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Lamenting the whittling away of our heritage – Part 6 of 7

Posted by ken On February - 24 - 2014

Lamenting the whittling away of our heritage – Part 6 of 7

Some decisions defy logic, particularly when an incredible and irreplaceable collection is offered to the State at a reasonable price, to be rejected, for it then to quadruple in value when it goes to auctioned with keen buyers from all over the world.

In contrast, the current government was happy to spend about five times more to refurbish office space for the Premier and cabinet. At least a heritage building was restored, even if was for the government’s pleasure rather than a facility for the people of WA to enjoy.

This was when the historic Hale House in West Perth was refurbished as part of a $25.5 million project to permanently house the State Cabinet meeting room, the Cabinet Secretariat and the Office of the Premier.

The Hall Museum in Guildford

    One most unfortunate loss for the State was the dispersal of the magnificent Hall Museum collection that resided in Guildford, behind the Rose and Crown Hotel.

Museum Opened in 1978
Museum Closed on December 19th 1993
Auction was conducted over ten days in July 1994

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Entrance to Hall Museum in Guildford

    A exhibition that museum curators, international connoisseurs and art experts from all over the world admired. It is no exaggeration to say that it was the finest collection of its kind in the southern hemisphere.

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The Tool Section

It consisted of 30,0000 items collected over 40 years by Kent and Evelyn Hall.

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Kent and Evelyn Hall

    There were many items dating from the Elizabethan era, such as glass and porcelain vases, silverware, paintings and etchings, kitchen ware and ornaments, 18th and 19th century tools, toys and dolls, surgical, optical and scientific instruments, dental and pharmacy, cameras dating back to 1860, French telephones from the 1890s, clocks, stamps and coins, musical instruments, old sporting equipment, the padlock to Ned Kelly’s cell, the Perth Mint’s old bullion scales and coin sorter, rare oil lamps from the second and third century B.C., antique jewellery and furniture, a blunderbuss brought to Australia in 1829, and a book that was one of only three printed in 1789 to relate Governor Arthur Phillip’s voyage to Australia.

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    Rather than the government show gratitude for a local keeping this vast, wonderful and unique collection in Western Australia, the hopes of it staying here were lost owing to inaction, regardless of the owner having preferred it remain here. This was because the government did nothing to keep it together, allowing the collection to be spread far and wide.

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West Australian Newspaper – October 15th 1993

    The Premier was Richard Court (16 February 1993 – 10 February 2001) at the time the museum closed and when the owner still had hopes that the government might rescue it.

    Paul Ward of Gregsons said that it was the biggest volume auction in the southern hemisphere. It took six months of preparing and cataloguing of 18 hour days, and finally 10 days of selling. Big prices were paid by buyers coming from all over the world. A Singapore syndicate initially bought the lot pre-auction, then took 250 of the pristine and most valued furniture items, before the remainder went to auction.

    This goes to show that the State missed out on a lost opportunity. The government could have picked it up for a bargain compared to the eventual sale price, as many items attracted four times the price of that initially anticipated. For example the Apothecaries Shop attracted a bid of $50,000.

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Paul Ward of Gregsons in the Apothecaries Shop

    It demonstrates how poorly these things are ranked by our elected representatives, who obviously were not cognisant of their monetary value and intrinsic worth. Nor must they have been aware of the endless praise given to the over 30,000 artefacts by the 40,000 museum visitors who paid at the door to view them each year. This subject received considerable media coverage over the years, so one must assume the politicians either did not read this, or just didn’t care?

    It appears therefore that museums and heritage are a low priority. Take for example the Francis Street Museum building which was scrapped owing to an Asbestos issue. The building was closed in 2003 with about three million objects moved to the new Collection and Research Centre in Welshpool, where they remain to this day. Since then, the Barnett State Government has pledged to build a new museum at a cost of $428 million for completion by 2019-20. So it will take almost a decade to give Perth the museum space it desperately needs.

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Francis Street Museum building

    Another point is that the Museum of WA does not have the resources or space to embrace showing artefacts which comprehensively cover everything. The efforts therefore of individual collectors and small museum groups, who cover the niche areas, cannot be underestimated. The problem is the ongoing loss of rare items held in private hands that are not valued by their children, and thus too often get sold off or thrown on the rubbish tip.

We wish to thank Jude Carr, the Local History Librarian at the Midland Public Library and Paul Ward of Gregsons Auctioneers for the kind help provided in telling this story.

Lamenting the whittling away of our heritage

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