2024 is shaping up to be a big year for Wagga’s Museum of the Riverina (MoR) with its two locations in tip-top shape and a full summer schedule to kick things off.
With the reopening of the main room in the historic council chambers last year and the completion of roadworks outside the new facility on Lord Baden Powell Drive, the MoR’s Angus Cawdell-Smith said visitor numbers were up.
“During our redevelopment, we had to use the chambers for storage, but now it’s opened back in its original glory and with the road reopening we’re getting a lot of people coming in to see the new building,” he said.
“At both of our sites, we’ve got lots going on.”
Three new exhibitions have recently been launched at the historic council chambers including the 2023 Bald Archy Prize, Tom Castro: The Man Who Never Was – exploring the legacy of Wagga’s most notorious butcher, and Lazy Days in Wagga Wagga, celebrating summers past.
“I think the thing that people enjoy the most about the Bald Archys is that it makes art fun and accessible,” said Angus.
“We find that a lot of our visitors sometimes don’t feel super open with art, but with the Bald Archys, it’s fun, it’s really accessible to the public and it lets people laugh.”
The tale of Tom Castro is a recurring theme in Wagga and the in-house curated exhibition revisits the story of a humble butcher who in 1865 declared himself to be the long-lost heir to the Tichborne family’s UK estates.
“The major argument about the story is whether Tom Castro was the heir to the Tichborne family fortune or not, and that has never been definitively proved,” said Angus, explaining that the ensuing court case was an international sensation and one of the longest trials in British history.
“I have thoughts on it, but I think people should come in and learn for themselves.
“Lazy Days in Wagga Wagga is another in-house curated exhibition and we’ve taken historic photos of people living their lives and relaxing … and we’ve colourised them – so it’s a new look at those images and really brings them to life in a new way.”
At the MoR’s newly opened Botanic Gardens site, Angus explained that they were offering a series of family-friendly holiday activities to keep the kids engaged and entertained over the summer.
“We have a whole series of free or low-cost drop-in activities at the museum,” he said.
“The favourite at the moment is probably the badge making, but we also have hat making workshops every week and family-friendly tours.”
The MoR has also joined forces with the popular Willans Hill Miniature Railway to operate the trains on 7 and 21 January and officially reopen the museum station.
“The miniature railway is a hugely popular attraction and an asset to the Botanic Gardens precinct,” Angus said.
“People can hop on the miniature train in the Botanic Gardens and ride it across to the museum, hop off, come in, enjoy the museum, have a free Zooper Dooper [ice block], hop back on the train and go back to the Botanic Gardens.
“Partnering with the Wagga Wagga Society of Model Engineers (WWSME) helps bring new audiences to the museum and we hope that, in turn, this partnership will help to attract new volunteers for the WWSME.”
You can learn more about what’s on at the Museum of the Riverina on their website.