Historical Significance Reports for Items Donated to the Griffith Pioneer Park Museum

I didn’t realise how valuable the opportunity to reflect on this experience would be until I overcame the past few chaotic weeks leading up to the final submission of this project. While it has been far more pressure than I expected, I am truly appreciative of what I have learnt about Griffith and the importance of preserving local Australian history more generally as well as the historical skills I have developed as a result of conducting my own oral histories. I feel that my emotional engagement with the ethics of historical practice is greater as a result and that putting my academic skills to the test has made them far more suitable for various educational and historical functions beyond the university landscape.
My work with Bonnie and the Griffith Pioneer Park Museum has reminded me not only of my passion for curation but also of how important it is to preserve our local history. The site is responsible for preserving the agricultural, social and cultural heritage of Griffith and the surrounding Riverina region, an area I have come to realise through the process of interviewing for this project goes far beyond my knowledge of my own ancestral history in the town. While I was drawn to the organisation due to my personal connection to Griffith, it wasn’t until I read Beth Gibbings’ piece on SIEV X that I realised that it is possible to advocate for the significance of a historical place, event or object without being directly connected to it. While I agree with this, I do also feel that my connection to Griffith made my connection to the interviewees more natural.
I feel a great deal of responsibility knowing that Bonnie is relying on the quality of my academic skills to provide accurate information regarding three collections which have been recently donated to the museum: a cement mixer, optical equipment and telephone exchange equipment. I have worked hard and hope that the reports I have compiled are a reflection of this.
Bonnie’s obvious passion for history and its preservation has been inspiring over this semester. More than anything, I was appreciative of the opportunity to collaborate with someone who is a recent history graduate. Her drive to contribute her time and knowledge wholeheartedly to Pioneer Park has given me the confidence to pursue a career in a field where permanent jobs are often hard to come by, something that has previously intimidated me. While I came into this project being fairly inexperienced in the practice of oral history and interviewing, I am glad that I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone and believe that I have strengthened these skills as a result.

Griffith Pioneer Park Museum

Our visit to the Sydney Jewish Museum this week has reminded me of how significant history museums have been in the development of my own passion for history. Being responsible for the preservation and education of history, especially to those outside the field of academia, I found myself drawn to these organisations in the beginning stages of this project. I remember looking forward to school excursions to museums and looking back I am so appreciative for the opportunities we are given throughout our schooling to engage with iconic and innovative exhibitions. Technological advancements and developments in historical practice have seen the evolution of these exhibitions, and I was surprised to see how much the SJM has reinvented itself. Reflecting on my experience of other museums, I realised that not all organisations have the opportunity or resources to do this.
The Pioneer Park Museum in Griffith (570 km south-west of Sydney) is an open-air museum responsible for the preservation of the agricultural, social and cultural heritage of Griffith – a major city in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area of the Riverina region of New South Wales.
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The site occupies 11 hectares of bushland, and houses a variety of original and recreated buildings from the surrounding area from the early to mid 1900s, as well as the Italian Museum and Wine Building, which appear as more traditional museum exhibitions. The park is also home to annual cultural events, such as Action Day (held over the Easter long weekend) and Festa Della Salsicce (The Festival of the Sausage), where the Italian heritage of Griffith is celebrated with the tasting and judging of a selection of homemade salami’s.
Above (From top to bottom): The St. James Church of England (built in 1907) which is the oldest church in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, A reconstruction of Griffith’s first general store and The Italian Museum.
I have been in contact with Bonnie Owens since early August, She is the curator at the museum and a history major from ANU. She is not only responsible for the management of the above events, but also the organisation of educational programs, historiographical projects and the overall maintenance of the site with only two staff being permanently employed alongside her.
Griffith and its history are particularly significant for me, with my great-grandmother migrating directly to the town from Italy in the late 1950s. Beyond my personal interest, the agricultural production in Griffith functions as a major contributor to the country’s economy. The town produces over 75% of NSW’s wine grapes and is Australia’s largest citrus producing region.
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Above: Citrus Sculptures from the Griffith Spring Fest
Bonnie has been very interested in our collaboration since our initial contact. Her suggestions for project ideas have included:
1. Walking Tour App: Using the program “Izi Travel” or something similar, Bonnie would like to create an app that functions as a guided walking tour of the site, easily accessible by visitors using their iPhone. This app uses location services to trigger audio recordings and written descriptions in areas of the site which are of significance, such as buildings or exhibitions. This app is widely used internationally, and also functions as an audio guide to our own Macleay Museum at USYD!
2. Interviews: Bonnie noted that the museum houses various items which are lacking vital information that is required for their exhibition. This would involve contacting the donors of the items and enquiring about their nature, origin and historical significance.
3. Documentary: Bonnie said that she would also appreciate a documentary-style series of interviews capturing the life of cultural groups such as ‘the women of Griffith’ or ‘the farmers of Griffith.’
Despite the challenges involved with working with an organisation long-distance, I am thoroughly looking forward to working with a fellow history major at the service of a community with a really rich and valuable history. A trip which I have organised for the mid-semester break will help me to get going on this project, gain some insight into my own heritage and develop my own historical practice for what may be a future career.
website: www.griffithpioneerpark.com.au
instagram: @griffithpioneerparkmuseum
facebook: www.facebook.com/PioneerParkMuseum
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