A national museum that houses the original Eureka flag has closed its doors just five years after the multimillion-dollar project was established.
The $11 million Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (MADE) will become the Eureka Centre with a focus on history and tourism associated with the 1854 rebellion.
City of Ballarat Mayor Samantha McIntosh said the council could not continue to justify the costly museum and its $1 million annual operating costs in light of floundering visitor numbers.
“There has been some confusion over time with the introduction of the Museum of Australian Democracy branding and what that actually means,” Cr McIntosh said.
The Eureka Stockade
ABC Education explores the significance of the 1854 Eureka Stockade in the development of Australian democracy.
“There’s a strong desire for us to protect the Eureka story, the history of the Stockade and the people and activities that surround that.”
It is ending in tears for the redundant museum staff, including former chief executive Rebecca McFarling.
“It’s completely heartbreaking, this is blood, sweat and tears of a number of people,” she said.
“We established an institution about democracy and the origins of democracy in Australia and how it plays out now.
“To have all that good work undone is fairly devastating.”
Future for museum exhibits unclear
The decision has left a void of uncertainty around the future of hundreds of exhibits in the museum’s collection, including a hand-stitched quilt created by mothers of child sex abuse victims in western Victoria.
Among them is a handmade quilt made up of 80 square red and calico blocks stitched together over the course of the sex abuse royal commission.
It contains the stories of abuse survivors and their families.
Carmel Maloney, 79, used the project as a way to reach out to the mothers of victims in the Catholic community.
“And I just thought well this would be a way that they could actually do the work and tell their story,” she said.
Ms Maloney recruited quilter Beryl Anderson to co-ordinate the embroidery.
I started off just cutting blocks and distributed them and asking them to tell their story – write it or embroider it.
“One of the ladies was from Colac and she said this was the closure because she had never been recognised or been asked to express herself, how she felt, because her son had committed suicide.”
Permanent home for the Ballarat Loud Fence
The Quilt of Hope is not the only sensitive exhibit with an uncertain future.
Just weeks before the council decided to close the museum, abuse survivors and their families were invited to come and tie a coloured ribbon to a wrought iron fence that was to feature in a permanent display at the site.
In an emotionally charged moment, child sexual abuse survivor Tony Wardley told the audience what the exhibit meant to victims.
“It’s just a beautiful memorial that empowers young children to ask questions, and once they see those ribbons know there’s somewhere safe for them,” Mr Wardley said.
The founder of the Ballarat Loud Fence group behind the piece, Maureen Hatcher, said the museum’s closure was terrible.
“I would truly hope that some organisation offers to display the Loud Fence. [It’s] a significant part of Ballarat’s history and deserves a permanent home,” she said.
Mayor Samantha McIntosh said any exhibits which do not fit with the new centre’s focus would be treated with care.