‘A bit of an inventor’: Why this bicycle museum founder’s daughter wants his ‘crazy’ collection seen

When Graham Austin — inventor, bicycle maker and church pastor — opened a bike museum in Launceston, Tasmania, he welcomed in schoolkids and the community.

Now, a decade after the museum was closed, his daughter hopes the intact collection, which is tucked away in an old high school building in the Launceston suburb of Ravenswood, can be revived and opened for public viewing.

More than 300 bicycles are on display, but since Mr Austin died in 2011 they have mainly been collecting dust.

“It’s actually a whole lifetime of collection,” his daughter, Merrilyn Billings, said.

A bike with a ladder in the frame hanging on a wallA bike with a ladder in the frame hanging on a wall
Bikes similar to this were used for tree pruning… riders could turn them on their side and have an instant ladder.(ABC Tasmania: Manika Champ)

“He would go to auctions to try and find something he didn’t have, and he would then bid for it and put it with his collection.”

Mr Austin opened the museum in the Zions Hill Church at Ravenswood — about 10 minutes from Launceston’s city centre — in the early 2000s.

“He moved out to an area with a lot of needs and used to take people out on bike rides,” Ms Billings said.

“When he first opened it, school groups came in and had a look, and children from the community used to bring in their bikes for him to repair.”

A black motorcycle in a dark room under a spotlightA black motorcycle in a dark room under a spotlight
The bike museum features old and modern bikes that are all still on display(ABC Tasmania: Mitchell Woolnough)

Mr Austin also made his own bikes, called Ausso bikes.

A bunch of red, blue and yellow bicycles in a groupA bunch of red, blue and yellow bicycles in a group
The museum’s founder Graham Austin made his own bicycles called Ausso bikes(ABC Tasmania: Manika Champ)

“He used to take little bits and pieces and make crazy sort of bikes and little penny farthings and all of that.

“One time, years ago, he built a fun park down the West Tamar, down on the wetlands, and that’s where he used to bring out all his contraptions.”

‘Waiting for the right people’ to reopen it

Many bikes at the Zions Hill Bike Museum were made in Tasmania, while others were from around the world.

A bike ridden by retired Australian track cyclist Danny Clark in his early days hangs in the “hall of fame” section of the museum.

A whole range of different bikes in a big roomA whole range of different bikes in a big room
There are more than 300 bikes in the museum, including an old McKinlays Department Store delivery bike.(ABC Tasmania: Manika Champ)

Other bikes, including an old McKinlay’s Department Store delivery bike — a store once in Launceston’s Brisbane Street mall — were donated.

“He wanted the public to see what was here,” Ms Billings said.

Ms Billings said the museum had only opened for special occasions or organised group events since Mr Austin died.

An old bike with big wheels handing on a green wallAn old bike with big wheels handing on a green wall
This old Maxwell bike was ridden by retired former Australian cyclist Danny Clark, who went on to win five world championships.(ABC Tasmania: Manika Champ)

She said the family had decided against selling any of the bikes in the collection, despite the museum remaining closed.

She said her father would have loved to see his bike legacy live on.

“I think he’d love to see it actually there for the public again,” Ms Billings said.

“So we’ve still got it here, I guess, waiting for the right people to come and help make it happen.”

An old sign with the words "care shop and bike museum" under dark cloudy skyAn old sign with the words "care shop and bike museum" under dark cloudy sky
The bike museum sign remains despite it not being open to the public since 2011.(ABC Tasmania: Mitch Woolnough)