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.

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