Meet the sewing machine collector who cannot sew

ABC North West Qld


Harriet Tatham


Zara Margolis


March 01, 2017 11:58:43

After just four years of collecting, Jim Young has more than 120 sewing machines. (ABC North West Queensland: Harriet Tatham)

(ABC North West Queensland: Harriet Tatham) Photo:
Mr Young even collects vintage tools to restore the machines.
There’s American, there’s English, I’ve got a German one, I’ve got a French one.”My oldest one is about 155 years old; it’s an 1862 model.”Machines built to lastFor a collection Mr Young estimates is worth more than $200,000, he said he was uninterested in its dollar value.Rather, the retired business owner said the collection was motivated by making a statement about consumerism.”Those 100 years ago, they made them to last and they’ll probably last another 100 or 200 years or longer, whereas today’s modern machine would be flat out lasting 10 years,” he said.”It’s not a throwaway world that we came from, us older people.”Mr Young hoped his collection was something younger people could learn from.”I’d like to see a lot of young people coming in and having a look at these collections just to see how things were made in the olden days,” he said.”They would see how well they were made and how long they could last.” (ABC North West Queensland: Harriet Tatham)
Four years on, Mr Young’s machine collection has grown from 75 to 120 machines.While many of his purchases have been made online, he said it was contacts who helped him to locate valuable purchases.”Once you get into the sewing machine fraternity, you get contacts,” he said.”They’re from all over the world. Jim Young’s treasured collection of 120 treadle sewing machines are all in perfect working condition, but their owner would not have a clue how to use any one of them.”I don’t sew, so if anybody is going to trial them out, it will have to be my wife,” Mr Young laughed. (ABC North West Queensland: Harriet Tatham)
Sewing machine collecting ‘a fraternity’After his change of heart, Mr Young started to investigate where to buy vintage sewing machines.”I came in contact with this guy … and next time I went to Brisbane we went to his house,” he said.”From the front door to the back door and every space in between was full of these sewing machines — all very collectable ones.”He explained to me that his health was failing and he had to move into a nursing home, and that’s why he was selling them.”I bought half a dozen of them and on the way home I said, ‘I think I should buy the lot because it’s a ready-made collection — he has 75’.”So I rang him up, made a price, we came to an agreement, and I ended up buying his whole collection off him.”

Mr Young says he wants younger people to appreciate how well-made things used to be. External Link:

Meet Jim Young, the sewing machine collector who can't sew
He said being a sewing machine collector who could not sew has resulted in some raised eyebrows.”I get some very strange looks from some of my mates down at the pub, but I like the machinery side of it,” he said.”Every one is different and it’s just intriguing.”His specially-built tin shed in Mount Isa in north-west Queensland is rich in oak and intricate in iron detailing, housing Mr Young’s love affair with sewing machines which began when he was a young boy.”I got interested in it when I was a young fella because mum used to make all our clothes and I used to sit there and watch her make them on an old treadling machine,” he said.”I used to fix up the belt when it broke for her every now and again, [and] when she passed away a few years ago, she left me a little hand machine.”I gave that to a friend of ours who was an avid sewer and then I thought, ‘I’d love to start collecting machines myself’ and I did.”

Jim Young has specially made the shed to store his machines.

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Jim Young's sewing machine collection includes thread, bobbins, and tools — all the instruments used for sewing
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(ABC North West Queensland: Harriet Tatham) Photo:
Mr Young also collects bobbins and vintage thread.

The collection also includes vintage thread. (ABC North West Queensland: Harriet Tatham)
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(ABC Radio Darwin: Emilia Terzon) ABC Radio Darwin


Emilia Terzon


March 01, 2017 11:42:21

Janie Mason rummaging through the storage room for Darwin’s Nursing Museum.
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Old bones are among the many items in storage. Photo:
Photos donated to the museum showing old bush clinics in the Territory. Spread across mismatching cabinets, hidden down hallways, and occasionally obscured by errant furniture, the Darwin Nursing Museum is very much an example of history that just crept into the building.”We’ve never solicited a single artefact,” curator and retired nurse Janie Mason said. They just stay in their little corner.”

