Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

The wheels are in motion

It’s all gone wheels up. A capsized loaded wool wagon near Blackall. Image courtesy State Library of Queensland.

The wheels are in motion, Queensland Museum Network Blog, 12 November 2o19

Many expressions we use today date back to the era of ‘horse and cart’ transport. Cars feature 21st century technology like sat-nav systems, but they also have reminders of travel in the 1800s. The dashboard was originally a timber or leather panel in front of a buggy which stopped mud from the ‘dashing’ horse flicking onto passengers. On rainy days buggy owners also rode with the hood up like modern convertibles.

Buggy drivers wore gloves when handling the leather reins to keep off leather oil and dust. These were stored in the glove box. What is too big for the glove box goes in the boot. The boot box on a coach was under the driver’s seat, behind his boots. The boot is still for luggage, but is now at the back. The driver on a coach was in control, sitting up on the box seat. People still use the term to describe a position of power.

Horses and carriages were dark colours. Accidents occurred in towns at night if buggies did not have headlights and taillights. A bit of red glass in the back of coach lamps showed which way a vehicle was going, that is which way the horses head and tail were pointing. If an accident was likely the driver hoped the brake shoes stopped the wheels. Brake shoes were made from old shoes nailed to the brake block. The leather gripped the iron tyre.

And we still refer to the horsepower.  And even the term car can be traced back to cart, carriage and the Roman words carrum or carrus, and the even earlier Celtic word karros, meaning cart or wagon.

Travel is central to our way of seeing the world. Consider the following expressions.

From the horse era we have…

  • In ‘the box seat’ driving the project
  • ‘Reining in’ the troublemakers
  • Like the horse team we need to ‘pull our weight’ or we will be ‘dragging the chain’
  • We won’t ‘put the cart before the horse’
  • We hope with a favoured project the ‘wheels don’t come off’
  • You can ‘jump on the bandwagon’ like everyone else
  • And after partying hard we might ‘go on the wagon’, but then hopefully not ‘fall off the wagon’.
Jeff-Blog-image1-bogged-down
Bogged down in a sticky situation. A Cobb & Co coach on the banks of Mary Ann Creek, Yuleba – Surat road, 1011.

We don’t want to be…

  • Bogged down
  • Caught in a rut
  • Pushing it up hill
  • Going downhill
  • Getting off track
  • Letting the grass grow under our feet
  • Facing a hard road ahead
  • Going nowhere
  • Going round in circles

We do want to be…

  • Going forward not backward
  • On the straight and narrow
  • Chasing the light on the hill
  • Taking the road less travelled
  • Achieving the milestones
  • Moving on
  • Facing new horizons
  • Moving up in the organisation
  • Climbing the corporate ladder
  • Have a career (but not downhill or into a truck!)

We say…

  • Life we say is a journey.
  • ‘You can’t stop progress!’

We think in spatial and often linear metaphors, even if we are not physically moving anywhere. Western thought has been dominated by ideologies of ‘progress’ for centuries. There may be ‘no going back now’, ‘the wheels are already in motion’.

Jeff Powell, Curator, Cobb+Co Museum

Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2019
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