Australia Day the National Motor Museum way

Written by Mick Bolognese | January 27th, 2015

A look at one of our most beloved inventions and its ties to the National Motor Museum 

Well, Australia Day has come and gone but I thought I’d stay in the spirit by sharing a feel-good all-Australian story with you. With some amazing Australian vehicles at the museum I was spoilt for choice, but for me Australia Day = backyard and backyard = Hills hoist.

Unfortunately, this web of steel tubing and aluminium that is so instantly recognisable to many Australians and so utterly confusing to most visitors from overseas is becoming a rare sight in Aussie homes. As blocks become smaller and ‘low-maintenance’ enters the list of seven or eight phrases repeated in every real estate ad in the country, it seems that the ‘height adjustable rotary clothes line’ no longer fits into our backyards. My home is no exception: as of three years ago, a small courtyard fills the space where our Hills hoist once stood. Admittedly, backyard cricket games have become much safer.

What many people don’t realise is that the Hills hoist first came to be right here in South Australia (in the backyard of Lance Hill in Glenunga, to be precise) in 1945. Hill had just returned from the Second World War, and his wife complained that the old clothes line was in the way of the lemon tree. Using salvaged metal, he designed a free-standing clothes line for her. It was not, in fact, the first time that a similar clothes line had been seen – a fellow Adelaidean, Gilbert Toyne, patented one almost 20 years earlier. Hills’s design, however, impressed his neighbours so much that he soon had several orders coming in. The rest, as they say, is history, and by the 1950s and 60s the Hills hoist had become an emblem of suburban Australia. Strange honour to bestow on a clothes line, but the Hills hoist had something for everyone: where parents saw an easy-to-operate hanging system for their washing that let lemon trees grow unimpeded, children saw an exciting variation of monkey bars and young adults found a fun new way to enjoy a sip of wine in company.

So where does the National Motor Museum fit in this story? Well, the success of the Hills hoist was such that by 1948, just three years after the prototype was scratched together in that backyard in Glenunga, the company needed a national service network. At an auction of surplus military equipment in Alice Springs, they purchased a Ford One Tonne utility that had originally been produced for use by the Australian Army during the Second World War. They carted it to Adelaide, where it was re-fitted as a service vehicle, and sent it on to Sydney, where for around 20 years it drove around the suburbs, making sure Hills hoists kept turning. After a full restoration it was offered to the National Motor Museum in 2006. Our response echoed a famous 1950s ad for the Hills hoist: ‘best present I could ask for!’


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