Man standing in front of vintage car

Heritage time travellers

Woolmers Estate in the Northern Midlands is in many ways a time capsule.

The buildings have changed very little and the tools, artefacts, household goods and vehicles acquired by six generations of the Archer family from 1817-1994, for the most part, remain intact.

The estate’s collection includes a small, but wonderfully idiosyncratic, collection of motor vehicles. For Peter Rae, Chair of the Woolmers Foundation and cousin of Thomas Archer VI, the top priority is preserving and displaying the collection in a way that befits a property that’s not only significant to Australia’s history, but also has a place on the World Heritage register.

The three vehicles in the collection were the pinnacle of personal transport in their day. They are now housed in the former Coach House and a nearby timber garage close to the main house.

The pride of the collection is a 1912 Wolseley ‘Town Tourer’, purchased in 1913 by Woolmers’ then owner Thomas Archer IV, who was an early motoring enthusiast. His son and successor, Thomas Archer V, took his wife Marjorie on a honeymoon tour of Tasmania in the Wolseley in 1915.

Dodge 1950s 'Kingsway Coronet'.
1936 Dodge 'Beauty Winner'.

Two decades later, upon inheriting the estate himself, Thomas V added to the collection with a 1936 Dodge ‘Beauty Winner’. This was described in effusive terms in the Camperdown Chronicle of Victoria as having a ‘brilliant new style and breathtaking beauty’, and perhaps reassuringly, ‘improved and balanced driving control interior’. Glancing through the windows of the Dodge as it rests magnificently in the Coach House, the spacious interiors, beautifully tooled leather upholstery and huge armrests still effortlessly evoke an age of luxury.

The third vehicle in the collection is a Dodge ‘Kingsway Coronet’, which was purchased by Thomas V in the mid-50s. Its sky blue form and chrome trim looms from the darkness of the shed in which it is garaged, and the stylised art-deco jaguar on the hood appears to leap towards the light.

While they are still in good condition, the vehicles are not preserved or presented as they should be and are open to the birds and dust, says Peter Rae. Visitors to Woolmers Estate expect the cars to be preserved and displayed in pristine condition, he explains, but this requires significant funding. The trouble with not doing it in a timely fashion, he adds, is that their condition deteriorates.

In 2017, Woolmers proudly opened a new visitor centre. The $5.3 million facility was made possible with donations from Archer family descendant and benefactor Nigel Peck, as well as the Tasmanian and Australian governments. The Nigel Peck Centre has transformed the experience of visitors and volunteers with a new, larger shop and restaurant, as well as storage and office quarters. A capacious yet discrete presence at the top of the estate’s rose garden, it is a huge asset going forward.

In principle support has been given by the Tasmanian Heritage Council for an extension at the building’s western end to construct a purpose-built showroom known as the Heritage Cars Pavilion.

This will allow the three cars in the collection to be housed appropriately for their age, and to achieve their full potential as an attraction for visitors. Work is underway to raise the $150,000 needed.

The UNESCO World Heritage register requires the nominating state of any heritage site to ensure both its preservation and presentation, explains Mr Rae. In the case of Woolmers, the nominating state is the Commonwealth of Australia. However, at present, any funding from the Commonwealth is directed to the maintenance of heritage property, but not its presentation. The Woolmers Foundation is in the midst of protracted discussions to change this, bringing the Commonwealth’s provision into line with World Heritage requirements.

Special details on the Wolseley 'Town Tourer'.

There is an inherent challenge in managing an extensive historic estate that depends on a small, part-time but dedicated team of staff and volunteers for its everyday operations. The Woolmers team is responsible for the upkeep and presentation of the buildings and gardens, as well as running the reception and shop. The Board and its six committees are also voluntary and work assiduously on events such as the annual Festival of Roses, an antique auction and car show. There are also plans for expanding art exhibitions in the new gallery spaces.

Meanwhile, the Wolseley needs a service, but still runs perfectly. A few years ago, benefactors Nigel and Patricia Peck arrived at the Festival of Roses in it in full ceremonial splendour. Mr Rae hopes to see both the Wolseley and the two Dodges presented in similar splendour in the Heritage Cars Pavilion.