From Hooves to Highways

Museum of Perth

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Principal Partner: RAC
Research Partner: Max Solutions

#13 1908 Percy Bignell's 1907 Star Charabanc at Busselton.jpg

The Motor Car in Western Australia

Decades ago, someone found a beautiful, discarded, old book, The Motor Car in Western Australia. He took it home for safekeeping and, in 2016, donated it to Museum of Perth.

The book is undated, its pages filled with Perth’s glamorous, early elite. Our researchers scoured myriad resources to identify each person and their vehicle, as well as the location and the closest possible date of each beautiful photograph. By this process, we established the book dates from late-1907 to mid-1908.

We then went back a few years, to 1905...

Percy Bignell established a passenger service between Busselton and the Yallingup Caves in January 1908. Here, he is driving his 1907 Star Charabanc, which was the first car owned and used in the South West.

Mike Bignell via Sid Breeden - Percy Bignell with passengers in 1908 Star Charabanc Busselton to Yallingup Caves.jpg

That year, a small, passionate group of Perth’s early motorists - movers and shakers, gathered to form the Automobile Club of Western Australia. The Club had a grand vision: to foster ‘automobilism’ in Western Australia, and lay the foundation for the evolution of motoring.

The motor car was truly revolutionary, yet the journey from hooves to highways was neither easy nor direct.

Our city’s business leaders and its high society fully embraced this new trend of automobilism but, by 1908, some still dismissed the motor car as an expensive novelty and an increasing nuisance to horses, dogs, trams, wagon drivers and pedestrians. Club membership, initially strong, dropped sharply in 1907, almost to what it was when formed. It was then this significant book was published.

Some say it was produced by legendary motoring giant Percy Armstrong, as he contributes significantly to the introduction and sold many of the cars featured. But considering the timing, and that many of the Club’s founding members feature on the pages within, it’s more likely the Club published it themselves in an effort to encourage new membership.

The only other known copy of this book in WA is in the State Library of Western Australia. Now 111 years old, this copy shows a little of its age but is in very good condition.

‘The Motor Car in Western Australia’  donated by Chloe Schubert, whose father rescued the book many decades ago.

the motor car in wa cover.jpg

The focus of this exhibition is not cars, so much as the extraordinary pioneering motorists on those pages, and how the Automobile Club of Western Australia, now known as RAC, helped transform Perth, and more broadly Western Australia.


Principal Partner RAC

Research Partner MAX Solutions

Project Leader and Historian Shannon Lovelady

Exhibition Curators Shannon Lovelady and Reece Harley

Special Research Team

Ryan Aden
Dave Dowley
Peter Evans
Rob Hunt
Stan Littler
Ivani Roque
Lia Smith
Katie Sproul

Our thanks to Exhibition Contributors

Paul Blank
Peter Briggs
City of Gosnells
Graeme Cocks
Kenneth Gasmier
Jenny Kohlen, The West Australian
Motor Museum of Western Australia
A John Parker
Tim Sutherland
Western Australian Museum