This photograph, taken from a glass plate negative, shows a steam traction engine pulling two wagons loaded with posts in country New South Wales. Steam traction engines were self-propelled steam engines which burnt fuel, usually wood when used in Australia, and raised steam in a locomotive-type boiler. As well as pulling heavy wagons, they cleared land and powered well-boring equipment, threshing machines, saws and pumps until the 1920s. Most traction engines used in Australia were heavy, well-built English ones. American engines like this one made in Buffalo, New York, by the Buffalo Pitts Co., were popular because they were lighter, cheaper and used less water and fuel.
The photographic negative was published by the Sydney firm Charles Kerry & Co. and is part of the Powerhouse Museum's Tyrrell collection which contains over 2,900 glass plate negatives by Kerry & Co. Although a few appear to be from the 1880s most were produced between 1892 and 1917. Over this period, and well into the early 1900s, prints from these negatives appeared in many Australian publications and albums of views. In 1903 the company began producing postcards from these negatives, further establishing the images as some of the most significant and best known early views of New South Wales.
Some of the more significant themes covered by the collection include; views of New South Wales, Queensland, country towns, Sydney, Indigenous Australians, the South Pacific, rural life, native flora and fauna, and sentimental views. In addition a number of significant events from the 1900s are covered by the collection including; embarkation of troops for the Boer War, Hordens fire, the Inauguration of the Commonwealth in 1901, the arrival of the Great White Fleet and the Burns versus Johnson boxing match at Rushcutters Bay in 1908.
Geoff Barker, Curatorial, January, 2009
Additional information, Margaret Simpson, Curator, 2014
Newton, Gael, Shades of Light; Photography and Australia 1839 - 1988, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1988
Millar, David, Charles Kerry's Federation Australia, Sydney, David Ell Press, 1981
Tyrell, James, Australian Aboriginal and South Sea Islands Implements, Weapons and Curios, James Tyrell, Sydney, 1929