3 February 2023

The wait is (almost) over with the launch of Wagga's new museum space

| Chris Roe
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Museum of the Riverina

The Museum of the Riverina’s new building will soon open to visitors. Photo: Chris Roe.

The sun was shining on the redeveloped Museum of the Riverina (MoR) site at Wagga’s Botanic Gardens for today’s official launch.

“Relieved and a bit exhausted,” was how Museum Manager Luke Grealy summed things up as politicians, local dignitaries and contributors to the $8.6-million project poured into the new building.

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“I can’t quite believe that we’ve got the door open and we’re here, at least at the official opening.”

The Museum will not immediately open to the public but is already shaping up as a state-of-the-art facility telling the story of the region and showcasing the MoR’s collection.

Museum of the Riverina

The new MoR gallery space. Photo: Chris Roe.

Fittingly, it is the Wiradjuri people who hold pride of place at the entrance to the gallery, with a stunning collection of artefacts including bark canoes and nets suspended from the ceiling.

“Our culture is straight out in front where it should be,” said Wiradjuri Elder Aunty Mary Atkinson with a grin.

As lead curator Sam Leah explained, the collection spans the breadth of the region’s history.

“We’ve really focused on a place-based approach to interpretation and storytelling,” she said.

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“Bringing out stories about the Wiradjuri community about the early colonists and the frontier violence is something that we discuss in our museum.

“But also a lot of stories about growing up in Wagga like play days by the river, life in the 60s and 70s, the world at war, and of course, the sporting history.

“We couldn’t have a museum without telling those sorts of stories!”

Museum of the Riverina

The Museum of the Riverina’s new building will showcase a broad story of the region. Photo: Chris Roe.

NSW Minister for the Arts, Tourism and Aboriginal Affairs, Ben Franklin, shared his own family connections to Wagga and agreed that it was vital to have a broad understanding of our regional story.

“When we know about the history of our local area, we become closer to each other,” he said.

“We understand what our connection is to place and to community and to other people through our shared experiences.

“And this project means that the Museum of the Riverina is now it’s really beautifully positioned to get more of these extraordinarily inspiring stories out there into the community.”

He acknowledged the Welcome to Country from senior elder Aunty Isabel Reid and recognised the work done to tell a united story.

“The genuine collaboration between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people is the only way that we close the gap and we write the wrongs of the past,” he said.

“And I’m thrilled that this is an example of that.”

Museum opening

Aunty Isabel Reid, Mayor Dallas Tout and Minister Ben Franklin at the official opening. Photo: Chris Roe.

Mayor Dallas Tout said the museum redevelopment was a catalyst project that would “propel the new museum of the Riverina forward as a leader in this sector.”

“This investment in the Museum of the Riverina really matters and will yield many cultural dividends for our local and regional communities along with visitors to the city.”

Federal Member for Riverina Michael McCormack urged those assembled to get the message out.

“As Wagga Wagga-ites, we have the obligation to make sure that those stories continue to be told,”

“We’ve got the bricks and mortar, we’ve got the fantastic curators and the staff and council who will support this going forward.

“We need as a community and civic leaders to bring people up here so that they can see how proud we are of our city, and this is a great city.”

Museum of the Riverina

Wiradjuri items take pride of place in the new gallery. Photo: Chris Roe.

For Wagga Wagga & District Historical Society president Geoff Burch, it represents a chance to refocus the preservation and sharing of local history.

“It’s just fantastic, it’s a really good display and for us in the society, we’ve got a meeting room here and a place to store all our archives and administrative records.”

The relieved Luke Grealy said he can’t wait to share the new facility with the public in the coming months and nominated a couple of highlights.

“For me, the highlight is the return of the wooden Wiradjuri objects from the Australian Museum to Wagga Wagga because that’s an Australian first for a national institution to return objects to a regional area,” he said, indicating the clubs, shield and a shovel displayed by the entrance.

“The other really interesting highlight was getting the Fife family cooks galley into the building, which was a logistical challenge getting it conserved and cleaned and then the installation.”

The redeveloped Museum of the Riverina Botanic Gardens site is expected to be opened to the public in Autumn.

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