PORT Welshpool and District Maritime Museum (PWDMM) committee members will be involved in further talks with South Gippsland Shire Council to clarify its evolving formal policy on the future ownership of the museum’s collection.
The council has been working on the draft policy, entitled C73 Port Welshpool and District Maritime Museum and Collection Policy, for the past several months, “to guide the collection and retention of items” for the museum, located on the corner of Turnbull and Townsend Streets in Port Welshpool.
The committee has been involved during the development of the draft policy, a process which was started by shire staff before a council briefing on the subject in September 2018.
Committee members have expressed concern about seemingly contradictory clauses in the document about what would happen to items no longer required and/or deaccessioned from the collection.
The museum is housed in a group of buildings set over two town blocks, including the home of early Port Welshpool fisherman William Smith and his family, built in 1881.
The house and buildings contain the Smith family’s own extensive assemblage of what are now described as “natural and industrial maritime” artefacts as well as other items of historical domestic and local community significance gathered over two generations as the basis of the current collection.
All were donated, along with the land, by Mr Smith’s son Arnie to the former Shire of South Gippsland in the late-1970s.
Since then the property has opened to the public for more than 40 years as a museum run by a team of dedicated volunteers alongside what is now a section 86 special committee of the council.
The council is the legal owner of the museum’s collection, including any new acquisitions acquired by the committee, which has been adding what it considers to be relevant and appropriate items to the various displays.
The current secretary of the committee is Janet Taylor, the daughter of Arnie Smith, with some committee members descending from other Port Welshpool and Welshpool district pioneers and settlers, and others being local residents.
The clauses of the draft policy causing angst to the committee come under the section headed 4.5 De-accessioning, a term defined as the process by which a work of art or other object is permanently removed from a museum’s collection.
On one hand, the first point of 4.5.3 Method of Disposal states that “Disposal of de-accessioned items will be carried out in one of the following ways: a. Return to the donor or donor’s family if donor is deceased”.
The other two methods are offering the item to a not-for-profit museum or educational or cultural institution, and, failing return or donation, putting it up for public sale, auction or tender, with the proceeds to be given to the museum.
Then on the other hand, the first paragraph of 4.5.5 Personal acquisition and de-accessioning reads, “At no time will a Committee member, volunteers at PWDMM, persons connected with South Gippsland Shire Council or any person formally connected with PWDMM, be permitted to acquire a de-accessioned object directly from PWDMM or South Gippsland Shire Council.”
At its ordinary meeting held at Leongatha on Wednesday May 29, 2019 the council voted to adopt “the intent” of the draft policy, as opposed to adopting the draft policy itself as in the motion listed on the agenda, until further input and advice from the committee had been received.
The original motion also mooted the allocation of $15,000 “to assist Council and the Committee with initial management, recording and rationalisation of the existing Collection”, which was adopted at the meeting.
Coastal Promontory Ward Cr Ray Argento raised the issue of the policy’s confusing wording and the concerns of the committee.
He told the council that the committee had pointed out to him that some, “committee members are descendants of the people who started the museum, who ought to be asked if they want items back.
“While the intent of the policy remains the same, there is a need to review the wording,” he said. “The committee that operates the museum does a fantastic job, and they are currently hosting various groups coming to look through the displays.
“The $15,000 we’re planning to allocate to assist with cataloguing the collection will go a long way to assist the committee,” Cr Argento said.
The draft policy states that the date range of the collection is from 1881 to 2003, to when the Sea Cat [ferry service from Port Welshpool to Georgetown in Tasmania] ended, and this was another point questioned by the committee.
Cr Argento said, “I know the committee wants to keep collecting items in the future that fall within the scope of the museum, and to acquire items from beyond 2003.
“For example, the Long Jetty has recently been rebuilt and the committee wants to include information about the rebuilding process,” he said.
“For many it may only be a little museum at Port Welshpool, but for the committee members it is their world, and more and more community bus groups are coming to visit the Long Jetty and the musueum as well now.”
Fellow Coastal Promontory Ward Cr Alyson Skinner said, “Cr Argento has worked hard with the committee, and it’s fantastic to have a maritime museum at Port Welshpool, especially with the re-opening of the Long Jetty.
“The committee has been involved in donating items to the museum, and they are concerned about the future disposal of assets.”
Cr Skinner agreed that funding of $15,000 would be, “a good start towards the recording and cataloguing the collection.
“I know the committee also has some concerns about the condition of the older [main] building, which needs repairs, and that $45,000 has been quoted for the initial works,” she said.
Tarwin Valley Ward Cr Rosemary Cousin said, “the museum is very important for the community, and it needs full curation for presentation to the community.
“I move that we seek further consultation with the committee then return the policy to the next meeting in a more polished form,” she said.
“We need to respect the views of the committee; we have so many volunteers across the shire, and if we’re not listening to the committee we’re not listening to the community.”
The matter is scheduled to come back to the council’s next open meeting to be held on Wednesday June 26, 2019, after first being presented on Wednesday March 27 and deferred to allow more time for review.
During the winter months, the PWDMM will be open to visitors every Saturday afternoon between 12.30 pm and 4.30 pm.