Cache of curiosities: Victoria’s quirkiest museums

Travelling Well | Story: Sarah Harris | Photos: Cormac Hanrahan | Posted on 15 May 2020

One of the great joys of hitting the road is the little morsels of information gleaned along the way. Whether you want to dip your toe into the history of surfing, take a tilt against a pinball demon or find out about hydatids and hospitals, there’s a museum for everyone in Victoria.

Here are seven of the quirkiest to serve up some of the best take-home trivia.

Rows of beer cans lined up on shelves

Sip through Australia's rich beeritage (beer + heritage) at the Great Aussie Beer Shed & Heritage Farm Museum.


Seven of the quirkiest museums in Victoria


Sew What Maryborough

Laidman Street, Maryborough. Entry by donation.

In the way of these things, Wayne and Judi McKail’s collection of sewing machines started with a solitary classic antique model. Eleven years on the couple, both dab hands at sewing, have amassed more than 600 machines with 300 working models currently on display in their Central Goldfields home, including the first wholly Australian machine, one of only 1400 built by the short-lived Bendigo Sewing Machines Ltd in 1923 and marketed as the So Easy.

Machines in the collection date from the 1850s and include steam, treadle and hand-cranked models covering the array of applications from the 90-kilogram Durkopp 3 boot-maker and earlier embroiderers to a purely ornamental 1.2-centimetre Swarovski crystal number. 

Naturally, the McKails have followed the thread of the theme to include looms, needles, patterns, reels, bobbins, Entry/bookings by appointment on 0419 101 144.

Great Aussie Beer Shed & Heritage Farm Museum

377 Mary Ann Road, Echuca. Entry from $5. greataussiebeershed.net

Neil Thomas had just reached drinking age when he souvenired his first beer can. Forty-four years on, his collection runs to more than 17,000 cans, 3000 beer steins, tap tops, handles, bottles, advertising signs and brewing equipment and even the original 1940s Carlton United Brewery Clydesdale wagon. Along the way the theme has frothed over to include Australian products and brands of all kinds, from farm equipment dating from the 1800s, vintage cars and hand-pumped petrol bowsers to early household grocery and pharmacy items.

One item stands alone among the many disparate collections and that is a partially restored World War I German field gun captured in France and presented to Echuca for display – only to be thrown on the tip in the 1960s. More than just a time capsule, this museum makes every effort to include children, with some interactive displays and tailored information.

Hamilton Hospital Medical Museum

20 Foster Street, Hamilton. 

This little-known gem is said to be Australia’s largest hospital-held collection dedicated to a specific geographic area, namely Victoria’s Western District. The fascinating collection of surgical instruments, photographs, books and papers charts the development of regional surgery, nursing, pathology, pharmacy and radiography services, from pioneer times to modern medical practice.

Built in 1862, Hamilton Hospital was at the forefront of early medicine, receiving the very latest on treatment developments in England straight off the boats at Portland. It boasted both the first fever and isolation ward in Australia and the first purpose-built tuberculosis chalet, built in fabulous art-deco style. 

The collection amassed by the late Hamilton surgeon Alistair Matheson includes everything from polio calipers and very early nurses’ uniforms to research papers. Changing displays of artefacts can be found in the front-of-house history walk near the hospital’s main entrance.

History walk open all day every day, full archive by appointment only on (03) 5551 8389.

Surfboard painted with handwritten note

Surf's up at the Australian National Surfing Museum.


Plastic puppy figurine on red background

Dog figurines on show at the Canine Museum Foundation.


Close up of balls stacked on pinball machine

The Australian Pinball Museum is an ode to arcade games.


Australian Pinball Museum  

22 Dimboola Road (Western Highway), Nhill.  pinballmuseum.com.au 

Half the surprise of finding Australia’s only pinball museum is its location – in the small Wimmera town of Nhill, almost exactly halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide. Luckily there’s a motel attached. There are more than 30 working machines on display here at any given time, from a 100-strong off-site collection, ranging from early 1930s models and rare machines such as X Force to the perennially popular  
AC/DC-themed pinball. 

“We rotate the machines so there is always something new, as well as lots of art, memorabilia and books to look at,” says Lyndon Carter, who runs both the arcade game gallery and Nhill Oasis Motel with his father, Simon.  

At the end of every month players get a chance to pit their skills against the world and become an officially ranked pinball player as part of the Stern Army tournament series. End-of-month events cost $20 entry for unlimited free play. 

Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum  

Catalina Park, Lake Boga. Entry from $8. flyingboat.org.au 

The calm waters of Lake Boga where water skiers race and yachts tack, belie the role of this Mallee oasis at the heart of Australia’s wartime defence strategy. This was once home to a most unlikely secret RAAF base, established in 1942 after Japanese attacks on Broome saw the loss of 15 flying boats and at least 88 people. 

Over the five years that Lake Boga operated as the No. 1 Flying Boat Repair and Service Depot, this small community buzzed with the sound of Catalina, Dornier, Sikorsky KingFisher, Sunderland, Walrus and Martin Mariner aircraft.  

Today, thanks to the work of the Lions Club of Lake Boga, this history is celebrated in an extensive museum featuring a Catalina PBY-5 used by the RAAF as a patrol bomber, the original secret underground communications bunker, and a cafe. 

Canine Museum Foundation 

KCC Park (State Dog Centre), Skye. Entry by donation. caninemuseum.org.au 

Frankly, it’s getting to be a bit of a dog’s breakfast in the Canine Museum. “We desperately need an extension,” says curator Keith Prior. “Practically every time we open the door something new comes in.” Officially opened in 2003, the museum on Melbourne’s south-eastern fringe is overflowing with poochy paraphernalia, from dog-adorned bone opium pipes and dog-head doorhandles to a life-sized resin weimaraner standing on its hind legs. 

The museum was conceived after two leading dog breeders died and their significant collections of canine history were abandoned for want of a home. It took 15 years to raise the $100,000 to get it off the ground.  

Treasures among the thousands of items include two dog chess sets (one featuring terriers, the other afghans), an antique collar from a Japanese Tosa fighting dog, a Victorian badger-hair collar and several bronzes by the famous 19th-century French animaliere Pierre-Jules Mene. 

The Museum is open whenever there is an all-breeds championship show, or by appointment.

Australian National Surfing Museum  

77 Beach Road, Torquay. Entry from $8. australiannationalsurfingmuseum.com 

There can be no more appropriate place to drop in on a coastal break than the Australian National Surfing Museum at Torquay. Touted as the world’s largest surfing and beach culture museum, the ANSM houses more than 150 boards including the first two Hawaiian planks used for ‘stand-up surfing’ in Victoria more than 100 years ago, and boards from seven-time world champion Layne Beachley and surfing pioneer Pam Burridge.  

RACV members get two Australian National Surfing Museum tickets for the price of one or 20 per cent off a family ticket. Go to: racv.com.au/tickets.

RACV Emergency Roadside Assistance. The roadside assistance you need from Victoria's most trusted provider.