I’m taking a short break from my ongoing rant on exhibition pet peeves to pay tribute to small town heritage heroes. Completely aware that they won’t be paid a cent for the work they do (or a shilling, which they’d probably prefer), they get out of bed to do it anyway. Because they love doing it. Because not doing it means that local heritage will be left to the discretion of developmental interests, which will not always preserve, recognise or record historical significance.
Today, small town heritage heroes were given the recognition they deserve at the 2014 NSW Government Heritage Volunteer Awards. I attended the ceremony because an organisation I have recently started volunteering with, the Hills District Historical Society, received an award acknowledging their voluntary contribution to local heritage conservation.
An example of the Hills District Historical Society’s recent work is a temporary exhibition created for the Castle Hill Show, entitled Back to School. Enveloped within craft displays, cake stalls and equestrian performances, a tin shed was transformed into an old classroom to showcase the history of education in the Hills District. Historical objects on display included class photographs, maps, blackboards, exercise books, uniforms, furniture, and other school memorabilia.
Participation in Back to School was highly encouraged. A quiz was established, in which visitors were presented with old maps of the Hills District and had to guess what was located there now. Children were also well catered for; they could experience what it was like to be at school in a bygone era, by sitting at an old wooden desk and drawing on blackboards with chalk. One child was a little confused though, not knowing what a blackboard was. When I told him, he proudly exclaimed “well, my school has SMART Boards!”
This exhibition is just one manifestation of the tireless effort of Hills District Historical Society volunteers over a long period of time. They also manage an entire museum, as well as regular public events and programs, without any help from paid staff (no biggie, though). Today’s recognition by the NSW Government, of them and other small town heritage heroes from across the state, is timely, hard-earned and well-deserved.