Readers of the Newcastle Herald on Saturday 8th October 2022 would have been reacquainted with the plight of the Hunter Valley Museum of Rural Life (also known as the “Upper Hunter Museum of Rural Life” and “Museum of Rural Life at Glenbawn Dam”).
The Museum’s Rise..
The Hunter Valley Museum of Rural Life at Glenbawn Dam was officially opened on the 12th June 1966.
In its heyday the Museum was visited by many busloads of school children and 1000s of visitors every year. It was a popular stop off on way to look at the dam. The Oak Ice Cream stand kept the children happy.
Tour group visit the Hunter Valley Glenbawn Museum, NSW, 25 October 1970 (Credit: NBN Television archive)
But in 1984 when they raised the dam wall, visitors could no longer drive over the top of the dam and people stopped visiting the museum.
From 2005 the Aberdeen Progress Association & Chamber of Commerce became interested in the Museum. By 2007 the Museum was in dire shape and in need of professional and community re-invigoration, and the Aberdeen community began to see itself as a possible new home.
Conservators to the Rescue
In 2009 the head of conservation at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum visited the Museum of Rural Life’s Collection, and offered to clean and re-box some of the more delicate items, pro bono, to assist the regional museum.
The collection is comprehensive and tells the unique story of the Hunter Valley area from early settlement. It features items from its significant agricultural, industrial, transport and infrastructure developments, and personal artefacts which reveal the stories behind some of the area’s influential families and individuals. There is also a fascinating and extensive local geological collection.
Aberdeen Community to the Rescue
In 2010, members of the Aberdeen community teamed up with officers from the N.S.W. Government Crown Lands Division and University of Newcastle’s Cultural Collections (Auchmuty Library) and Coal River Working Party. They hoped to develop a future plan for the Museum and its Collections and produce a Significance Assessment.
Volunteer Training Day
Expert curators visited the Hunter Valley Museum of Rural Life, managed by the Lake Glenbawn State Park Trust, on Thursday 15 July 2010, to share their skills with a group of dedicated local volunteer caretakers. Internationally trained curator and conservator Dr Amir Mogadam from the University of Newcastle attended the volunteer training day together with the curator of the Armidale Historical Museum, Peter Chambers, and Kay and Marcus Holdsworth, who provided advice on non-toxic pest controls. Community members with direct family and historical links to the collection also attended.
Volunteers were taken through skills teaching them all about cleaning and caring for the collection, which includes the wedding dress worn by Sarah Campbell, matriarch of the pastoral dynasties at Glenrock, Tugolo and Tomalla Stations during the 1840s.
The collection also holds a 1920 Jelbart steam traction engine, 19th century military firearms, a 1929 International Harvester red farm truck, and a wedding parasol which belonged to Agnes Rodd Bell, given to her by her father Sir John Robertson in 1860, a year before he enacted the NSW Robertson Acts allowing free settlement in the colony.
However, with the change of government, and local community leadership, the project was abandoned.
The Situation Today
There is still interest from the local community for something to be done. Upper Hunter Museum of Rural Life (Aberdeen Museum) Website: http://www.aberdeenmuseum.org.au/
So, to help drive interest and future collaborations across the University, communities, government and region, and helping people to “know the story” we have compiled some information and reports.
Lesley Gent was approached by Danny Shields and John Jobling in the first place to do an assessment of the Collection. This morphed into much more and she recalls:
“I completed the first catalogue of the items in the Museum driving up each day – usually two days a week – and home in the afternoon. Most times I was smelling rather of mice and dust. I had a couple of friends from Scone who would come out on occasion with lunch for me and call out numbers.
I did two catalogues. A Numerical one and a Location one. The Location catalogue proved invaluable. When I first started I had to write everything out by hand and then put them on the computer when I got home. I did a listing, with photographs, as best I could of the damaged items. I could also identify some of the missing items. They were tiring days but days I really enjoyed.
I talked the Trust into installing a security system, there was nothing at all. The system was not very sophisticated but more a deterrent for vandals. I put in recommendations to the Trust as to what I thought could be done with the collection. I also tried to hunt out some venues that the collection could be moved to – one being Campbell’s store in Aberdeen. Actually Garry (my husband) joined me on that hunt around the Upper Hunter.
We organised an open day and invited as many donors, or their families, as we could find – it was a great success.
The plans on the HLH site are ones I did, the red numbers are section numbers for my reference. The collection is so huge I had to divide it somehow and that was the easiest way.
I did this as a volunteer.” – Lesley Gent – Email Correspondence 21 October 2022.
Hunter Valley Museum of Rural Life : Souvenir. [Newcastle]: Perfection Printing Co., [1966?] UON Special Collections Shelf Location: 994.42074-2 RB GRAY
Lake Glenbawn. Lake Glenbawn. [Scone, N.S.W.] : Scone Shire Council, [197-?]
UON Special Collections Shelf Location: 919.442 LAKE-1 RB GRAY
Outline of Collection & Significance – Hunter Valley Museum of Rural Life – 17 October 2010 – DRAFT ONLY – Disclaimer: These are Unreferenced Ideas and Notes to Assist Preparation of the Final Significance Assessment Report (680KB PDF File)
Compiled by Gionni Di Gravio, OAM
University Archivist, Chair, Hunter Living Histories