Caring for our Horse Drawn Vehicle Collection

The National Trust of Australia (Victoria) is the custodian of an extensive horse-drawn vehicle collection, one of the largest in Victoria.

The National Trust of Australia (Victoria) is custodian to an extensive horse drawn vehicle collection, one of the largest in Victoria. Comprising a diverse range of historic vehicles including buggies, carts and drays, wagons, sulkies, and even an omnibus and hearse – the collection is historically and aesthetically significant for the insight it offers into urban and rural life in Victoria during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The collection represents a range of fascinating aspects of daily life during this era, such as lost trades and niche skills, methods of transport prior to the introduction of motor vehicles, farming, trade, social life, and mourning practices.  

In recent years, the NTAV has undertaken significance assessments to ensure informed decisions for the future care and interpretation of this important collection are made. Establishing significance is a valuable tool used by museums to identify and document the meaning and importance of a single object or collection. Significance is defined according to four primary criteria: historical; artistic/aesthetic; scientific/research; and social/spiritual. Against each of these primary criteria, five comparative criteria are also assessed to establish the degree of significance. These consist of provenance; condition/completeness; rarity/representativeness; and interpretative capacity. This vital information is then used to enrich object catalogue information, to aid in the prioritisation of resources, for funding and grant applications, and for educational resources and interpretation.  

NTAV horse drawn vehicles are displayed or stored across several locations throughout Victoria. Visitors to NTAV properties can view a variety of carriages on display at Rippon Lea Estate, Barwon Park Mansion, and Gulf Station. As is standard practice for a museum collection, whilst some vehicles are on public display others are in secure storage while essential ‘behind the scenes’ preventative conservation, collection management strategies and research are carried out.  

Such is the case with the collection of vehicles currently in temporary secure storage in Beechworth. Their recent relocation from a shed at Billson’s Brewery to a large, secure storage facility represents an exciting and pivotal moment in the collection’s history. With plenty of space surrounding each vehicle, we are now able to effectively manage and care for them. As part of a three-stage plan for the vehicles, the Trust is conducting conservation work and historical research while planning for small-scale activations and a suitable long-term outcome for the collection.  

Recently, our Chiltern Properties Coordinator Vaughn Clarke together with Collections Managers Katie Potter and Michelle Derrick, commenced the start of an extensive program of preventative conservation to carefully remove dirt, dust, and debris from each vehicle before condition reporting to document any damage or deterioration. As part of this program, we sought specialist advice from The Sovereign Hill Museums Association Wheelwrights and Blacksmith Manager, Mick Dando. Mick provided us with invaluable guidance and support for safely relocating, storing, and conserving the vehicles. As part of this supportive collaboration, Mick and his team also supplied us with specially made wheel chocks for the vehicles to hold them securely in place while in storage.  

To help NTAV carry out this much needed work, we are searching for additional volunteers to join our horse drawn vehicle enthusiasts’ team to carry out a range of hands-on tasks such as preventative conservation cleaning, photography, and documentation of their condition. This is a wonderful opportunity to help us conserve an invaluable part of Victoria’s transport and social history, to learn new skills, and to work within a supportive team environment. All training will be provided. We would also value assistance from people with specialist trades skills in wheelwrighting, woodwork, metal work, textiles or with knowledge of horse-drawn vehicle components and tack.  

If you are interested in volunteering, please visit our volunteering page here and submit a volunteer enquiry form. As part of the application process, we will ask you to agree to register/sign up as a National Trust Volunteer. Volunteering with the National Trust of Australia (Vic) will be subject to a satisfactory Police Records check and a Working with Children Check. We promote diversity and practice equity. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are encouraged to apply.  

This article was written by Michelle Derrick, Collections Manager, and was originally published in the National Trust’s Winter 2023 Magazine. 


Michelle Derrick