Occasionally the museum’s “pop up” displays get obscured by people who don’t know the exhibit is there. So a lot of wards and clinical hospitals and bush clinics had all this stuff to throw out.”At one stage we ended up with several boxes and crates of just syringes and needles.”Thirty years later the museum has amassed boxes of human bones, pamphlets about bush clinics in the APY lands, replica WWI uniforms with red capes, and numerous examples of “the infamous sputum mug” once used by patients to cough up phlegm and spit. (ABC Radio Darwin: Emilia Terzon)
“The local Darwin and Territory culture can surprise. It’s obvious this is a different part of Australia.”And we need to keep that story alive because it’s not the same story as Victorian nursing.”

Janie Mason outside an exhibit as part of Darwin’s Nursing Museum. Photo:
Janie holding a “dreaded sputum mug” that nurses had to clean every morning in years gone by. Photo:
The volunteers start every Thursday with “their first order of business”. There’s the unexpected. I think even today, people find working in what is a pretty typical modern hospital, they find a lot of surprises. She just comes up with these gems all the time,” Sue said.With Sue and Jenny currently focused on digitising the museum collection to Trove, today much of Janie’s focus is on figuring out what is historically valuable and can contribute to further academic research. (ABC Radio Darwin: Emilia Terzon) (ABC Radio Darwin: Emilia Terzon)
A woman of ferocious memory, Jacqui is “incapable” of using the computers central to the growing need for collection digitisation, however is irreplaceable for her knowledge of Territory nursing history.”She can just look at a photo and tell us who is in it. Photo:
A display at Darwin’s Nursing Museum at CDU. You did the births in the ward next to everybody else,” Jacqui remembered.”And we used to take the children, from the ones that could walk, to ones needed to be carried, down to Mindil Beach.”We’d take their tablets and some water. They’d play there, have fun in the sand, probably a bit of a swim, then bring them back to the hospital sopping wet yet much more contented.”

The museum’s storage room is heaving with different curious items. Well, he found the bedpans and I paid for them and put them in a cabinet,” she said.”Suddenly people were approaching us about donating stuff they had left over in the wards.”It was the era of the changeover from metal, glass and rubber medical equipment to plastic and throwaway stuff. (ABC Radio Darwin: Emilia Terzon)
But the collection’s real numbers is in its faded photographs and documents, many which recall almost forgotten days of mission clinics or kerosene vats that doubled as doona washers. (ABC Radio Darwin: Emilia Terzon)
For Janie, the reason to keep going is still the same motivation of preserving the Territory’s nursing history, with the collection recently deemed as valuable in a significance assessment due to this very reason.”I came here in 1964 to work as a bush nurse in Batchelor,” she said.”It was a unique and unexpected experience having come from southern training school like most of us did. (ABC Radio Darwin: Emilia Terzon)
“I asked a man in town for something to fill these empty shelves. (ABC Radio Darwin: Emilia Terzon)
It all started in 1987 with a set of antique bedpans.Janie was completing a fellowship at Charles Darwin University when she decided to fill an empty nook of her academic wing with something honouring her profession’s “unique” contribution to the Northern Territory. (ABC Radio Darwin: Emilia Terzon)
Gathered around a table in the tea room, Janie and her volunteers discuss the latest happenings and remember days 50 years ago when Darwin’s hospital wards segregated Indigenous and non-Indigenous patients.”It was called the native ward. We’d often have two babies in one cot. (ABC Radio Darwin: Emilia Terzon)
With no formal museum room at the university and “stuff” still constantly arriving after 30 years, the collection is today more of an assortment of cabinets throughout hallways with some objects like old baby weights or humidicribs simply leaning against walls or under windows.It is a process that Janie described as a slow “colonisation” of the university’s corridors.”Some people don’t even know this collection exists even though they’ve worked in this building for years. (ABC Radio Darwin: Emilia Terzon)
Sorting through this tide of documentation is made possible by a passionate team of stalwarts who come together every Thursday morning in a small office in Charles Darwin University’s school of nursing and medicine.All retired Top End nurses, core volunteers Jacqueline O’Brien, Jenny Hanley and Sue Green have been with the museum since the 1990s and have about a century of professional knowledge between them.Every Thursday starts with a cup of coffee and gossip.”It’s our first order of business,” Sue said. Photo:
Janie Mason in her office sorting through the archives. Photo:
Sorting through old photographs and documents takes up much of the volunteers’ time.