Matthew Churchward

Matthew Churchward

Senior Curator, Engineering and Transport

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After training in mechanical engineering, I have spent most of the past 30 years working in the museum and heritage sector. I began my first research position with the then Museum of Victoria, in 1989, and have held a curatorial role since 1994. As a senior curator, the scope of my work has involved original research, collection development and documentation, delivering public programs, exhibition development and the creation of website content.

During this period I have been involved in the development of over a dozen exhibitions across all of Museum Victoria’s venues – the Immigration Museum, Melbourne Museum and Scienceworks. I enjoy engaging with community groups and individuals, passionate collectors and researchers with common interests in the preservation and interpretation of the state’s industrial heritage.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my curatorial work has been the opportunity oversee a variety of restoration and conservation projects on large objects in the museum’s technology collections – ranging from traction engines, steam rollers, diesel rollers, tractors and oil engines to farm machinery, motor vehicles, bicycles and even horsedrawn vehicles. Since 2011, I have been lead curator on the restoration of the Great Melbourne Telescope, a 12½-tonne instrument of international significance built in the 1860s, which for two decades held the title of the world’s largest equatorially-mounted telescope. The project has involved museum staff, engineering students and a bunch of very dedicated volunteers from the Astronomical Society of Victoria.

One of my key collection development activities over the past 25 years has involved the management of the Trade Literature Collection, which has grown to encompass over 65,000 publications, making it the largest public collection of its type in Australia. The collection documents hundreds of types of technological products manufactured, marketed and used in Australia, providing a major research resource for historians, collectors and machinery restorers.

My master’s thesis examined Victoria’s 19th century mining machinery manufacturers and Victorian mining history remains one of my principal areas of research interest. Other recent research topics have included the history of Victorian foundries and engineering works, agricultural implement makers and aspects of the development in Victoria’s engineering and transport infrastructure – including roads, railways, bridges, ports, sewerage & water supply schemes and electricity supply.


Master of Engineering Science (History of Technology), University of Melbourne, 1988

Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) Hons, University of Melbourne, 1985

Committees & Boards

Australasian Mining History Association Advisory Committee

Engineering Heritage Victoria Committee (under Engineers Australia)


Projects and events

Recent public and conference presentations

“Plaster, Perforated Plate & Packing Crates -Exploring Nordstrom’s Modelmaking Masterpiece”, in Why Models Work – The Technology Edition, MV Lecture Series (online via Zoom), 17 June 2020.

“Inspiration to Restoration – the remarkable life the Great Melbourne Telescope”, in The Great Melbourne Telescope: Stories to Celebrate 150 Years (public event), Scienceworks, 24 Nov 2019.

“The Great Melbourne Telescope: White Elephant or Engineering Marvel”, in Celebrating Engineering History: a mini-conference, presented by Engineering Heritage Victoria in association with Royal Historical Society of Victoria, Melbourne, 15 Aug 2019

“The Blacksmith’s Boast - Rediscovering the remarkable story of the Rocky Mountain Extended Gold Sluicing Company, Beechworth, Victoria”, 25th Australasian Mining History Conference, Atherton, North Queensland, 7-14 July 2019

“Illuminating Nature: Rediscovering James Searle – Pioneer Limelight Artist and City Naturalist” (with Lorenzo Iozzi), Museums Victoria Public Lecture, Melbourne Museum, 3 Apr 2019.

“Melbourne’s Bluestone Bridges”, The Stones of Melbourne: History, Excavation, Circulation and Affect, public seminar, University of Melbourne, 8 March 2019.

“Strakes & Ladders - The Interchange of Bucket Dredging People & Technology between New Zealand & Victoria, 1898-1928”, 24th Australasian Mining History Conference, Cromwell, New Zealand, 7-13 Oct 2018.

“James Searle (1861-1947): Australia’s Pioneer Limelight Artist & Slide Manufacturer” (with Lorenzo Iozzi), The Magic Lantern in Australia & The World - An Interdisciplinary Conference, Australian National University & The National Film & Sound Archive, Canberra, 4-6 Sep 2018.

“Sluicing for gold below Belltopper Hill: Examining a distinctive Victorian mining landscape”, Australian Historical Association Conference, ‘The Scale of History’, Canberra, July 2018.

“A Million Pounds and Not a Penny Return – The Unfortunate Saga of the Moolort and Charlotte Plains Deep Lead Gold Mines”, Museums Victoria Lecture, Melbourne Museum, 13 June 2018.

“White Power & Nordic Knowhow – Making a Case for the Recognition of the Kiewa Hydro-Electric Scheme as a National Engineering Heritage Landmark”, 19th Australasian Engineering Heritage Conference, Mildura, 9-13 October 2017.

“Everything in Good Repair and Equal to Requirements - The Engineering Behind Australia’s Greatest Quartz Mine”, 23rd Australasian Mining History Conference, Traralgon, Victoria, 23-29 Sep 2017.

“Whims, Whips & Loose-Eccentrics - Winding Technology on the Victorian Goldfields, 1851-1915”, (with Peter Quinn), 22nd Australasian Mining History Conference, Cobar, New South Wales, 16-21 Oct 2016.

“Designing Roads for the Automobile Age - Re-examining the work of William Calder and the science of good roads”, Automotive Historians Australia Conference, Automotive Histories: Driving Futures, RMIT University, Melbourne, 1-3 Sep 2016.

Teaching and students

I'm available for student supervision.

Rachael Cottle (Deakin University, PhD)


Selected publications

“Gas Engines in Victorian Industry, 1870-1950”, Proceedings of the 3rd Australasian Engineering Heritage Conference, Dunedin, New Zealand, 2009.

Tout-Smith, Deborah (ed.), Melbourne: a City of Stories, Museum Victoria, 2008.

 “The role of steam power in the Victorian hardwood sawmilling industry”, Australian Journal of Multi-disciplinary Engineering, vol.6 no.1, 2008, pp.53-64.

“Foundries & Engineering Works” (chapter), in Bendigo at work: an industrial history, Mike Butcher & Yolande M. J. Collins (eds), National Trust of Australia (Victoria), Bendigo & District Branch and Holland House Publishing, Victoria, 2005.

 “Melbourne’s Bridges”, “Engineering in Melbourne” & “Transport in Melbourne” (contributing author - 3 articles), Encyclopaedia of Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 2005.

“Foundries, Federation & Free Trade”, Australian Journal of Multi-Disciplinary Engineering, vol.2 no.1, June 2004, pp.27-44.

Treasures of the Museum (contributing author - 15 articles), Museum Victoria, Melbourne, 2004.

“The Cowley Traction Engine” and  “The Spotswood Pumping Station”, features in A Museum for the People – A history of Museum Victoria and its Predecessors, Carolyn Rasmussen et al., Scribe Publications, Melbourne, 2001.

The Victorian Steam Heritage Register, Scienceworks, Museum of Victoria, Melbourne, 1994.

Victorian Steampower - An Illustrated Social History (with Joy McCann), Scienceworks & Victoria Press, Melbourne, 1993.

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