I was going through drafts of unpublished blog posts and discovered this one. I never posted it as is seemed a little negative and rambling. In the light of recent events (namely being accepted into a Museum and Heritage Studies course), it seems right to post it – if only to show myself what high standards I had for museums!
When I first visited the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village in Warrnambool, I was oddly disappointed and couldn’t quite work out why. It’s a lovely place with a wee historical village and port, a couple of lighthouses, and loads of displays. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, and yet something nagged at me. I put it down to being a mood and left, resolving to go back when I was in a better frame of mind.
On my second visit, I managed to work out what it was that bothered me. It’s almost like the museum has been created showing ‘the olden days’, without any reference to a particular period. Admittedly, Warrnambool’s history as a European town is not very old (it was established in the late 1840s) but that still leaves more than 170 years to cover.
To the uninformed visitor (i.e. me), there weren’t many clues as to which time period the village was set in. Perhaps if I’d done the tour I would’ve known. A little digging on the website reveals that it’s meant to be about the 1870s. But still, the overwhelming feel was of the ‘olden days’ – and nowhere reveals this better than the lighthouse keeper’s cottage.
The cottage is a small building built of basalt and has a number of rooms set up as they would have been ‘back in the day’. There’s a kitchen/dining room, living room, master bedroom, small children’s bedroom and a laundry. It’s very attractive and interesting, with furniture, tools, and decorative items all laid out. There are many knitted and crocheted items. But, there’s no mention as to when the cottage may have appeared like this.
A plaque outside the cottage states it was built in 1859 and moved from Middle Island to Flagstaff Hill in 1871. It lists the dates that some of the lighthouse keepers served and that the last one left in 1916. Then, it says ‘Today, the Lady Bay Lighthouse complex, and the Warrnambool Garrison area beyond the Flagstaff, is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register and it “demonstrates an intact early lighthouse complex and associated lifestyles of the era.’ The listing on the Victorian Heritage Listing provides interesting information and an indication of dates, but I’m not sure who will look that up while at a museum.
Now, this may all seem like an ex-history student just being pedantic – and it is. But it’s also relegates the stories of the objects found in the cottages to nostalgia. It boils down to: in the period before now, people made stuff and it looked nice. It creates a flat, uninteresting, un-useful story.
Perhaps the lack of information is so as not to distract from the ‘realness’ of the cottage – as many little labels would become clutter and a distraction. Perhaps there’s just not the labour available to research such things. Perhaps everyone else visiting the museum doesn’t want to know.
There’s also the problem of historical items versus replica items. But I think that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.
While an avid visitor and consumer of museums, I’m quickly realising there’s a whole lot about them that I don’t know – and can’t wait to find out!