100 years of Sunshine

The Sunshine Harvester building. (National Museum of Australia)

Since the founding of the Sunshine Advocate, far more than just the name of the local paper has changed.

Sunshine Historical Society member John Willaton, who was born in 1934 and raised in Sunshine, saw the town come up around him, and shared his experiences with Star Weekly.

He has now moved away from Sunshine, but said the area was built on and known for a strong sense of community.

“One of the elements I miss is sort of just the community feel of Sunshine, in my time as a schoolboy and teenager, you knew practically everyone,” he said.

“When I was a youngster, there was a real village-like atmosphere to Sunshine.”

Mr Willaton’s father served in World War One, and upon returning home, he married in 1921 and built just the second house in the soldier settlement area in Albion.

“My mother would always say that when they first moved into the house, standing at the front gate the area was so vacant she could see the entire Sunshine CBD,” he said.

He said a key part of growing up was the Sunshine Harvester Works.

“Everybody I knew from class at Sunshine Technical School, went to the harvester works as apprentices,” he said.

The Sunshine Harvester Works was one of the major agricultural implements factories, owned by industrialist Hugh Victor (H.Vv) McKay.

H.V. McKay won the tender in 1904 and between 1906 and 1907 he moved his entire Ballarat business to Braybrook Junction which included machinery and materials.

He also moved about 200 employees and many of these employees & their families found accommodation in nearby Footscray.

In 1906 he bought 276 acres of land from a local grazier that stretched from Ballarat Rd in the north to the Kororoit Creek in the south and west.

He then became a property developer and subdivided and sold many parcels of this land and houses to his employees. He wanted the area to become a “Garden City” where his employees could work, live and enjoy life.

In 1907 Braybrook Junction was renamed to Sunshine after the Sunshine Harvester Works.

McKay established essential Infrastructure for the community including the Presbyterian Church, parks & sports grounds, public buildings and electric street lights. His workers maintained the Sunshine Gardens for many years.

The gardens were a favourite of Mr Willaton’s growing up.

“We used to go out on the lawns for a picnic, and they were some of my happiest memories,” he said.

“The Sunshine Gardens are now known as the H.V. Mckay Memorial Gardens, he owns that land and gave the money to build a Presbyterian Church.”

Sunshine itself now boasts a population of 9630 according to the 2022 Australian Bureau of Statistics Estimated Resident Population, and the entire Brimbank LGA is 193,526.

From empty plains with a handful of houses spread across the land 100 years ago, to a bustling city rich with culture and history, Sunshine and Brimbank have developed greatly.