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Cairns Museum’s Tanks For The Memory

March 21, 2015 Destination Feature, Headline News No Comments Email Email

Cairns MotorCycle.rszWHEN a bloke starts telling us of his life diving off Cairns for sea cucumber and  exporting gourmet seafoods to the lucrative and growing Chinese market, it’s pretty obvious what he’s on about when he also tells us that he’s got more tanks tucked-away in an outer suburb of Cairns than anyone other one individual in Australia – or the Southern Hemisphere for that matter.

But savvy as we let him know we are about his obvious need for all those tanks to keep his regular supplies of sea cucumber and other seafoods in freshest condition for export, we are in fact simply revealing ourselves as absolute idiots.

For seafood gatherer and exporter Rob Lowden’s tanks are not your seafood storage types – they’re real fair-dinkum rumbling, snorting, growling military tanks brought together from one-time battlefields across the world.

Cairns US WWII Grant tank used by Australian forces.rsz

AMERICAN made WWII Grant tank used by Australian forces.

And they comprise the centre-piece of an extraordinary museum that boasts the largest collection of armoured vehicles and artillery south of the equator.

Chat to him and you quickly learn that here’s a bloke who is as colourful as the contents of his museum. Born in Sydney, Rob was studying land valuation in the mid-1970s when the credit squeeze and recession hit, so with the real estate business decimated he took himself off abalone diving on the NSW coast, and later to Tasmania.

In 1992 he moved again, this time to Cairns to dive for trochus shell, sea cucumber and lobster, branched out into other areas of fishing – and a bit of real estate on the side as well – and in 1994 went into the seafood processing and export business with his company Seafresh Australia.

But deep down his great love was military tanks, cannons and other battlefield weaponry, and during his long hours in the seas off Cairns dreamed of creating Australia’s finest museum for the collection, restoration and display of armoured vehicles and artillery from the 1800s to the present day.

Cairns US Long Tom 155mm Howitzer.rsz

US WWII Long Tom 155m Howitzer.

That dream came to fruition when he opened The Australian Armour and Artillery Museum in September last year, an amazing 3700 square metres jam-packed with over 100 items from tanks to armoured cars, Howitzers, anti-tank, anti-aircraft and field guns, scout cars, and weird custom-built specialist vehicles that include a bizarre German stretched motorcycle propelled by tank-like tracks.

But with his collection growing rapidly as he constantly tracks down priceless items from around the globe, he’s already having to add a further 1200 square metres of space that’ll open in April of this year.

Cairns German Panzer Tank WWII.rsz

GERMAN WWII Panzer 38T tank.

And visitors are amazed at the condition of items to oooh and ahhh over: with a full-time workshop staff he proudly says can “restore pretty much anything,” all Rob’s museum exhibits are actually back to full-working condition in look-alike original livery, or meticulously preserved as static displays… and yes, you can take the kids for a ride in a real working tank, but no, none of his items can fire live rounds.

Rob Lowden has created his unique museum – that’s a must-do when visiting Cairns – from items sourced from similar museums that have folded or down-sized, armed forces, private collectors, and even agents who specialise in flogging historic wartime paraphernalia.

So his collection represent a veritable United Nations of countries that’ve been involved in long-past and more-recent battles: the USA, Great Britain, France, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, Japan, Italy, Canada, Australia, Russia…you name ’em.

Cairns German Pak 40 anti tank gun WWII.rsz

GERMAN Pak 40 75mm anti-tank gun from Second World War.

He even got hold of a dozen items when the famous Jacques Littlefield Collection in California put 160 pieces up for auction last year… and while he won’t talk about how much he paid, Sherman tanks fetched up to US$300,000 each, and some other pieces over $1m.

And all the most-famous names are represented in his Cairns museum: Centurion, Panzer, Patton, Howitzer, Skoda, Long Tom, Bofor and others less-colourfully identified as simply FV434, T35/85, SU100 and 152mm M1938 (M10)… and Rob says he even has a Sherman tank in the negotiation pipeline.

Cairns tank museum APC from Vietnam War era.rsz

ARMOURED Personnel Carrier (APC) from Vietnam War era now  provides joyrides at Cairns’ Australian Armour and Artillery Museum.

His expanded display area to open this April will ultimately house some 26 more items currently being restored here or overseas, already in transit from other countries, or simply awaiting import permits. And he’s planning guided tours for true aficionados, and a custom-built military-weapons shooting gallery for 2015.

For details including transfers from Cairns to the museum 15 minutes away at Smithfield, www.ausarmour.com.au

 

Written by : David Ellis with Roderick Eime

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