Another respected Ballarat institution is again in the unenviable position of having to justify its future. There can be little doubt the site of the Eureka stockade is one of the most important places in the city’s, indeed the nation’s, history but how this place is utilised and commemorated in a museum at the site has never been as simple. Putting aside the controversy about the exact location of the nation-building events and the periodic attempts by some causes to “claim” the events, it’s importance to Ballarat and to all who visit the city looking to learn more about its history is paramount. At the same time this significance has not always translated into guaranteed visitor numbers.
While many military sites and museums have taken on a quasi-religious awe and are deemed must-see destinations in their own right; this guarantee is often missing from traditional museums or many important historical sites. The success of reinvention in a media saturated world often comes down to their ability to create an interactive experience and capture a single unmistakable spirit. It is not so much the lesson itself, which remains worth exploring, but the way it is conveyed. The transformation of the Eureka Centre into the acronym MADE took some significant steps in raising the profile; the transfer of the highly prized original Eureka flag being one substantial drawcard. But the broad concept of democracy, however valuable, was always going to be a tough sell. At the same time, how far does a museum need to go to get the people through the door? The dilemma poses the danger of potentially teetering toward a profit-driven theme park with too little respect or taste for the events that give it birth.
The Eureka site’s has had a varied past but there have at least been some constants in these vicissitudes; a respect for its value, both to the city and the nation, and collective good intentions about its future. But yet another constant has threatened to undo some of this work and that is the simple matter of cost. State and federal government’s despite largesse in funding the capital transformation have been less willing in the recurrent costs. These centres are expensive to run and Ballarat council has been left to largely shoulder the $1 million a year burden at $1 million a year of what could at the same time be considered a valuable national monument. Council too, presented with some 16 options from the viability report, will have to present recommendations about the direction from this difficult crossroad.