World War 2 at Home

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The Port Macquarie Historical museum will play host to a remarkable exhibition throughout December and January – World War 2 at Home. Debbie Sommers explains how the exhibition helps to highlight the Hastings area’s contributions to the war efforts…

What is your position with the museum – and what’s involved with your role? 

I am the Vice President of the Port Macquarie Historical Society and the volunteer curator at the Port Macquarie Historical Museum. My role as volunteer curator involves looking after the society’s vast collection, including cataloguing, researching and documenting objects, writing statements of significance, conservation and preservation activities. I also work with a small team of other volunteers to design, curate, produce and install both permanent displays and temporary exhibitions at the museum.

Tell us about the exhibition the museum will be holding over the next couple of months …

During December and January we will be showing a temporary exhibition called World War 2 at Home. The exhibition is about life here during World War 2 and the contributions of the people of the Hastings to the war effort, including many war time organisations.The exhibition uses objects and images from our collection to give an impression of life in the Hastings during the war. The inspiration for this exhibition was the Museums and Galleries NSW travelling exhibition ‘There’s a War On!’, about life at home in NSW during World War II. When Liz Gillroy, Port Macquarie Hastings Council’s Regional Museum Curator told us she had booked the travelling exhibition for display at Port Macquarie Library from 21November, I suggested we do a complementary local exhibition at the museum.

How many and what types of objects are included in the exhibition?

The exhibition includes many objects from our collection, including costumes, certificates, badges, ephemera and photographs. We also successfully applied for a Department of Veterans’ Affairs Saluting Their Service commemorations grant, which has funded professionally produced interpretive panels for the exhibition.

What pieces in particular do you feel are standouts – and why is this the case? 

One of the standout items for me in the exhibition is the WASPS Directory, which is a hand drawn and coloured map showing the locations of most of the farms in Port Macquarie and surrounds during the war. Port Macquarie was a major vegetable growing area at that time, and members of the Women’s Agricultural Security Production Service (WASPS), which was similar to the Women’s Land Army, planted, cultivated and harvested these vegetable crops. The map is a rare local surviving object from the war period and is significant for its connection to the WASPS, a little known women’s civilian wartime organisation. The map was hand drawn in 1941 by Port Macquarie Mayor E A Mowle, who was also Chief Warden and was later utilised to record the locations of farms worked at by the WASPS.  Another item of note is a Red Cross certificate, which records the amount of money raised by the Port Macquarie Branch of the Red Cross Society from 1934 to 1948. The certificate evidences the hard work of one of our long serving community organisations, including its financial contributions to the war effort. I also think the old Warden’s Post sign, netting needles used to make camouflage nets and a head light cover used during blackout periods are really interesting. I feel quite connected to most of the objects we place on display – particularly after I’ve spent some time researching them. Each object has its own and often unique story. We use the objects to interpret our history and to help us tell local stories. I really enjoy tying objects and stories together to create an impression of life here in years past.

What do you hope members of the public will gain from visiting the exhibition? 

We are hoping that by visiting the exhibition, members of the public will learn about the contributions from the local area to the war effort and also gain an appreciation of what life during that period was like here in the Hastings. It is also possible that the exhibition will stimulate some people’s memories, and we may be able to collect more stories about that period from the public.

What dates/times will the exhibition be open to the public? 

The exhibition runs from 25 November 2011 to 31 January 2012. The museum is open Monday to Saturday, from 9.30am to 4.30pm each day. Entry fees are $5 adults, $3.50 concession, $2 children or $10 families, which includes entry to the museum’s fourteen rooms and galleries, each themed to show a different aspect of our local history.

What other events are on the agenda for the museum over the next few months?

We are currently gearing up for the Christmas school holiday period, which is always a busy time for us and have developed a kid’s activity sheet to help children and their parents explore the museum together. Behind the scenes we are working on some great temporary exhibitions for next year, including one on Australian fashion called Dress Sense.

Thanks Debbie. Interview by Jo Atkins.

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