Records and relics of Port Macquarie’s 189 year history are safely housed at the Historical Museum in Clarence Street … safe, except for a leaky roof causing water damage to our precious historic records. Fortunately though, thanks to the Panthers and Tooheys’ recent joint promotion ‘Renovate your Community’, the Historical Society now has $20,000 for badly needed roof repairs. Leonie Laws, PMQHS President tells of their recent landslide win.
> Leonie, the museum is a heritage listed site, tell us about its history.
Our museum front building was erected by William Stokes as a commercial store with attached residence around 1836, and was used as a store until 1925. Built from handmade bricks, it is one of the few surviving early commercial and residential buildings remaining in Port Macquarie. The building was initially leased by the museum in 1958, and later purchased by the Hastings District Historical Society (now Port Macquarie Historical Society).
Our members carried out extensive renovations in 1958-59, and several building extensions and alterations have been added to the site over the past 50 years.
> The Historical Society is run by volunteers and has over 140 members. What makes you all so passionate about preserving Port Macquarie’s history?
Speaking for myself, since high school I have been interested in history and the preservation of heritage for the next generation. I have been on sites where they have been pulling down old buildings, and had the time of my life digging up old relics.
Our members and volunteers come from all walks of life and many varied backgrounds but all share a common passion for preserving our history. Each contributes to our mission to collect, conserve, research and interpret the history and heritage of Port Macquarie and the Hastings region with their own unique set of experiences and skills.
We want to make sure our rich history is passed on to future generations, as we believe it helps us see where we have come from and where we are heading.
> What type of preservation work and daily tasks take place at the museum?
Our preservation work takes on many forms. Day to day it may involve cleaning objects and displays, to constructing purpose built plinths or showcases for our significant objects.
It can be carefully cleaning and wrapping our delicate textiles in acid free tissue to give them a well earned rest from UV light.
It might be cataloguing and labeling new acquisitions before we start work on documenting and researching their stories.
We are also working on computer cataloguing and digitising our large collection of historic photographs and archives, to ensure their longevity and to make them more accessible in the future.
Other work carried out by our volunteers includes researching and writing publications, caring for our garden, painting and building maintenance, office work, and managing our operations. Not forgetting our most important task – to man our front desk so visitors can come and enjoy our great museum and collection, and learn more about Port Macquarie’s rich and extensive history.
> The museum houses a range of records, relics and exhibits, what are some of the most precious, irreplaceable items of interest?
That’s a really hard question! Our museum houses many objects of local, state and national significance. The museum was recently assessed and found to contain more objects and collections of national significance than is normally the case in a regional museum of its size and scope.
Amongst the most precious items are a convict ship bible belonging to Reverend John Cross, Annabella Boswell’s journals and watercolour paintings, William Macdonnell’s photograph album of Port Macquarie, Lionel Lindsay watercolours of Port Macquarie plus etchings and woodcuts of his favourite subjects, Thomas Dick’s photographs, a wooden table with broad arrow markings, an early sugar crushing mill, relics from Lake Innes Ruins, an Aboriginal heliman shield … and so much more.
Our collection also contains many items associated with local events, places, people and their history. These too are irreplaceable.
> How long has the roof been leaking, and what damage has it caused so far?
The roof has been leaking on and off for probably the last ten years, however it has been leaking in earnest for the past five years. We have spent several thousand dollars on repairs, only to find new leaks developing all the time.
Last year we lost some computer equipment which was storing our digitized photographs and databases, due to water damage after a storm. Luckily so far none of the collection has been damaged and no data has been lost.
We do however keep our equipment covered with plastic sheeting when not in use, and some of our storage shelving can’t be used due to risk of water leaking on valuable archives and objects.
> With the Society’s win of $20,000 in the ‘Renovate Your Community’ competition for roof repairs, what will this involve?
The work on our roof will involve removing the existing galvanized iron and tile roofing then replacing it entirely with new colourbond sheeting.
In detail this means removing the existing roof, installing new timber roof battens, new roof sheeting including valleys, apron flashings, barge cappings and ridge caps, and replacing all existing gutters and downpipes.
The work will be carried out section by section to minimise exposure and risk to our collection. It’s a big job. We hope to schedule the work very soon, depending on the availability of our roofing contractor.
> What other improvements are being made around the museum?
Apart from updating our displays, which is now part of an ongoing program, we are currently renovating our toilet facilities to make them accessible to people with special needs and wheelchairs.
We received funding for this last year through Clubs NSW Community Development Support Expenditure Scheme, with our project funded specifically by Port Macquarie Panthers Club and The Westport Club. The project is now well underway. Our new toilets will be completed in about eight weeks.
> How do you normally raise funds?
We are self supporting and raise our operating income through museum admission charges, publication sales, research fees and history tours.
To fund projects and building works, we apply for community and Government grants such as the $20,000 we’ve just won through the generosity of Panthers Port Macquarie and Tooheys and the support of our community.
> What other activities does the Historical Society undertake?
We are involved in a range of activities in addition to the museum, including researching and writing local history publications, and holding other public programs which serve to inform and educate the community and tourists about our local history and heritage.
These activities include our participation in the National Trust Heritage Festival and History Week each year, where we offer special walking tours and other public programs such as talks and exhibitions.
As a community organisation we try to be involved in local community events wherever possible and provide tours and talks to schools and community groups. We also offer a family and local history research service.
> Thank you Leonie.