Friday, 14 October 2016

Grahamstown Gazette: what's new in G'town?

Every month I write a local heritage-themed column, on behalf of The Treasury, for the Grahamstown Gazette. Here's my piece for the October edition.

From The Treasury: 

What’s new in G’Town this month? We’re all wildly famous!! Or at least, Thames’ heritage sector is, after Thames Historical Museum’s episode of Heritage Rescue screened on Choice TV in September (if you would like my autograph, you can send $5 and a stamped self-addressed envelope to The Treasury). 

The episode was filmed late last year; the first project the Heritage Rescue team took on. The team took the museum’s old storeroom and turned it into ‘Building Thames,’ a celebration of the lost landmarks of Thames’ past, immortalised as models by Ted Egan. The episode delved into the history of these buildings, digging up half-forgotten tales of shootouts, hauntings, tightrope-walkers and brewery fires from Thames’ heyday. 

What’s new in Grahamstown this month is the reinvigorated interest in our local heritage sites. Plenty of people have told me they’ve never been to the museum before, or The Treasury, or to the School of Mines, or the Bella Street Pumphouse... or maybe they did go, once, years ago, and they’d never really considered it as the sort of attraction you periodically pay a repeat visit to. Several of the places on the show have turned out to be well-kept secrets, even to the locals – I’ve heard a few comments from people who’d never heard of the William Hall Arboretum, or the Shortland Museum (the upstairs swimming pool made quite a splash!). 

A good historical museum is a place where people can consider the past from different perspectives; where stories are preserved and retold, where people can get a sense of where we came from and where we can go to next. Interactive, bold, inclusive, and community-minded. It shouldn’t be static or dead space; a place you visit once and forget about, because you’re now ‘done’ with it.

While I often lament the lack of professional support for Thames’ many heritage sites, the beauty of volunteer-run organisations is that anyone with the spare-time and passion can muck in. If you notice a gap at your local historic place, you can offer to fill it. Not enough kid stuff? Help create a treasure hunt. Too many objects hidden in storage? Offer to update the catalogues. You could man the front desk, weed the garden, design the best exhibition Thames has ever seen. The possibilities are endless.

I hope the Thames Heritage Rescue episode inspires people to look after, and appreciate, the heritage in their back yards.

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