BE: Ballarat Historical Society strikes gold

IT probably goes without saying, the Ballarat Historical Society adores historical artefacts.

But when something bobs up out of the blue which chronicles the society's own history, well that is something to be celebrated indeed.

Last week the historic society struck gold. 

A set of meeting minutes dating back to society's birth 80 years ago virtually walked right off the street and into the Gold Museum.

John Rash, son of long-serving historical society Keith Rash, delivered them to the society after stumbling across them during a clean-up of his late father's house. 

The six-volume set of minutes included the very first notes taken by the group in the handwriting of foundation secretary Nathan Spielvogel.

"It is ironic that a society that collects and preserves records for a variety of things for Ballarat had lost its own records," Ballarat Historical Society president Andrew Wallace admitted.

"To have them turn up in a random way is pretty amazing."

The notation books went missing at some time during one of many moves the historical society has made during its own history. The society first met at the Ballarat Town Hall, then shifted to the Dana Street Primary School, the city library at Camp Street, the Ballarat East library building that is now part of Ballarat Secondary College and finally to its existing home at the Gold Museum. In all likelihood the offending move was the one between Camp Street to Ballarat East.

The minutes had obviously been in the care of Keith Rash, who had apparently kept them among his personal possessions for safe keeping. 

"We can realistically assume the careful stewardship of these valuable records was taken so seriously he kept them in his personal possession would they be lost," Mr Wallace said.

History is full of twists. When Keith Rash died about three decades ago, it meant what he feared came to pass - the minutes were lost.

For a historical society, the loss was keenly felt. 

"Any attempt to study our own history and the characters of the formation of the society was always frustrated because we didn't have those records," Mr Wallace explained.

"We imagined they were lost (for good) and have relied on sketchy and anecdotal accounts of the deliberations and initiatives of the way the history of Ballarat was being kept alive by the society of the years between 1933 and 1961."

The Ballarat Historical Society was moved to the Gold Museum at Sovereign Hill in 1981

Meanwhile, John Rash moved to Melbourne but at some point decided to clean out the former family home.

It was then he came across the minute book. He thought they looked important enough and might have some value, so he he made himself known to the Gold Museum curator Roger Trudgeon. 

"Roger took one look at the documents and realised the value of them as a record of the society's formation," Mr Wallace said. "He was absolutely gob smacked. We were led to believe these records were gone and irretrievable.

"The first I found out about them was the night after Roger had received the documents from John on the phone. As it happened there was a committee meeting of the society that night. Roger made an announcement at that meeting the lost records had been handed in." 

Mr Trudgeon has examined the documents since their discovery. 

He said they are in very good condition.

"They are all intact and in great shape," he Mr Trudgeon explained. "It's the holy grail as far as I'm concerned.

"We are trying to ascertain if we have a complete record now. I need to go back and check through all our records to see if we have a gap in the 60s.

"Basically we've had some copies of records from the very early years, in the 1933 to about 1936. Bits of information recorded by other sources such as The Courier. Back then The Courier reported on every meeting, who attended and what matters were discussed, so in lieu of the minutes themselves we had basic record. But obviously the minutes are more substantial, including some of the news clippings.

"Between 1936 and the early 1960s we had very little indeed. We're not sure if there is a gap now. The minutes fill a big gap but it is all so new and we haven't checked it." 

Mr Trudgeon said John Rash did not expect to find the documents because he had assumed his father had already passed the minutes to someone else. His father was a meticulous secretary dedicated to preserving the society's history. 

"I guess it is appropriate these documents have turned up when they have," Mr Trudgeon said. "It is a coincidence because we are celebrating our 80th year. A happy coincidence."

The Ballarat Historical Society's next project is to comb its own history through these minutes. It is a project Mr Wallace and Mr Trudgeon in particular are looking forward to. 

"The minutes we hope will help us know where a lot of our stuff actually came from," Mr Wallace said. 

"There may be a lot explanation about many things that have turned up in our collection. 

"We will also get a much better understanding of what the original members were hoping for the society, what they were thinking and doing at the time.

"We can now piece together the story of the society from the extraordinary detail of hundreds of meetings since the society was inaugurated at a meeting at the Ballarat Town Hall by the mayor of the day in July 1933." 

From April next year there will an exhibition featuring highlights from the Ballarat Historical Society's extensive collection. They will now include some of those early minutes that have turned up as during the 80th year itself.

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