Arts & Entertainment

THE NAKED CITY – LABOR’S OWN TOY STORY

Tin Tin toys on display

Tin Tin toys on display.

Compared to Anthony Albanese’s victory in the federal election it’s a very small story, but interestingly the closure of the much loved Toy & Railway Museum in Leura has a strong connection to both the Labor Party and its ideological base. Having been a major tourist destination in the Blue Mountains for some 40 years it was a sad day when the museum recently shut its doors to the public for the very last time. 

Housed in an historic 20th century mansion set in five hectares of landscaped gardens, the museum boasted the largest single collection of toys in the Southern Hemisphere, spanning the last 100 years – from Popeye and Tin Tin to Barbie and Harry Potter. There was both an indoor and outdoor model railway and giant figures of the Phantom and Boofhead in the neighbouring park, overlooking the Jamison Valley.

Part of the charm of the museum was that it was very much old school – no video screens or interactive exhibits. Just classic old style wooden and glass display cabinets, packed full of beautifully preserved toys and memorabilia, along with much of the furnishings of the original house. Out in the gardens there was a large collection of ‘railwayana’, from old station signs and seating to the front of an old steam engine.

CONTROVERSIAL TOYS & MEMORABILIA

The only controversy that the museum ever attracted was its inclusion of a large number of toys from Nazi Germany, the type of toy soldiers and action figures of Hitler that German children would have played with during WWII. There were occasional calls for the removal of these items, however a disclaimer attached to their exhibit read, “These historical toys are examples of pernicious Nazi propaganda aimed at indoctrinating German children. Ultimately they contributed to war crimes and atrocities.”

Within the context of a museum it does seem appropriate to show both the bad with the good, albeit with an accompanying disclaimer. There’s a parallel with Whoopi Goldberg’s collection of ‘Negrobilia’ with gollywogs and other gross caricatures of Afro-Americans from a bygone era. Goldberg maintains it’s wrong to sweep these now  shunned artefacts’ under the carpet, that they should be evaluated and judged within their historical context.

The museum now intends to sell the collection at auction later this year, broken up into numerous individual lots. It’s a shame that such an important collection can’t be retained as a whole but the cost of buying the entire inventory would run into millions. Unless a Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk step in, the various items will attract the cheque books of wealthy toy collectors worldwide and be dispersed internationally.

Amongst them will be a number of collectors of Nazi memorabilia, in particular the much sought after toys of the period. In 2015 a collection featuring thousands of figures, tanks and play sets from Nazi Germany went to auction in the UK, attracting both controversy and huge prices. The auctioneers claimed that most of the buyers were genuine collectors of militaria and old toys, rather than neo-Nazis looking for a souvenir of the Reich.

TOY & RAILWAY MUSEUMS CONNECTION TO THE LABOR PARTY

So what of the Toy Museum’s connection with the Australian Labor Party? The museum was founded in 1983 by the celebrated Sydney defamation barrister Clive Evatt and his wife Elizabeth. Amongst his many court victories was a 2012 case in which he secured a $176,296 pay out for former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mamdouh Habib following comments made by broadcasters John Laws, Steve Price and Ray Hadley on radio stations 2UE and 2GB.

Clive who died in 2018 was the son of another renowned barrister and NSW Labor minister Clive Raleigh Evatt and a member of one of Australia’s most famous judicial and political families. His sister Elizabeth Andreas Evatt was the first chief judge of the Family Court Of Australia. Perhaps most notably he was the nephew of Labor party icon Herbert Vere Evatt, better known as Doc Evatt.

Leader of the Australian Labor Party in Opposition from1951 to 1960, Doc Evatt was also a high court judge and President of the United Nations, helping to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He also served as Attorney General and Minister for External Affairs in the Curtin and Chifley governments during the 1940s. Today he is still regarded as one of Labor’s most important figures and an inspiration to the current generation of politicians.

The Toy Museum had set aside a special corner to honour his legacy along with historic photographs and documents. It seemed strangely out of place amidst the mass of  tin toy robots, Buck Rogers spaceships and bizarre looking dolls but within the history of the family it all made sense. So sad to see it all go.

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