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International Museum Day - The Museum of Fire One Year After Re-Opening

Today, 18 May 2021, is International Museum Day; an event celebrated annually by the International Council of Museums (ICOM). This special day also coincides with Library and Information Week 2021, which is held from 17 to 23 May in Australia.

Last year, as the day rolled around, it was hard to find something to celebrate as we remained in lockdown with no known re-opening date in sight. One cause for positivity though was that on 18 May 2020, our Curator, Laura, was to commence in the role of Collection Manager at the Museum.

This year, things are looking much more positive and even though the last twelve months have brought their own trials and tribulations, the Museum of Fire epitomises the 2021 theme of International Museum Day – Recover and Reimagine.

As most of our blog readers will know, the Museum lost its long-time CEO, Mark White AFSM OAM, almost a year ago to the day. Since then, a lot has changed at the Museum. The number one reason being that we had to recover.

In order to recover, we’ve had to reimagine the Museum and what we offer. In the past, the Museum relied on a small number of major events to raise funds, however, in the current climate hosting a largescale event is almost impossible.

When I assumed the position of CEO, I had to hit the ground running and re-open the Museum. There was never any question about it – the minute we could, we HAD to re-open the Museum to the public as the pandemic had left the Museum in a very precarious position. Despite there being a renewed enthusiasm to visit local cultural centres, we had to establish the Museum as a safe and welcoming environment for the community.

Almost one year since we re-opened, I’m pleased to say we have recovered. To do so, we have had to successfully re-imagine the Museum. We’ve switched our focus to the Museum’s greatest asset – its collection and the history it encompasses. To engage with new audience, we’ve tried out new platforms such as this blog, a new approach to social media, the introduction of new smaller events based around history/heritage and, as funds become available, we are beginning to renew the dated displays inside the Museum.

Though we are moving forward, we are by no means forgetting the past and this sentiment has been emphasised by our latest temporary exhibition, aptly titled “Our Heritage”.

This exhibition was created to showcase the Museum and its history. As we began engaging with new audiences, we realised that not many people had heard of the Museum. One of the most commonly asked questions we were receiving was how a Museum on firefighting ended up in an old power station in Sydney’s west.

The old power station before it was transformed into a Museum, 1985

Utilising one of our newly reimagined gallery spaces, we decided to tell this story through some great images from the Museum’s collection. What is great about this exhibition is that it engages with existing audiences as it evokes a great sense of nostalgia, whilst also introducing the Museum to a range of new audiences.

The Museum’s history begins with the establishment of the Historic Fire Engine Association of Australia (HFEAA; now known as the Historic Fire Engine Association). Fuelled by their passion for historic fire engines, the Association’s first meeting was held in March of 1969.

The Museum at Alexandria, c. 1979

Over the following years the Museum was located at the NSW Fire Brigades (now FRNSW) Training College at Alexandria and it was there that the beginnings of today’s Museum was to be seen.

Following the expansion of the college, the Museum was moved to Walsh Bay and then into Pier 7 at Campbells Cove. After many years of uncertainty and several moves, the Museum finally was re-located to Penrith in the mid-1980s. Keep an eye on our blog as we share a guest writer’s piece on this final move.

Even if you think you know the story of the Museum, this is a great exhibition to check out and I’m pleased to say that it highlights how far the Museum has grown in the last twelve months.

On this International Museum Day, I can truly say that the Museum has recovered and is now constantly being reimagined.

One Year On - A Tribute to Mark White AFSM OAM

It has now been one year since the sudden passing of our former CEO, Mark White AFSM OAM. As an organisation, we wanted to pay tribute to Mr. White, Senior Firefighter, Whitey or any other nickname you might have known him by.

Our latest exhibition has only kept the team’s emotions running high when it comes to Mark and his involvement at the Museum. Due to his incredibly long association with the Museum, his face can be found in many of the old photos which tell the history of the place.

Mark put his heart and soul into the Museum, so it is only fitting that he is remembered and represented in the Museum as part of our heritage exhibition.

Mark put everything into being the guardian of the Museum. He is pictured here in 1985 working to open the Museum.

As I tried to think of exactly what I wanted to write to commemorate a year since Mark’s passing, I decided to re-visit what I wrote in the immediate hours after I heard the news last year. As I re-read my words, I was overcome with the exact same emotion that I felt one year ago.

Over the past twelve months I’ve found myself working so hard to re-build the Museum in the wake of the pandemic. At times I have asked myself “what would Mark do?”, but I had been forced to continue, which is why re-visiting my post evoked so much raw emotion.

Mark inspects the new Museum, 1986

Rather than come up with new words that will not do my feelings justice, I thought I’d share the personal account that I wrote last year. Looking back at what I said then, the words remain relevant today. If I didn’t know they were written a year ago, I’d assume they were written just yesterday.

"This was not how I expected today to go. For almost 6 years, I've worked with Mark and it has been one heck of a ride. His passion and support for the museum was infectious and I treasure having been able to have spent so much time with him.

We may not have always seen eye-to-eye on all projects but in all honesty, it was when we disagreed that we managed to produce some of the Museum's best work, as we had to compromise and work even closer together to come up with what always turned out to be an amazing outcome (though I would never admit that to him).

I know I've had so many moments today when I have felt myself channeling Mr. Mark and I'm sure he is up there laughing at me going "see I told you I did things for a reason", as he always did.

RIP I never realised just how much I would miss you. Thank You."

It has been an incredibly difficult but rewarding year and I look forward to a prosperous future for the Museum knowing that Mark would be proud with how the Museum has recovered and I hope he would be pleased with our future plans (although having worked with him for so long I know he’d hate some of my ideas but as he so often said to me “I’m the CEO remember?”.)

-Story by Museum of Fire CEO, Belinda McMartin


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