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Proposed Gippsland Archives and Interpretive Centre to promote pride of place

Federation University is working on establishing a Gippsland Archives and Interpretive Centre that aims to conserve the region’s heritage.

Led by Professor Erik Eklund and Professor Peter Fairbrother, the project is a partnership between Federation University, RMIT, and local industrial heritage museum PowerWorks.

The Gippsland Archives and Interpretive Centre would be a cultural and economic asset that gives Gippslanders control of and access to its diverse history, with an emphasis on Indigenous cultures, multiculturalism, working life, community, and local identity.

As Gippsland undergoes industrial and economic transformation, the cultural heritage that underpins these changes is increasingly at risk of being lost and forgotten.

And while some Melbourne-based information storage facilities are used by Gippsland industries and organisations, this ultimately reduces the region’s ability to take control of its own history, with no substantial regional archive currently existing east of Melbourne.

This lack of stewardship over the region's heritage adds to a sense of regional neglect, and reduces the capacity to address a pride of place agenda for Gippsland.

“The state of our written records and written heritage is quite fragmented,” Federation University’s Professor Erik Eklund said. “There are some record collections that are in good condition, but there are quite a few others that are kept in temporary premises or, even worse, that have been lost altogether.”

The scale of the problem overwhelms voluntary groups, who are currently working to preserve the region’s culture but often operate in isolation from each other.

The Centre is designed to work with existing resources and to assist these groups by providing a centralised repository that joins up and integrates their efforts.

“The Archive Centre is an attempt to bring together all of those diverse strands of small archives throughout the region through a more unified, region-wide approach where we can really look at conserving and protecting, but then also making available those materials as well,” Professor Eklund said.

He also stressed the importance of local organisations retaining ownership of their records.

“I think there’s a general premise that if a series of records are kept close to where they originated, then often they live in context and they have meaning in context.

“There may be records of a local business or a local council, and it’s often local users who would like to access them, so it makes sense for there to be accessibility at that level,” said Professor Eklund.

However, while local ownership is key to the Centre’s ethos, there is clear value in cataloguing the region’s heritage centrally. The Centre proposes to work closely with archive owners to achieve the right balance between local storage and regional coordination.

“We would certainly take note of [local] records and catalogue them, but we wouldn’t necessarily take ownership of them, particularly where they’re being cared for well at a local level. We would work with those partner organisations to ensure there’s access and appropriate conservation going on,” Professor Eklund said.

The Gippsland Archives and Interpretive Centre project team proposes that a major piece of cultural infrastructure be created to protect, conserve and share the region’s heritage.

The proposed Centre aims to be a flagship cultural and tourism hub linking other museums, archives and heritage sites in Gippsland, as well as providing an authoritative and accessible source of geotechnical, engineering, land use and planning records.

A standalone facility of architectural merit could potentially bring an estimated 100-150 construction jobs and 25 ongoing jobs in operations, conservation, education, outreach and security to Gippsland.

The proposed Centre’s approach has been designed specifically for the Gippsland region and its unique environment.

“You’re looking at a very dispersed region with lots of smaller towns and medium-sized towns, so our solution has to cater to that,” said Professor Eklund.

The project is currently in the early stage of development through its existing partners. Stage one consultations with historical societies, professional networks, local government, and other potential key stakeholders have been undertaken.

“We’ve secured some initial funding to write the business case for the Archive Centre, and that’s coming through Latrobe Health Assembly,” said Professor Eklund.

“There’s interest from the local government organisations throughout the region, and we have a current application in for some top-up funding with the Latrobe Valley Authority. So, we’ve made a good start on the business case and it’s a matter of bringing on board some more stakeholders as we go.”