Newton's passion for vintage collections

FIVE days a week, Newton H. Williams makes his way to work at the Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement in a most unconventional way.

"Most people recognise me on my three wheel electric trike that I ride to work each day," he says.

And if the motorised trike doesn't get people's attention, his impressive mutton chops might do the trick.

Mr Williams has been a fixture at the Pioneer Settlement for more than 30 years.

After completing his secondary studies in Mildura, the former Red Cliffs resident trained by correspondence to be a TV technician, but decided to change his career path due to the increasingly fast turnover of new technologies.

"At 29 I worked out there was no future in new technologies and went to a technology that was already old and wouldn't change," he says.

The handyman applied for a technology-based position at the Pioneer Settlement in June 1981, and upon landing the job moved to Swan Hill with his wife and 13-month-old daughter -- the first of three.

He is now the curator of technology and spends his days working on the restoration of historical engines and other artefacts.

During his time with the Pioneer Settlement he has led the restorations of some of the most historically significant tractors throughout history including the first tractor ever brought to Australia, and an original Benz Sendling- hailed as the world's first diesel tractor/engine.

Even in his spare time Mr Williams is restoring or building -- he has built historical tram replicas, a fairground organ, his own houseboat, and around a dozen wooden gear clocks.

Throughout his life Mr Williams has also been an avid collector of technical books, reed organs, his self-made wooden gear clocks, records, and music boxes.

Devastatingly, many of his collections were lost in the Victorian floods last year.

"I lost my whole technical library, reed organ collection, wooden gear clocks collection, records, and music box collection," he says.

"A lot of it was put on the bonfire."

He says most of his spare time is now spent trying to salvage or repair what he can.

Other leisure time is spent exploring the Murray River, which has given him a few tales to tell.

"Here's a story, I went out on my boat Folly to investigate the river.

"I got swept under a Willow tree and it tipped over everything. I lost everything except one sandal," he says laughingly.

The river enthusiast says he tries to get out onto the river for at least 35 days each year in one of his three boats - Zilch, Folly, and the MV Abyss, a houseboat which has seen Mr Williams travel 4700km along the Murray River in the past seven years.

"I don't fish, I don't own a line -- I just enjoy the river," he says.

Eventually he plans to travel along the entire length of the Murray River, an ambition that at one point he thought may not be possible.

In 2003, Mr Williams was diagnosed with a brain tumour, half the size of an orange.

The operation to remove the tumour was successful but the tumour had affected the nerves in his left hand.

Seven licences he had earned over the years, including various truck licences and a newly-acquired semi-trailer licence, had to be revoked.

"When I was diagnosed….they took nearly everything off me bar my car licence," he says.

To compensate for his stripped privileges, the city council offered him six hours of computer training on Publisher.

He started using his new-found knowledge to write detailed tractor labels, which led to writing books on his restoration works.

"You'd think having a brain tumour would be a hindrance," he says.

"It's actually been sort of a blessing, it gave me a whole new focus."

He is currently working on his third book, a story about the owners of a Marshall Tractor, and has ideas for many more.

"To be able to research these stories was really great," he says.

"And the Pioneer Settlement wants me to keep writing them."

His current project at the settlement is a restoration of a wharf crane, which he says will provide added ambience to the new paddle steamer Gem wharf.

He says there have been a lot of changes to the technology display in the last three years and is hoping that people will come down to to see the plough display during Pioneers Week.

And after all his adventures, Mr Williams is looking forward to his long service leave in three years when he will have the time to play an original WurliTzer theatre pipe organ which he has set aside for his retirement.

He says he can't play, but then adds that he was the church organist at the Swan Hill Baptist Church for years.

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