The Eureka flag will remain at the Eureka Centre for now, as a public lobby group calls for the flag’s return to the Art Gallery of Ballarat.
The flag is on loan to the former Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (MADE) site from the Art Gallery of Ballarat.
A formal agreement was struck with MADE leadership to house the cultural artifact there when it was created, and following the museum’s dissolution this year, the agreement has continued on.
But a number of Ballarat residents and art curators, including former National Gallery of Australia director Dr Ron Radford and former Art Gallery of Ballarat director Margaret Rich, have asked for the flag to return to the gallery.
Councillor Mark Harris, who is currently the chair of the Art Gallery of Ballarat’s board, said all loans from the gallery are “reviewed quite closely every three months”.
“We said in the first instance to City of Ballarat that it would stay in the same place at the centre for now,” Cr Harris said.
“But from the time the flag went to MADE, there’s been a huge focus in the gallery community on where the flag would end up … it’s probably a 50/50 split between people who want it at the Eureka Centre and people who want to see it return to the gallery as a permanent exhibition.”
“In a funny way, part of the spirit of that flag is contested ownership.”
Cr Harris said the gallery had been approached by the Gold Museum to house the flag there, where it could be “maximized in its viewing”, with questions often raised about whether “hiding it away in Ballarat East” was the right choice for the Ballarat icon.
When council made the decision at a February ordinary meeting to wind up MADE, part of their resolution was to “retain the Flag for continued public access”. But the decision of where an item is loaned to is a decision of the gallery’s board.
Councillor Daniel Moloney, who was on the board of MADE before the museum was closed, said the flag was best displayed in “historical context” at the centre.
“It would definitely harm the ability to tell the ‘Eureka story’ there without the Eureka flag, it’s the main draw card to the site, if you remove it from Eureka Centre, it removes the ability to tell the story as well,” he said.
“Having the flag on the site originally freed up exhibition space in the centre of town for the gallery, while giving MADE a historical artifact. Ideally that arrangement continues, and council will be putting that case forward pretty strongly.”
Cr Harris said while it was the view of council the flag should stay at the centre, if the decision was made by the Art Gallery of Ballarat’s board to rescind the loan and put it back on permanent exhibition at their premises, it could be “incorporated back in”.
“That could work… it’s not that difficult to move, in the redevelopment of the gallery site it could include the flag.”
“The people of the City of Ballarat own the Eureka Flag, and the City of Ballarat is the custodian of that priceless piece of Australian and Ballarat heritage and history,” Mayor Samantha McIntosh said in a statement.