By Janet Taylor
THE Port Welshpool & District Maritime Museum recently celebrated another milestone in its history.
For 40 long years it has been operating as a Museum to the public. Over that time there have been many caretakers who kept the museum open while caring for the grounds and welcoming many a visitor.
The house started life as a family home for Mr. W.B.M. Smith together with his bride Elizabeth in 1881. In following years three sons and two daughters arrived.
William had grown up in Port Albert, but as a young man and after the death of his father, his mother and some of his siblings, for whatever reason, decided to move to Western Australia, but William set his sights on Port Welshpool.
Following his house being built at Port Welshpool, William could see the potential of the Port and the fishing industry.
In 1914, William asked White Bros of Williamstown to build him a boat which he named the ‘Janet Iles”. During this time, he fished Bass Strait with his two sons Richie and Arnie.
The all became very well-known for their knowledge of the area and the big catches of fish they sent to market.
Mr. Smith and his sons studied the different fish as they cleaned them, to know what the fish ate which told them where the fish lived.
Mastering the ways of Mother Nature and the waters of Bass Strait and Corner Inlet, was another challenge for the Smiths, but they learned well and many a boat was saved by the men.
William’s interest in the marine world extended to him having many fish cured and mounted in glass cases along with shells and other interesting bits from the ocean floor.
His daughters made necklaces by threading shells and they are displayed in these cases.
At one stage these glass cases were taken to Melbourne and exhibited in a Bank in Elizabeth Street so that city folk could be educated on what the ocean had to offer.
Mr. Smith wrote to the Government and asked for the rail times to be changed so their large catches of fish could be sent by train to Melbourne (all so city people could enjoy fresh fish).
Sadly, his eldest son Bruce died in the First World War. He and another young man, from the port, who also died in WW1 are both remembered in the memorial garden of the Museum with the shields that were organised by the towns people of the time and were once on display in the Port Welshpool hall.
The hall was destroyed by fire many years ago and never rebuilt. But these memorable plaques survived.
The house and its wealth of history and contents along with the boat the “Janet Iles” all take pride of place at the corner of Turnbull and Townsend Streets Port Welshpool.
In the late 70’s after suffering ill health, Arnie, the last surviving son, gave the land, house and contents to the Shire of South Gippsland so that history could be preserved for future generations to come.
Over these last 40 years the house has been opened as a museum and has been kept open and continues to do so on weekends from 12 to 4pm by a wonderful group of volunteers.
As Arnie Smith was my father and on everyone’s behalf I would like to say to past and present volunteers a very big “THANK YOU”. Your interest in the history and your dedication has kept my father’s wishes alive. To everyone who has made donations so that history of the town can be preserved, “THANK YOU”.
May you keep volunteering, so the history of the town and families alike are preserved and stay on the corner of Turnbull and Townsend Street for another 40 years and beyond.
During the months of February, March and April 2018 the Museum is hosting a travelling exhibition in conjunction with Museums Australia, called “Submerge”, featuring shipwrecks around the coast.
More advertising will be seen after the Sea Days Festival held at the port on January 6 and 7 2018 when the museums theme will be ‘The Long Jetty’.
If you have never visited this South Gippsland asset, have a passion for history or need to show visitors what this area has to offer we would love to see you. Or if you are involved with a group or club that’s looking for a place to visit on an outing, appointments can be made for during the week. Give me a call on 59886173.
The Committee and Members of the Port Welshpool & District Maritime Museum would like to wish everyone a Very Merry Christmas and Health and Happiness for 2018.