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Lesley Pickering, Jan Angelo, Margaret Lawrence , Anne Dinham with 40th Bday Cake

Port of Yamba Historical Society celebrates its 40th Birthday

A small group of excited members couldn’t let this auspicious occasion pass without a party! Due to Covid-19 restrictions strict protocols were in place and sadly numbers were limited.  However, that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the participants.

Society President, Lesley Pickering, summarised the past 40 years within her speech:

40th celebration address

“This very week 40 years ago, on the 20th September 1981, a dedicated group of Yamba locals formed this Society. This is not to be mixed up with the official opening of Yamba Museum in March 1985 – during Yamba’s centenary celebrations of its official proclamation as a town in 1885.

Stuart Lee summed it up, on the retirement of President Elaine Garven in 2004:

The Society was formed in 1981 by a group of local citizens concerned … that Yamba’s heritage be preserved before it was lost forever given the rapid rate of change including the demolition of so many of the buildings that had given old Yamba town its special character.

How they would have been shaken by the current level of development and change!

40 yrs – 40 Committees – 40 AGMs – 40 Budgets – Innumerable meetings, events & newsletters – and 6 Presidents: Jean Bultitude; Elaine Garven; Keith Redman; Marea Buist; Margot Scott; myself. Keith and I are very pleased to be here today.

40th celebration Keith Lesley cake cutting

A lot has happened over 40 years – as you would expect.

Incorporation in 1988; Registered by the Charities Commission in 2015; a Constitution; a Strategic Plan every 5 yrs; policies; in 2019 a restructuring of how the Society is managed.

Our infrastructure has grown from one small donated clubhouse to seven separate buildings. From one room to five rooms of museum displays. Our collection is digitised – 2,300 items and an extensive digitised image library – thanks to our researchers Rob Knight and John McNamara. We have a continuous program of art exhibitions in the Old Kirk. A number of publications to our name, with the launch of a special one today. Our researchers and their support volunteers are busy. An award winning Yaegl Cultural Garden.

More importantly, our membership numbers and active volunteers reflect our high profile in the community. We’ve grown into a viable, sustainable organisation, that is enthusiastic about telling and sharing local stories.

From the very beginning, there’s been involvement and generous support from our community – Lions, Rotary, sporting clubs, active volunteers, and recently the Yaegl community – keen to improve, to connect more widely with their stories. We have high standards, a love of history, a love of Yamba. The power of communal effort is very visible in our structure, our operation and the way we relate to the community.

My association and memories started in 2016 when I joined the Committee and was immediately encouraged to organise the art auction to raise funds to replace our damaged roof. So, I’ve been looking at the Society’s book of Memories and Minutes from 1987 to 1990 (beautifully handwritten) to get an appreciation of what took place in earlier years.

Many of you will remember the names I’ll mention:

Keith Murray (whose daughter Helen Tucker is with us today) retired to Yamba in 1974 and approached the golf club to use their abandoned clubhouse as a repository for information, basing his idea on the Pacific Islands custom where nearly every village had its Story House – passing on traditions and culture from elders to younger generations.

Bill Gilkison’s engineering skills made possible the exhibits dreamed up by Keith, and Keith Howland (whose wife Susan is also with us today) who moved to Yamba in 1974 – more later.

This trio created numerous exhibits while bombarding NSW govt depts for the release of Crown Land adjacent to the gold club. And that’s where we sit today.

At the start, there was a small core, with Jean Bultitude President for 2 years before Elaine Garven was President for 21 years from 1983 to 200, with Marjorie Innes as VP, Dorothy Collins as Secretary, Chris Seale as Treasurer – Chris served in this position for 33 years!

Elaine oversaw the conversion of the derelict golf clubhouse into the museum building as well as 3 major events:

  • 1985: museum officially opened by Muriel Brown
  • 1999: bicentenary of European discovery: Matthew Flinders
  • 2004: sesquicentenary of the arrival of first European resident Captain Francis Freeburn.

