Bendigo historical societies eye law courts as location for first dedicated history museum in Bendigo

The Bendigo Law Courts have serviced the community since 1896, but could part of the precinct be used for Bendigo's first dedicated history museum.
The Bendigo Law Courts have serviced the community since 1896, but could part of the precinct be used for Bendigo's first dedicated history museum.

Understaffed and running out of space, Bendigo’s historical societies have urged the council to promote the law courts as a potential venue for the city’s first dedicated history museum, if the court precinct’s mooted relocation goes ahead.

Court Services Victoria is in negotiations to use a portion of Bendigo TAFE’s city campus for a 10 courtroom facility by mid-2022, which could open up the historic court buildings for new tenants.

The state government owns the precinct but Eaglehawk Heritage Society acquisitions officer Aylene Kirkwood OAM said countless calls for a centralised building to house all of the region’s historic gems have gone unanswered.

“Nobody has ever found the right building, we've never had funding to do it, council has never been there to back us,” she said.

As Ms Kirkwood explained, the membership and volunteer base of all the region’s historic societies was shrinking rapidly. 

A museum, she believes, will solve a number of problems. 

“Because all of these organisations have a lot of memorabilia we're all getting older and if we fold we've got nowhere to put things, nothing to showcase what we've had,” she said.

“We can't do it by ourselves, we need council or government assistance to do this.” 

Huntly, Eaglehawk and to a lesser extent Bendigo historical society have issues with contracting membership bases.

Volunteer at Huntly and Districts Historical Society Carole Douch said the council would eventually have to take responsibility of Bendigo’s historical artifacts.

“All these little historical societies we've all got old people in them, eventually the council is going to have to run these societies if they want to retain our history because otherwise they'll all fold,” she said.

Bendigo Historical Society members Jim and Coral Evans, Tom and Libby Luke with Karl Jackson outside Specimen Cottage in Hargreaves Street.

Bendigo Historical Society members Jim and Coral Evans, Tom and Libby Luke with Karl Jackson outside Specimen Cottage in Hargreaves Street.

The smaller rooms in the court precinct may struggle to store larger items, like historic machinery for example, Ms Douch said.

Bendigo council has recognised storage issues affecting historical societies in a Strategic Artefacts Report which will go before councillors at a meeting on Wednesday. 

The report recommends council consider extending storage space at the Bendigo Regional Archives Centre and commission a museum feasibility study.

“If we get more storage facilities great - no one will ever see them or have access to them so what's the point of a storage facility. It's the museum that needs to be up and running,” Ms Douch said.

Bendigo Historical Society president Jim Evans said a museum would complete the third part of a cultural trifecta, which included the art gallery and Ulumbarra Theatre.

“We want to make sure Bendigonians want a history museum,” he said.

“There’s no actual straight out history museum which would showcase this great city.

“It's what people ask about at the visitor information centre.”

Mr Evans said the group wouldn’t necessarily want a historic building, but the law court’s central location would be ideal.

Bendigo has a number of specialist museums, including the Golden Dragon Museum and The Soldiers Memorial Institute Military Museum, and smaller suburban museums dedicated to the history of a particular area.

Deputy mayor Jennifer Alden has previously been supportive of the notion to improve storage and maintenance of the city’s historic items.

“If that means some kind of dedicated space that would seem to make sense. We have a very rich legacy in Bendigo,” she said.

Cr Alden said the difficulties involved in having a dedicated museum would be including all the stories of all the people who make the region so unique.  

“How do you relate the varying stories so that actually does justice to the history of the area. Whether that can be done under one roof, i don't know,” she said.

If undertaken, the feasibility study would shed further light on the complex issue, Cr Alden said.

Mayor Margaret O’Rourke said the state government owned the law courts, but added the council would look to be part of the conversation if the buildings were opened up to new tenants in the future.

Cr O’Rourke was supportive of the idea of a museum but queried the logistics of it.

“If it was easy we would have one already,” she said.