The Gerald A. Dee and M. Lorna Dee collection of locomotive plates is an internationally significant collection of over 450 plates that captures the history of over a century of railway locomotives.
Gerald Dee, a locomotive engine driver and subsequently a supervisor with the Victorian Railways, started collecting in 1958 when he saw his favourite steam engine waiting to be broken up for scrap. On impulse he purchased the locomotive's builder's and number plates as a souvenir. From then on Gerald Dee went every payday to the scrap store at Newport Workshops and purchased four plates for five shillings (fifty cents). The plates he couldn't afford were sold for scrap metal. Gerald Dee explained: 'It was a shame to see them all going for scrap. It was just a great pity.'
Over the next twenty years Gerald Dee expanded his collection, purchasing plates from railways around the world. As his reputation as a collector grew, other plates were exchanged or donated, both in Australia and overseas. One supervisor at the Newport Workshops ordered workers to unload an entire wagon of scrap metal so that an engine's plates could be retrieved for the 'big fella's' collection.
This collection was built up at a critical stage in the history of rail transport. During the 1960s and 1970s large numbers of steam engines were replaced by more modern diesel and diesel-electric locomotives. Gerald Dee's interest and his contacts ensured that many plates were saved before the engines were broken up for scrap.
His favourite plate was a small plate that says simply 'Newport Workshops 1928', from the huge S-300 steam engine 'Matthew Flinders', which hauled the Spirit of Progress express between Melbourne and Albury. 'It's so basic and simple, but the S class was the zenith of locomotive evolution on the Victorian Railways.'
For over twenty years he built the collection at his home, and the passion was shared by his wife Lorna and daughter Anthea. 'I feel like I've done something, when you see all those plates, and you think of all the interest that's involved in them. It's just good to think about.'
Fittingly, Gerald Dee was the first locomotive driver for the Victorian Railways to have an engine named after him.
Gerald and Lorna Dee donated the collection to Museums Victoria in 1980. The collection of over 600 items includes badges, buttons, signs and associated railways equipment.
Interview with Gerald Dee, 2 December 1994 (Museums Victoria Collection, HT 48098).
Fowler, John (2015). Gerald Dee: The Life and Times of a Remarkable Railwayman, SCR Publications, Matraville, NSW.