The story behind Our Rivers–Our History

By connecting objects and places through shared stories, Our Rivers – Our History has turned the Mid North Coast region into a hub of cultural experience.

The result of an Arts NSW Regional Museum Networking (RMN) grant, the collaborative project involving seven museums on the Mid North Coast from the Manning Valley to the Macleay, provides a new model for regional networking.

First awarded in 2013, the RMN grant was part of a Museums and Galleries of NSW (M&G NSW) idea to motivate small museums to work together to tell their stories with an eye towards strengthening collection documentation skills and boosting regional tourism.

Arts NSW saw the benefit and supported the initiative, and the Mid North Coast Chapter of Museums Australia was one of two projects who jumped in for the first round of funding. The other was the Identity: Stories of Significance project which united five museums through a partnership with Murray Arts and Albury LibraryMuseum.

The Mid North Coast Chapter had close pre-existing relationships with the group of small museums in their area which allowed them to quickly respond to the RMN grant when it was announced. They came forward with a proposal to engage consultants to advise and assist the museums and their volunteers to develop a web-based exhibition showcasing local museum collections and a river-based heritage trail.

The resultant online exhibition and website– the product of 18 museum volunteers working 3000 hours over 12 months to assemble objects and stories–presents the shared histories of the Manning, Camden Haven, Hastings and Macleay Rivers, and showcases some of the most significant objects held in the local museums relating to the rivers and coastal waters.

The river trails connect online content with physical places giving context to the exhibited objects and stories. Visitors are encouraged to get out and about to explore both the river system, and the participating museums. This engagement with the wider community results in a rich, cohesive experience for audiences and has ongoing benefits for the area.

Heritage sites, public art projects and local businesses are all included along the online guided tour. The community-based approach, integrating the museums and a cross-section of local establishments, creates opportunities for a range of cultural tourism activities in the region.

There’s a rich mix of information contained within the website which has been packaged for easy and intuitive online exploration. Access to multiple museum collections has resulted in the exhibition’s wide breadth of content and strong curatorial background, linking objects thematically and unbounded by geography.

Our Rivers – Our History is a powerful resource for the region to develop new audiences and enhance the cultural fabric of the Mid North Coast. It provides tourists and locals the tools to understand and appreciate how the rivers influenced economic development in the region, and how these histories have defined and continue to contribute to the identity of the area.

Two other RMN projects were funded the following year; one in Broken Hill and one in Wollongong. Both regions have unique and interesting stories to tell, so we’re excited to see the outcomes of their endeavours in 2016.

If you have a regional story and want to work with other community organisations and build cultural tourism products, Arts NSW’s Project funding accommodates these collaborative projects.

M&G NSW will be offering the RMN as part of the next round of Arts NSW devolved funding, opening March 2016.

M&G NSW is a not-for-profit organisation that receives core funding from the NSW Government through Arts NSW, with additional funding from project grants. M&G NSW is also assisted by the Commonwealth Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory board. 

The story behind Our Rivers–Our History was written by Emily Priddel, Information and Resources Officer, Museums & Galleries of NSW.

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Published: 12 October 2015