Foundation members Dulcie Woodburn, Norm and Coral Fennell; Jack and Betty Nash; Desma Staff who left a bequest that part funded the Breakwater Room extension in 1992; Margaret Mantova who first suggested we acquire the old Presbyterian Church; Stuart Lee who was born and raised on the Clarence River and author of the Society’s first four publications; Daphne McPherson known for her cooking; David Nicholson whose expertise in advertising and organising the Matthew Flinders Bicentennial led to winning $15,000 for the Flinders Room extension in 2001; June Alexander; former long-term president Marea Buist from 2006-2019 who narrowed the focus of the displays to a geographic area, as well as mounting many successful in-house exhibitions – some of which are remembered in this current birthday exhibition; Gary Whale who wrote regularly for the newsletter; Councillor Deb Novak. With us today is Anne McCallum. And past President Keith Redman, who belongs to an old family – here since his grandfather Josuah Redman upheld the law from 1895 to 1918.

There’s been no dull periods nor lulls over the 40 years – only jobs to get done.  An anniversary is always a time of reflection, a time to consider achievements and we’ve got lots to celebrate.” 

Past President, Keith Redman, added his (humorous) recollections of those early days. 

Helen Tucker spoke about the involvement of her mother and father.

Helen Tucker

“Keith & Dorothy Murray moved to Yamba in 1974. Most of you will probably remember Mum as Dorothy Collins.

I vividly recall going for a stroll with Dad to check out the disused old golf clubhouse, which had definitely seen better days. Dad had that gleam in his eye that I knew so well. He wanted to create a space where the story of Yamba’s early days could be told … hence, the Story House. He felt that the old clubhouse would be ideal. Loving history almost as much as Dad, I thought this a terrific idea. At the same time, I realised what a huge undertaking it was. But I knew Dad was up to the challenge. 

The new golf club was Dad’s regular watering hole. It was here that he became good mates with Bill Gilkison and Keith Howland. As Dad was the ideas man, Bill was the practical engineer who brought to life many of Dad’s imaginative ideas (e.g. a working model of the Yamba lighthouse and a radio-controlled model of a trawler on water). Keith Howland was the artistic genius who created beautiful backdrops for the exhibits. Fortunately, Mum had the secretarial skills to keep up with the pile of correspondence between Dad and the various local authorities. Photographer George Alexander used his unique skills to help publicise their efforts.

Sadly, Dad died suddenly in 1980. He was 57.

Mum had been deeply involved in the Museum since 1974 and wanted to keep Dad’s memory alive. Fittingly, Mum was elected Secretary, a position she held until just a few years before her death in 2010. The position of Treasurer was awarded to Christina Seale, proudly held for over 30 years. Christina now lives in Caroona.

I’m sure, wherever they may be, Mum & Dad would be delighted with the incredible progress that has taken place since the humble beginnings of The Yamba Story House.”

The party was celebrated with champagne and the cutting of the magnificent papier-mache mock cake made by Susan Ong. The 40th Anniversary Exhibition presently in the Old Kirk Exhibition was chosen by Susan Ong by revisiting seven in-house exhibitions held during the past including The 50sNursery RhymesLinen DrawerAussie Inventions.

Lesley Pickering advised that “In previous years exhibition items were sourced from the local community. For this exhibition, we’re showcasing objects from our own collection that are not normally on display in the museum.

Susan of course had a terrific team assisting her: thanks to Ron Auld, Eris Flaus, Bev Mansfield, John Marcus, Lyn Marcus, Anne McCallum, Eileen McGarrigle, Keith Redman and Sue Spence (a former VP) who selected the photos and wrote text for the three boards that show the History of the Building, plus the Presidents board. These will become part of the permanent museum display.”  

The Museum is now open Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 10am – 4:30pm. Saturday-Sunday 2- 4:30pm. This exhibition has something for everyone and all ages!

Gai Pritchett