The Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka never stood a chance, say those closest to the project since its inception as the Eureka Stockade Centre in 1997.
Despite the debate in the Ballarat City Council chamber on Wednesday night, the decision to effectively close the almost five-year-old museum as MADE had already been determined prior to the meeting.
Submissions from the public on other issues at the marathon seven-and-a-half hour council meeting were met with vigorous questions and suggestions by councillors. Submissions on the future of MADE were met with polite acknowledgements, say those present.
Yum Studio creative director Erin McCuskey was a member of the public making a submission at the meeting.
She said it was a shame the entire MADE feasibility study had not been made public, rather than just the option preferred by councillors.
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- MADE’s future: Doesn’t Eureka deserve a better legacy?
- MADE, key choices and a vital presence in Ballarat
“Don't pretend that decisions are not roughly stitched up before council meetings,” said Ms McCuskey.
“It’s a basic lack of respect for the intelligence of your constituents. There was nothing specific in the agenda.”
“Eureka is the story unique to us and nationally significant. This museum is a direct connection to the national story. Those who want to minimise this story call it a small business rebellion; or talk about how the flag has been usurped by unions. Those who feel the gravitas of this story understand it as the joining together of people from many nations demanding a better life. And they died for it. Likely on this site
“To defund MADE, to rent out the space commercially, to create a community hub – these are options put to council in a feasibility report that has not been shared - this is a clear statement that Ballarat is not connected to our own story, let alone the national one.
“This iteration of MADE is the first that has actually spoken to me, as a woman, and my place in the story of Eureka, and my place in my democracy. This is not a story to be treated lightly with tin soldiers and snow domes. Let’s support the telling of the whole depth of this moving story.”
MADE was the recipient of a $10 million start-up from state and federal governments, topped up with $1.1 million from the Ballarat council, and funded by all three ever since its 2013 inception.
Initial director of the Eureka Centre in 2002 Ron Egeburg says the problems that culminated in MADE began with a cost overrun at the Eureka Centre in 1997.
“Half of our interpretive vision was cut,” said Mr Egeburg. “That magic of storytelling was missing.”
Mr Egeburg said the management of the changeover from the Eureka Centre was also poorly handled, with no increase in footprint of the building despite another cost overrun.
He says despite the Centre appointing three groups of consultants, council at the time appointed an architect and project manager without referral.
“It was a disaster,” say Mr Egeburg.
Despite his experience, he believes the plans are now in place for a better outcome, with the appointment of a steering committee and advisory group.
MADE CEO Rebecca MacFarling told The Courier the Eureka issue is always going to be contentious.
“The loss of MADE is saddening to me and probably everyone who has worked to create this wonderful museum,” said Ms MacFarling.
“While we didn’t have everything right, there was a lot to celebrate in it. I hope that whatever Council does next with the Eureka project builds on the last five years, rather than disregarding it altogether.
“MADE had two key things working against it: the reliance on a single funder – always a bad situation for a not-for-profit organisation - and its failure to win hearts and minds in Ballarat.
“The Eureka project is always going to be challenging. It needs the buy-in of both the local community and those passionate about Eureka, but gaining consensus on any issue to do with Eureka is almost impossible.”