Heritage – the good and the not so good

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On track

In the last week I have been getting the feel for heritage in my local area, both through work and through my leisure time exploring the Goldfields region of Victoria and have experienced both the good and the bad.  Firstly the good, starting with the headline of the Bendigo Weekly for Friday 18 November.

The leading article by Peter Kennedy deals with the release of the financial statement for 2015/16 for Bendigo Heritage Attractions, the organization responsible for running the Bendigo heritage tram system. An increase in revenue of 30 per cent was announced: the result of growth in admissions, retail operations, and work contracts through the Bendigo Tramways Depot and Workshop. The workshops carry out restoration work on Melbourne trams and other vintage vehicles.

This was offset by losses on the tramway infrastructure, sections of which were damaged during flooding over winter. These impairments resulted in an overall loss rather than a $450,000 profit. In the coming year the infrastructure will be transferred to the city council as part of its asset management process.

The revenue growth shows that heritage operations are viable and can move toward becoming self sustaining.

In the field

Through my work as a cultural heritage advisor I took part in a consultation field trip with Parks Victoria looking at goldfields in the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park. This park retains the landscape of the Australian goldrush period: the remains of mines and alluvial diggings, portions of old villages, and traces of the processing activities that took place in the region.

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‘Cornish’ chimney – Castlemaine Goldfields

The trip was part of an initiative to look at ways of better promoting and managing the park to present the past and also protect it for future generations.

The good and not-so-good

On Saturday 19 November we took a trip down to have a look around Maldon, a historic township, once again in the Goldfield region of Victoria.The township contains many buildings of heritage value, still in use. One of the volunteers at the information centre indicated that the architecture in the town has changed very little (if at all) over the past century. As with other towns in the region there are old mines and processing facilities right up to the edge of the township, only one or two minutes walk from the nearest cafe!

The highlight of this day, for me, was a visit to the Maldon Vintage Machinery Museum, the home of a large collection of mining machinery, steam engines, and other artefacts of the gold rush. The museum is run by a group of enthusiastic volunteers who not only preserve, but also restore items of equipment to working order, largely funded by public donation.

One of key holdings of the museum is their collection of materials from Thompson’s Castlemaine Foundry, a local engineering firm that built machinery for the gold mines and other commercial activities in the goldfields and even overseas. Part of this collection is thousands of engineering drawings (on linen) and glass negatives from the foundry. The guides informed us that there were approximately 8000 of the glass plates alone.

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Top: plans for a dredge on linen (the hulk is visible in a dam just outside Maldon). Middle: A view of the display of steam engines. Bottom: one of the glass plate negatives showing some of Thompson’s products in use in Thailand.

And this is where the bad comes into it. This unique collection of plans and negatives would have ended up on the local tip had it not been for the volunteers who run the museum. While the collection is now on the State heritage register, and a ventilated shipping container provided for storage, all preservation and digital archiving is being done by volunteers with little support apart from public donation. Surely the preservation of such a significant archive is worthy of some support from the powers-that-be?

So how does this all fit in with a blog on my PhD on war memorials? The Federal and State governments were able to pour millions of dollars into programs to renovate memorials and promote the World War 1 and Anzac centenaries: programs that a number of academics have suggested had more political motivation for ‘nation building’ than commemorating the fallen. While I fully support the commemorative activities, I believe that these other parts of our heritage and history are just as important in the making of Australia, and just as worthy of government support, after all the term ‘digger’ originated on the goldfields of Victoria.

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