The McDonald EB tractor on display at the National Museum of Australia
(Photo: Jason McCarthy).

One of the earliest surviving tractors manufactured in Australia has been acquired by
the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

The 1912 McDonald ‘EB’ oil tractor is one of three complete examples manufactured in
Australia by AH McDonald & Co of Richmond, Melbourne.

It was purchased by the Museum for $250,000, with support of the Australian
Government through the National Cultural Heritage Account that assists Australian
cultural organisations to acquire significant cultural heritage objects.

The tractor was produced by Melbourne engineers Alfred and Ernest McDonald, who
produced the first Australian-made, oil-powered tractor, known as the ‘EA’ in 1908. The
improved ‘EB’ version followed in 1912.

It provides a revealing insight into the global transformation in automotive and
agricultural practices triggered by the invention of the oil-driven, internal combustion
engine in the 1870s.

National Museum director Dr Mathew Trinca thanked the Australian Government for its
financial assistance with the purchase of the tractor, which he said is an unrivalled
example of Australian ingenuity and design.

“The McDonald ‘EB’ oil tractor represents a theme of Australian innovation in a
revolutionary era for engineering. This acquisition represents our agricultural history,
and we are thrilled to share it with Australia,” Dr Trinca said.

The tractor was originally purchased new in 1912 by Frank William Chilcott for use at
‘Lillesdon Park’, his 163ha farm located on French Island in Victoria’s Western Port

It was likely used for land clearing as part of the local chicory cultivation industry, which
was a prolific industry on French Island until the mid-1960s.

Museum curator Dr Ian Coates, who coordinated the acquisition of the tractor, said it
has historic significance because of its association with Australia’s first tractor

“Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the early tractors produced by AH McDonald &
Co was the relative sophistication of their engineering, which included coil ignition, a
three-speed gearbox and automotive rack-and-pinion steering.

An EB tractor at French Island in 1926 (Photo: G Bennetts Museums Victoria).

This reflects Alf McDonald’s capacity to improve the contemporary design of imported
American tractors,” Dr Coates said.

It was acquired with the support of an anonymous benefactor.

The tractor will be on display at the National Museum of Australia from May 15 – July
23, 2023.

About Chris Riley

Chris Riley has been a journalist for 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.
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