Hugh Victor McKay was raised near Drummartin in country Victoria. His parents were Irish immigrants who had arrived in Victoria in 1852. His father had been a stonemason and then a miner before becoming a farmer around the end of 1865. Having attended primary school and receiving additional education from his brother Nathaniel, Hugh Victor returned to the family farm at 13. In 1883 he read about the Californian Combine harvester and was inspired to build a prototype stripper-harvester with his brother John and his father. The Sunshine Harvester was patented on 24 March 1885, commercialised and built under contract in Melbourne and Bendigo. It revolutionised wheat harvesting and was subsequently sold around the world.
In 1888 H. V. McKay opened manufacturing works in Ballarat, eventually moving to Braybrook Junction near Melbourne in 1906. The Sunshine Harvester Works produced a wide range of agricultural equipment and was entirely self-sufficient; everything from the rivets, nuts and bolts right up to the supervisors' bicycles was manufactured on site. At its peak the plant covered more than 30 acres and employed nearly 3000 workers.
In 1907 the town's name was changed to Sunshine in recognition of the importance of the industrial works. McKay implemented many projects in the town, including public buildings, gardens, a church, a school and library. Although strongly opposed to radical unionism, he respected and supported his workers, organising access to interest free loans for the purpose of buying homes.
After a lifetime of business success built on personal industry and determination, Hugh Victor McKay died at Rupertswood on 21 May 1926. He left a codicil vesting the income from 100,000 shares in the H. V. McKay Charitable Trust, chaired by George Swinburne and designed to encourage rural settlement, improve country life, and assist charitable objects at Sunshine.
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