This single-cylinder engine originally powered an "Australis" motor car, one of the first petrol-powered automobiles to be made in Australia. It was manufactured by G.W. and G. Wood, in the inner-Sydney suburb of Leichhardt in 1900. It is believed that this Australis engine may be the oldest surviving Australian-made petrol-driven automobile engine.
George Winter Wood and his father George Wood were engineers and bicycle manufactures in Sydney in the 1890s. They copied a De Dion Bouton engine and from it, it is claimed, made the first Australian-made petrol motor vehicle engine which drove two, three and four-wheeled bicycles, fore-cars and early automobiles between 1895 and 1906. According to contemporary sources the Wood firm was a strong candidate for their pioneering claims. "The Sydney Morning Herald" in 1905 noted: "Who made in Australia the first motor cycle, the first motor and fore-car and the first tri-car? The honour of making all three types belongs to Messrs G.W. and G. Wood".
This engine is significant because it represents the pioneering work of a little known and recognised Sydney automobile manufacturer at the turn of the 20th century. The first petrol-driven vehicle in Australia was a motorised pedal cycle driven by H. Knight-Eaton in Brisbane in 1893, only eight years after Benz's three-wheeler, considered the world's first practical motor vehicle, was made in Germany.
When the "Australis" car was on the road it would have been a novelty. In 1900 there were few formed roads, no garages, and petrol, which was scarce and expensive, had to be purchased in tins from the few chemists and grocers who stocked it. Also, in the early years of motoring electric and steam cars far outnumbered petrol ones.
Information provided by Arthur E. Wood, son of George W. Wood, Concord West, in 1966, on Powerhouse Museum object file.
New South Wales Births Deaths & Marriages, online indexes.
"Motor Development in Australia : Who Made the First Motor Cycle and Fore-Car?" in The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 May 1905.
State Records of New South Wales, online indexes (Index to Unassisted Arrivals NSW 1842-1855 and Index to Registers of Firms).
Simpson, Margaret, "On the Move: a history of transport in Australia", Powerhouse Publishing, 2004.
Curator, Science, Technology & Industry