Visit Alice's

May 10th, 2018
Visit Alice's
The first female garage owner in Australia is described in a newspaper article from September 1926 as “looking like a boy, with her breeches, leggings and tweed cap pulled down over her eyes… her face wreathed in smiles”.

This is the spirit of Alice Anderson that’s being captured by an exhibition at Birdwood’s National Motor Museum.

In 1919, Alice Anderson was 22 years old when she opened Kew Garage in Melbourne’s outer suburbs.

It offered car servicing, petrol sales and job opportunities for women – her garage girls, as dubbed by the media at the time.

According to exhibition curator Michelle Toft, this made Alice Anderson a pioneering woman of Australian motoring history, as well an innovator and inventor.

“They say she was the most famous woman in motoring in Australia at the time,” Michelle said.

“She was the first female garage owner in Australia.

“What gained her a lot of media attention was that the garage was fully female run.”

“Like most garages of the 1920s, it did more than just mechanics: it also offered petrol sales and chauffeured trips. She also was an inventor, so this exhibition pays tributes to some of her inventions,” Michelle said.

Kew Garage has been recreated in South Australia as Alice Anderson’s Motoring Service, an interactive recreation featuring stylised music and design – the aim to transport people back to Alice’s day.

“The story is being told around you.

“You feel like you’re entering into her space,” Michelle said.

“You get to walk into her garage, then go to her office and her bedroom – because she actually lived in her garage.”

“There’s a replica of her chauffeur uniform, interactive features such as a telephone with recorded interviews – we found letters that Alice wrote or things people said about her.”

“The exhibition includes some objects that belonged to Alice, such as the Joan of Arc inspired tie pin that she wore, a business card and a price list.

"It is really exciting to display items that were personally used by Alice.

“We’ve also got the radio playing old music to add to the effect that you’re back in time,” Michelle added.

“And one of the first things you see as you enter is an Austin 7.”

The Austin 7, or Baby Austin as it was affectionately known in the 1920s, is a replica of the car Alice drove from Melbourne to Alice Springs – a journey of no small feat, at more than 2,300km long.

“The trip that she undertook to Alice Springs just shows what sort of woman she was,” Michelle said.

“It was 1926 and during that time it was mainly dirt roads and harsh conditions.

“She had to pack the items she needed such as food supplies, and for two women to go in the tiniest of cars – it’s only a two seater – that’s really impressive.”

“It shows she had to be a good driver, she had to be good at mechanics, and also, that she was smart.”

Alice’s death at the age of 29 also remains somewhat of a mystery – something the exhibition also touches on.

“On her trip to Alice Springs, she had packed two guns to take with her for hunting and survival.

“When she returned, she was cleaning one of the guns when she accidentally shot herself in the head,” Michelle said.

“But it’s still uncertain it was an accident.  

“There’s lots of speculation that there might have been other reasons as to why she died.”

South Australia’s History Festival, running throughout May, will see the National Motor Museum run special curator tours of Alice Anderson’s Motor Service – free with museum entry.

National Motor Museum curator Mich Bolognese said participants can expect to gain an insider’s perspective on Alice’s life.

“As with any exhibition, not everything that we researched made it into the exhibition space,” Mich said.

“What people can expect is someone who was involved in the process from the start to talk them through it, and we’ll be able to present them some extra information – some of the facts that we couldn’t put in there either because they didn’t fit or because they were inappropriate or speculation.”

“When we launched, we had members of Alice’s family and her garage girls’ family come and donate some pretty cool photos, some of which had never been in the public domain,” he added.

There will be free museum entry for all Mums on Mother’s Day.

“Especially for Mother’s Day we’re running three tours – at 11am, 1pm and 3pm,” Mich said.

“We’re encouraging people to come on Mother’s Day to see the Alice Anderson exhibition because it’s celebrating women,” said Michelle.  

“We’re hoping to reflect on women in general – women who paved the way for others.”
An example of this is through her many inventions.

“She invented something called the Raidi-Waiter – a cup that fit and would use the radiator to keep warm.

She’d be able to provide hot coffee or chocolate on chauffeured journeys,” Michelle said.

Alice is also credited for inventing the well-known garage trolley the creeper, even though she wasn’t recognised for it at the time.

“The creeper is such a standard in garages today,” said Michelle. 

“It’s a device that lets you get out and under a car, which she aptly named the ‘get out and get under’ device!”

Alice Anderson is a person who seemed to live larger than life.

“We’re telling a story that’s mainly been untold,” Michelle said.

“That’s been met with a lot of positive reaction from people – that they didn’t know the story existed, and they never knew about her.”

The National Motor Museum, and Alice Anderson’s Motor Service, is open daily from 10am to 5pm.

The guided curator tours run every Sunday from May 6 to May 27 at 11am.

For more information, visit http://motor.history.sa.gov.au/events/alice-andersons-motor-service-curators-tour/


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