil-driven, internal combustion engine in the 1870s.
NMA paid $250,000 for the McDonald EB, with the support of the Australian Government through the National Cultural Heritage Account, a grant program that assists Australian cultural organisations to acquire significant cultural heritage objects.
NMA director, Dr Mathew Trinca, thanked the Australian Government for its financial assistance with the purchase of the tractor, which he said is an unrivalled example of Australian ingenuity and design.
“The McDonald ‘EB’ oil tractor represents a theme of Australian innovation in a revolutionary era for engineering. This acquisition represents our agricultural history, and we are thrilled to share it with Australia,” he said.
The tractor was originally purchased new in 1912 by Frank William Chilcott for use at ‘Lillesdon Park’, his 403-acre farm located on French Island in Victoria’s Western Port Bay.
It was likely used for land clearing as part of the local chicory cultivation industry, which was a prolific industry on French Island until the mid-1960s.
Museum curator, Dr Ian Coates, coordinated the acquisition of the tractor. He said it has historic significance because of its association with Australia’s first tractor manufacturer.
“Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the early tractors produced by AH McDonald & Co was the relative sophistication of their engineering, which included coil ignition, a three-speed gearbox and automotive rack-and-pinion steering. This reflects Alf McDonald’s capacity to improve the contemporary design of imported American tractors,” Dr Coates said.
The tractor will be on display at the National Museum of Australia from May 15 to July 23, 2023.