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National Museum of Australia

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Collection Explorer


Original photograph of the Bean car, Francis Birtles and Alec Barlow, Melbourne, 1926


Original photograph of the Bean car, Francis Birtles and Alec Barlow, Melbourne, 1926

Object information


Photograph of the Bean car taken at Flagstaff Gardens, Melbourne, 1926, prior to departure on record-breaking return journey between Melbourne/Darwin. The identity of the child in the pedal-car is unknown.

Physical description

A discoloured black and white photograph featuring two men sitting in a car. The car is painted with a design made from maps of Australia. The two men are wearing driving caps and goggles. There is a young child in a toy car beside the two men in a real car. The child is wearing a white hat. On the reverse of the photograph are the words 'Frances Birtles at the wheel / + Alex Barlow' handwritten in pencil.

Statement of significance

This collection comprises three black and white photographs and a letter associated with John James 'Jack' Coughlan, a mechanic who drove the Bean support truck which accompanied the Museum's Bean car on its first return journey from Melbourne to Darwin in 1926. Overlander Francis Birtles and his co-driver, Alec Barlow, completed the 5500km trip in a record-breaking eight days and 13 hours. This paper-based collection is in a good state of conservation with the exception of the letter which is fragile.

The value of this collection lies in its strong provenance to this expedition and its demonstration of the significant contribution of the Bean support truck in facilitating the journey. In exploring a route for the Bean car and laying down supplies throughout northern Queensland and Northern Territory, the truck is thought to have been the first commercial vehicle to cross the continent. The Museum's motor car-related collections are one of its greatest strengths and this collection lends particular insight into the promotion of the motor industry during the pre-Depression era.

Object information

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