NotesThis collection of Meccano items was put together by Malcolm Booker, a retired mining engineer. Malcolm was born in Sydney in 1936 and grew up in the Sydney suburb of Greenwich. He received his first Meccano set at the age of 8 for Christmas in 1942. It was not actually a set but a well-used box which he described as an 'abused odd assortment of parts'. This was during the War years and toys were in short supply. The box contained only three tyres for the four Meccano wheels and Malcolm's father fashioned a piece of round rubber for the fourth tyre. Occasionally Malcolm's father would bring home a few pieces of second-hand Meccano to add to the set.
During the early 1950s Malcolm went on to buy particular Meccano parts for the models he gradually built which included a variety of elevators, trucks, tractors, a crane lorry and a travelling bucket dredger for which his father made the tiny buckets. Malcolm recalls that the Meccano parts for the models were sourced from a number of Sydney outlets. The one with the best supply and range was the Walther & Stevenson Ltd department store in George Street, next was Herbert Small's in Pitt Street, followed by Searls', also in Pitt Street, and lastly Hobbyco in their old premises in George Street. If the part required could not be obtained from these shops, then the avid Meccano modeller went to the Sydney Meccano agents, E.G. Page, in Pitt Street. Malcolm said that 'If you told them that you could not get the parts you wanted at any of the four shops and did not make a habit of going there too often they would sell you the few parts you were not able to get'. Malcolm recalled 'the aficionados of the hobby soon learnt not to buy pinions and 1-inch gears from Hobbyco as they had their own make which did not mesh very well with the 'genuine' Meccano ones'. By 1952 Malcolm had collected enough parts equal to the largest Meccano kit made, the No.10 set.
Malcolm stopped building Meccano in about 1953 at the age of 17 in order to concentrate on his school work. His interest in Meccano made him want to become a mechanical engineer but he could only secure a scholarship for mining engineering. Nevertheless, Malcolm considers that his Meccano-building experiences certainly helped him throughout his working career to see 'what things would work and what would not'.
Malcolm began his working career in 1960 at the historic Coal Cliff Colliery, south of Sydney, where he began as a technical assistant. He rose to become underground manager and later assistant manger at the Darkes Forest Mine nearby which had opened in 1971. (By 1980 Coal Cliff Colliery was said to have been the largest underground colliery in Australia with a workforce of 988. It closed in 1991.) Malcolm then worked as the manager of the Grose Valley Colliery, (formerly the Hartley Vale No.4 colliery) in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, from 1975 until 1977, and then went to the company's head office as a mining engineer from 1977 until 1983.
Malcolm's interest in Meccano was reignited in 1978. By them he had moved back to live in Sydney and his 3-year-old son had become interested in a large Meccano truck Malcolm he had made as a boy in 1952. Malcolm would wind up the clockwork motor and change the gears and work the steering. After taking his son for a ride on the Ferris wheel on Manly Wharf he came home and his son asked Malcolm if he could make a Ferris wheel. (This Meccano model is now in the Museum's education collection complete with the little Smurfs who were the passengers).
From 1983 until 1990 Malcolm worked for the Swiss-based firm, Asea Brown Boveri Ltd, developing a system for pumping coal slurries (the fine coal and water bi product of mining), then with the Perth-based firm, Malcolm Thompson Pumps, where he was involved with selecting pumps for specific purposes from 1991 until his retirement in 1996.
After his retirement Malcolm became much more involved with Meccano. In 1981 he had been a foundation member of the Sydney-based Meccano Modellers Association and is currently its president (in 2012). He was also a foundation member of the International Society of Meccanomen and was the Australian committee man for 6 years.
During his retirement Malcolm developed an enthusiasm for building and collecting large Meccano models. As an adult he had the luxury of keeping the big models he made rather than having to take them apart as he needed to do when a child. He did this by buying second-hand Meccano parts. He said that he gained a lot of pleasure from purchasing old Meccano that other enthusiasts would have consigned to the rubbish bin which were often bent, rusty and flaking paint. He restored these in the workshop of his Killarney Heights home in Sydney. This involved removing all the bumps with a nylon-faced hammer and running the pieces through a small plate roller. They were then dipped in caustic soda for between one to three days, to remove the remaining paint and grease. The caustic soda was washed off and then the Meccano placed in a solution of dilute hydrochloric acid, for about 2 hours, and washed off again. The Meccano pieces were then smoothed with a circular wire brush and spray painted in the traditional red or green colours.
Before moving to a retirement village in 2011, Malcolm sold a number of his models but also donated this large collection to the Museum, together with several hundred Meccano instruction books. Malcolm would certainly qualify for the title 'Mr Meccano' in Australia.