Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

History Revisited - darkening clouds over Armidale's Museum

PAINTINGS WITHDRAWN: In 1939 the National Gallery of NSW withdraws paintings from the Armidale Museum due to Gallery budget cuts
When David Drummond officially opened the new Armidale Museum on Saturday 16 December 1933 as the first municipally operated museum in NSW, the future seemed secure after all those years of effort, the future seemed secure. It wasn’t to be as easy as that.

In July the following year, a meeting convened by Mayor O’Connor established a number of sub committees to undertake the organisation of various sections of the museum. Honorary Curator A H Perrott mentioned the need for more space to house the growing collection. Drummond warned that if the museum was to develop in the right direction it “must not be allowed to become a mausoleum or dumping ground for curios.”

The collection continued to grow. The trustees of the Booloominbah estate presented the trustees with the very fine collection of Island trophies formerly housed in Booloominbah. Geoffrey Forster donated the saddle said have been used by Thunderbolt.

William Dixson after whom the University Library is named donated the original petition to the Governor praying that Armidale should be proclaimed a municipality. The Reverend J A R Perkins donated a more than 300 year old bible.

Yet in the middle of all this, there seems to have been a decline in enthusiasm. There were also setbacks. In April 1939, the director of the National Art Gallery of NSW advised Council that the paintings on loan to the art gallery side of the museum. were to be withdrawn as a consequence of budget cutbacks.

In January 1942 the museum was closed for the duration of the war, becoming the office of the Chief Warden. “Stoutly timbered and sandbagged reinforcements”, stretchers, medical supplies and telephoned jostled with the museum collection. At end July 1944 when workmen began clearing war paraphernalia, the collection was covered by thick dust.

I shuddered a little when I read this story. It wasn’t just the defeat of the previous efforts to create an Armidale museum, but the apparent mistreatment of a collection that had become quite valuable in both historical and monetary terms.

In 1945 and 1946, the premises were temporarily reopened to house two visiting exhibitions. Then in 1948, part of the museum space became the office for the New England County Council county clerk. The following year Council allocated space to the Postmaster General’s Department for a temporary office for a district radio inspector.

The allocation of museum space to offices was a bridge too far. In July 1950, the Sydney Sun published an article on neglected country museums, condemning Council for building offices in the museum.

A bit over two years later in September 1952, Harry Court who had played such an active role in the previous museum movement, protested about the mistreatment of the donated collections.

Council decided to re-open the museum. However, there was now a new museum movement in town that would lead to a change in direction.

I will complete the story of the Armidale museum in my next column. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 9 March 2016. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016.

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