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Foster Museum celebrates 40th birthday

ON TUESDAY June 3, over 65 past and present members of the Foster & District Historical Society Inc. and representatives of other museums met in the Crawford Hall at the museum to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the drive launched by the Society to raise money in order to secure a permanent home for the artefacts, documents and local histories they were collecting.

Speakers recalled that 40 years ago many cake stalls and raffles were organised, donations were sought from local organisations and together with a very generous anonymous donation, the Society, formerly known as South Gippsland Shire Historical Society, was able to purchase the old Foster Post Office. The building was moved from the site of the present Foodworks supermarket to its current position opposite Pearl Park in Foster with the generous support of many locals including the use of heavy vehicles.

In welcoming those attending, Historical Society President Jennifer Jones thanked the founding members and supporters for their vision in ensuring the histories and stories of the local communities were preserved, protected and displayed for all to share. The president also thanked current members and supporters for continuing to ensure the vision lives on and for proving the early doubting Thomases, who said it would never succeed, wrong!

Guest speaker Graeme Wheeler, former Curator of the museum, came to Foster as a teacher at South Gippsland Secondary College. His interest was in history, although he was unaware of the local history until founding member Rosie Crawford encouraged him to join the Society. He spoke of the importance of the preservation and presentation of a community’s history but stressed that equally important was the recording of the stories behind the history and making sure all stories needed to be told through various media and reminding members that there were many stories hidden in the museum’s records.

Shire Councillor Mohya Davies, a long time supporter of the Society, congratulated the Society for its work and the high standards it follows. She said that 20 years ago Foster and District Museum became one of the earliest country museums to be accredited by Museums Australia (VIC) and it has maintained that accreditation every five to eight years since. The accreditation 20 years ago was judged by the exacting standards applied to city museums with no leeway for lack of money etc. As a result Foster became the blueprint for the way all future country museums should be considered and accredited.

Cr Davies then invited members to recall their memories of the early days of the museum. Recollections covered the moving of the building to the site, the arrival and preparation of Lewis Hubert (Harold Bell) Lasseter’s boat used for constructing and repairing shipping beacons in Corner Inlet long before he went in search of the ‘lost gold reef’ in Central Australia, the gathering and cataloguing of materials, the work required to make the re-located post office suitable for a museum, and also the invaluable contribution of local holiday resident Professor Weston Bates, an eminent historian and former President of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, who assisted the Society in preparing the museum and putting together the first application for accreditation.

Also recalled was the importance of the Sparkes family in the district and how Norman Sparkes, currently Treasurer of the Society, has held this position for twenty years, having followed on from his father, who held the position for a similar time. Norm is a direct descendant of one of the original discoverers of gold at Stockyard Creek.

One of the early members of the Society, Mrs Margaret Snell, was invited to cut the 40th birthday cake, followed by afternoon tea catered for by members of the Society and examination and discussions of the many photographs depicting the work the Society has undertaken over the past 40 years.

The Society owns, manages and maintains all the buildings in its complex as well as ensuring the artefacts and documents are correctly preserved for display on behalf of the communities the museum represents. It is a Place of Deposit appointed by the Public Records of Victoria for non-permanent public records.

A voluntary not-for-profit organisation, the Society runs a financially sound operation. It receives no funding from government, state or local, but is entirely dependent upon its membership, entry fees, book sales and donations. It occasionally receives partial assistance from Shire Councillors’ Discretionary Funds towards the costs of specific projects, such as the recent replacement of the historical information boards in Pearl Park and towards major exhibitions focussing on specific aspects of life in the district – gold mining, the dairy industry, education and the role of Wilsons Promontory in World War II being the most recent stories highlighted.