Port Macquarie Historical Society outlines plans for futuristic museum

Bold move: Port Macquarie Historical Society president Clive Smith and voluntary curator Debbie Sommers have unveiled plans for the rejuvenation of the outdated Port Macquarie museum.
Bold move: Port Macquarie Historical Society president Clive Smith and voluntary curator Debbie Sommers have unveiled plans for the rejuvenation of the outdated Port Macquarie museum.

The Port Macquarie Historical Society has unveiled a bold plan to ensure its museum remains a window to the history and identity of Port Macquarie.

The plans would see a rejuvenated museum capable of displaying more exhibitions, providing space for expanding cultural tourism needs and satisfying the expectations of the growing interest in heritage and cultural information and items.

Society president Clive Smith and museum volunteer curator Debbie Sommers say their goal is to preserve Port Macquarie's identity for future generations.

"This is a bold move but one that needs to be taken," Mr Smith said.

"The current museum buildings do not cater for the needs and expectations of the community. Additions have been made - in good faith - over the years but the end result is small exhibition areas, rooms joined by walkways and spaces that don't accommodate for our needs.

"Port Macquarie has a significant part in the state and national story. We need to make our exhibitions more accessible; people are travelling here to look at our exhibits because of their family attachments dating back, in some instances, to early settlement."

The goal is to capitalise on Port Macquarie's bicentenary in 2021.

Ms Sommers said the heritage-listed front building would be included in their proposed master plan but the remainder of the museum site would work with the constraints of the footprint.

"Securing a master plan is an important first stage where we will work with consultants to ensure this new museum space meets the needs of the community for the next 60 years and more," she said.

Our collections are recognised as very significant. But we need to provide modern techniques to display them.

Debbie Sommers

"Our collections are recognised as very significant. But we need to provide modern techniques to display them.

"Currently, we can only display about 10 per cent of our museum objects. But we have some 20,000 objects along with several thousand images and archived material.

"We could mount some really great exhibitions. But much of what we do here is constrained by the space available and not constrained by the skills, abilities or the collections we have at our disposal.

"Our current rooms are inadequate for a modern museum space," she said.

The historical society is seeking funds under the regional cultural fund to develop a museum upgrade master plan.

This will be developed with input from museum consultants, architects, engineers, and community groups.

Outdated: Clive Smith and Debbie Sommers inside one of the museum's ageing rooms.

Outdated: Clive Smith and Debbie Sommers inside one of the museum's ageing rooms.

The master plan would then be processed through the planning approvals stage giving the historical society the opportunity to seek building funds from various sources.

"A conservation management plan is complete and will help inform and guide us toward the future of the site," Ms Sommers said.

"The heritage-listing and archaeological potential of the site are accommodated in our plans."

The pair said an enhanced museum would also provide areas to ensure the safety of collections and improve facilities for volunteers to continue their ongoing cataloguing and digitisation work.

Mr Smith said taking a "do nothing approach" was no longer an option.

"I think everyone who has been to the museum would have recognised that our facilities are not really appropriate," he said.

While the society has considered a relocation option, the museum would be best placed to remain within the increasingly prominent cultural precinct, the pair said.

The historical society considers the museum as being a window to Port Macquarie's history and heritage.

The Port Macquarie Museum was established in 1957 in a room above the old library. It was moved to its current site in 1960. There have been several building modifications undertaken over the years, the last in 1988.

The museum is located at 22 Clarence Street, Port Macquarie.

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