Inside the Collection

Meet the curator – Margaret Simpson

Portrait of Curator Margaret Simpson
Photography by Sotha Bourn © Powerhouse Museum all rights reserved

Margaret Simpson.

What is your specialty area?
The transport collection – I’ve researched everything from a steam car to a tram hearse, luxurious railway carriages to a shearer’s bicycle. More recently I’ve been having fun with the toy collection. It doesn’t really seem like work.

How long have you been working at the Museum?
Over 25 years. I began by studying Fine Arts but discovered Historical and Industrial Archaeology on the way then got side tracked to farm machinery then finally transport.

What is your favourite object in the collection?
Having to nominate my favourite object is a bit like considering which is your favourite child. If pressed, I’d say Locomotive No.1. It was built in 1854 and hauled the first train in NSW from Sydney to Parramatta in 1855. I think it’s amazing we’ve had it in the collection since 1884, before planes, cars and even safety bicycles were invented. The engine is displayed in the Museum with a first, second and third class carriage of the day. It amuses me when small children tell their parents that it’s “Thomas”.

If I had to nominate a favourite toy, this 1906 Carette tin toy car would be a contender. It tells so much about early motoring. There’s both a uniformed driver and a footman and the passengers wear protective clothing against the weather.

What piece of research or exhibition are you most proud of in your career at the Museum?
Having been given the opportunity to research and present the Museum’s transport collection in a book has been a highlight. It covers typically Australian transport stories including Cobb & Co coaches, camel saddles, surfboats, indigenous livery designs for Qantas 747s and solar cars. It allowed me to consider and interpret the “big picture” of Australian transport social history rather than concentrate on individual objects.

5 responses to “Meet the curator – Margaret Simpson

  • Re:

    “I think it’s amazing we’ve had it in the collection since 1884, before planes, cars and even safety bicycles were invented.”

    Safety bicycles ( Lawson (1879), Star (1880), Facile (1882), Kangaroo (1884) … and a few others) were invented by 1884.

    Golden Oldy Cyclery

    • Yes Steve, you are quite right. The first bicycle to be called a safety cycle was patented by H.J. Lawson in 1876. I think it was lever driven but in 1879 Lawson replaced it with a chain drive to the rear wheel. There were a number of bicycle types developed during the cross-over period from the penny farthing or ordinary bicycle to the safety bike. I was actually thinking of the safety’s later form developed by James Starley for Rover in 1885. We’ve very lucky to have examples of both the Kangaroo and the American Star in our collection. These were both short lived but very interesting bicycles developed to make penny farthings much safer and easier to ride.

  • Hi Margaret,

    you posted a story on the sectioned 65 Ford Falcon that had been on display at a car show but later donated to the museum.. Is that Falcon still on display. If not does the museum still possess it?



  • Hi Margaret.
    I’m just beginning a new book (my seventh) on the deterioration of Australian manufacturing. I start with our colonial beginnings and have read a most interesting article you wrote on the effects of the industrial revolution on Australian industry.
    My premise is that we have always undersold our industrial capacity, which probably reached its zenith in the 1960s and 1970s, and began to deteriorate after that – including automobiles, aeroplanes, transport.
    The kernel of my book will be light manufacturing, especially lighting, because I want to use as my main example Kempthorne, a company my mother’s brothers, the Coffey brothers, began in Collingwood in 1931, during the depths of the Great Depression.
    Could I make an appointment to see you? I need depth and perspective, which I am sure you could provide.
    With best regards,
    Richard Broinowski AO
    0432 175 594

    • Hi Richard,
      Thanks for getting in touch. This sounds fascinating!
      Unfortunately, Margaret has recently retired, but best of luck with your research and your book, as please let us know if we can assist in any other way.
      Sarah Reeves, MAAS

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