Most boys were content with plastic model kits and watching TV shows like Combat! and The Rat Patrol, but not Rob Lowden.
Lowden’s collection is not the ‘junk yard’ assortment seen at other so-called museums either. Each exhibit is either restored to full working condition or preserved carefully as a static display item.
The Cairns businessman has been vigorously searching for new additions to his collection and has sourced items from closed museums, private collectors looking to downsize and even through agents, like one in Bulgaria who has located several former Soviet items.
Lowden obtained several vehicles from the late Syd Beck’s estate. Syd’s family still shows some of his collection at Mareeba on the Atherton Tablelands behind Cairns.
Another defunct museum that was a source for some of Lowden’s prize items was John Belfield’s Melbourne Tank Museum once located at Narre Warren in Melbourne’s outer suburbs. The entire collection went to auction in 2006 with the Sentinal AC-1 fetching in excess of $60,000 at the time.
Lowden also scored a dozen vehicles from the 160 items auctioned in July 2014 from the famous Jacques Littlefield collection in California.
Right now, visitors can see more than 100 items on display ranging from full battle tanks like the British Chieftain and Centurion to lightweight scout cars and even a tracked motorcycle.
A rare WWII Hetzer light tank destroyer (correctly Jagdpanzer 38 Sd.Kfz. 138/2) is on its way as well as a cavalcade of heavy metal that includes a Panzer IV (Ausf D), T-55, Cromwell and even a curious armoured personnel carrier (APV) called a Ram Kangaroo.
On the quiet, I’m told a full scale, all-metal replica of a German Tiger 1 tank (Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger Ausf.E) is being constructed. With just seven remaining examples from 1300 manufactured of this once mighty fighting vehicle left in the world, even Lowden’s considerable resources are unlikely to secure him one.
How much is a real tank worth today? Well, without telling you how much Lowden paid for any of his, some of the better examples from Littlefield’s lot sold for over $1m apiece. Most M4 Shermans (like those in ‘Fury’) sold for between $250-300,000.
Either way you look at it, The Australian Armour and Artillery Museum is a darned valuable collection of serious machinery sure to invoke memories for junior modellers and history buffs alike.
By Roderick Eime (www.travography.com), all images by Roderick Eime