Image Sunshine stripper harvester, 1884

TLF ID R6381

This is a Sunshine stripper harvester, the design of which was developed by Hugh Victor McKay on his father's property at Drummartin, Victoria, in 1884. The harvester has three wheels, one at the front and two at the back. It is designed to strip, thresh and clean wheat grain. It is painted in brown and yellow, and features the text 'Sunshine MANUFACTURER'. A painted panel (not visible) features an image of the original harvester in a sun-drenched wheat field along with the text 'The SUNSHINE, The Worlds [sic] Best. TENS OF THOUSANDS OF AUSTRALIAN FARMERS USE THE SUNSHINE. HUGH V McKAY. WORKS. SUNSHINE. Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide. Agencies in Westralia and Queensland'. The harvester stands 2.3 m high, is 3.4 m in length and 2.8 m wide.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This innovative agricultural machine was able to strip, thresh and clean grain in one operation, greatly increasing the efficiency of wheat harvesting and helping to establish Australia as a leading cereal-producing country. The development of the harvester changed the face of farm mechanisation in Australia and led to wheat production on an unprecedented scale.
  • The original Sunshine harvester was the result of the frustration at the slow and laborious nature of wheat harvesting felt by Hugh Victor McKay (1865-1926) who, at the age of 18, assembled a stripper harvester at a humble smithy on his father's property at Drummartin, Vic, in 1884. While a number of similar machines had already been developed, the popularity of the Sunshine harvester secured McKay's place as one of the most successful agricultural implement makers in Australia.
  • This machine, an improved version of the original harvester, was manufactured in 1906 at the Sunshine Harvester Works, which by the 1920s had become the largest industrial enterprise in Australia and the southern hemisphere, employing more than 3,000 workers. As well as the stripper harvester, the H V McKay Company manufactured an extensive range of other farming equipment and implements. The Company was gradually absorbed by various global corporations (Massey Ferguson, Iseki and AGCO) and stopped manufacturing equipment in the 1980s.
  • This harvester forms part of the McKay Collection, regarded as one of the most significant industrial heritage collections in Australia, which began with donations from Hugh McKay and features more than 13,000 photographs, 750 films, more than 3,000 trade publications, working models of equipment, a rare Sunshine model 'A' tractor, company archives and the original blacksmith shop where the first stripper harvester was made. The largest donation came when an employee rescued material from a rubbish skip in the 1980s.
  • The harvester reflects the important contribution that horses have made to transport and agriculture in Australia. Harvesters were powered and drawn by horses until the development of petrol engines. It took from 1918 to 1950 for Australian farmers to completely replace horsepower with tractors, and it was not until the mid-1950s that farmers moved away from tractor-powered harvesters to self-propelled harvesters.
  • The harvester features the sun symbol and Sunshine brand name that recur in McKay advertising material. The sun-drenched field is a romantic rural image and was used by the Company to entrench the legend of the 'vision and pluck' of the young H V McKay and his extraordinary rise from being a bush smithy to a leading manufacturer worldwide.
  • In some parts of Australia the development of new technologies along with faith in mechanisation resulted in unsustainable wheat production practices on a broad scale. The new technologies increased the size of farms and enabled the frontiers of farming to stretch into the fragile soils of marginal lands. The delayed cost of these practices is emerging today in the form of erosion and salinity problems.
Year level

F; 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • history;
  • studies of society and environment
  • History/Historical knowledge and understandings
  • Studies of society and environment/Time, continuity and change

Other details

  • Content provider
  • Copyright holder
  • Organisation: Museum of Victoria
  • Address: Carlton VIC 3053 Australia
  • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of Museum Victoria
  • Publisher
  • Date of contribution: 04 Sep 2013
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
  • Author
  • Date of contribution: 1884
  • Name: Hugh Victor McKay
  • Remarks: inventor
  • Author
  • Name: Benjamin Healley
  • Remarks: photographer
Access profile
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  • Hearing independence
Learning resource type
  • Image
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  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and Museum Victoria, 2016, except where indicated under Acknowledgements