Strengthening local communities The community museums pilot project report

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Strengthening local communities

The community museums pilot project report:

Supporting historical societies, museums, Indigenous keeping places, mechanics institutes, archives, botanic gardens and genealogical societies
Image: Art Victoria Logo

Image 2: DPCD logo

Prepared by

This report was prepared by Jeanette Pope, Research Manager, Policy and Strategy, Department for Planning and Community Development (DPCD).

October 2009


The report is based on case studies collected by Marina Larsson (DPCD), a program achievement audit collected by Karlie Hawking (DPCD), and focus groups and Steering Committee interviews collected by an independent research company.

It was written in consultation with the Community Museum Pilot Project Steering Committee comprising of representatives from Arts Victoria and the Department of Planning and Community Development (Heritage Victoria, Policy and Strategy Division, and Adult Community and Further Education).

Museums Australia (Victoria) award

Karlie Hawking, the Community Museums Officer described in this report, won a 2009 Museums Australia (Victoria) award for her work on this project.


More information about the program or this report can be obtained from:

Christopher McDermott
Phone (03) 8683 3202

If you would like to receive this publication in an accessible format, such as large print or audio, please telephone Jeanette Pope on (03) 9208 3849, or email

Other reports in this series
Other reports in the Strengthening Local Communities series (available at

An overview of research examining the benefits of Neighbourhood Houses. 2005. DVC: Melbourne.

Arts in community settings – the evaluation of two community support funded arts programs. 2006. DVC: Melbourne.

Integrated local area planning in growth suburbs – the evaluation of the Caroline Springs Partnership. 2007. DVC: Melbourne.

Caption: Castlemaine Art Gallery & Historical Museum volunteer with the painting “Three Roses” c. 1910 painted by A. M. E. Bale (1875-1955).


Community museums are one of Victoria’s great resources.

Over 740 museums hold more than 1.5 million objects of importance to local communities, many of which are of state and national significance. By reminding us about who we are and where we have come from, community museums help shape and sustain our sense of identity and connection to place.

One of the most obvious features of community museums is that they are run locally by people of commitment and passion. That is their strength. Volunteers commit their time and considerable skills to the important role of making sure that community stories are recorded, unique heritage collections are cared for and protected, and that the history and character of our towns and cities remain accessible to Victorians. The recent bushfires have demonstrated how important a community’s sense of identity and history is to their resilience.

The Goldfields Community Museums Pilot project described in this report arose from the recognition by Government that community museums play a major role in building a sense of place and community pride, both of which are important contributors to the strength of a local community. Its objective was to strengthen the links between community museums and the many government and local community organisations that are in a position to aid museums in connecting with their communities.

This report demonstrates that with the right assistance and links, community museums can establish a sustainable path for their future. It highlights how they provide an important place for people to celebrate their cultural identity, share common interests, creatively present objects and tell stories of Victoria’s past and engage in learning and volunteering.

Based on the success achieved to date, we have extended this project for a further two years.

We want to extend our thanks to all those volunteers and organisations involved in the Community Museums pilot project and we look forward to hearing of future success.

Image: Peter Batchelor MP Signature

Peter Batchelor MP
Minister for Arts

Image: Lily D’Ambrosio MP’s Signatures

Lily D’Ambrosio MP
Minister for Community Development

Image: Justin Madden MLC ‘s Signature

Justin Madden MLC
Minister for Planning

Image: Bronwyn Pike MP ‘s Signature

Bronwyn Pike MP
Minister for Skills and Workforce Participation

Caption: At the Central Deborah Gold Mine volunteers present underground tours for locals, visitors and school groups.


Foreword 3

Introduction 5

Conserving our heritage 6

Building stronger communities 7

Communities, change and sustainability of community museums 9

A pilot project to support community museums 10

Demonstration projects 13

Information forums and training 15

Evaluation findings: the value of a community museums broker 16

Success factors 18

Conclusion 19

References 20

Caption: A volunteer from the Landsborough & District Historical Group with the DVD titled ‘From Gold to Grapes: The Story of Landsborough’. The DVD, created in partnership with Landsborough Festivals, won the 2007 Victorian Community History Award for Best Audio-Visual / Multimedia.


Victoria has more than 740 community collecting organisations – two thirds of which are in regional towns and cities. They take many forms including historical societies, museums, Indigenous keeping places, mechanics institutes, archives, botanic gardens and genealogical societies. They are largely locally formed and involve thousands of volunteers collecting and conserving natural, cultural and Indigenous objects and records. Together they are the local custodians of an estimated 1.5 million cultural heritage items across Victoria (Hallett 2003 (unpublished)).

This report examines the important role of these organisations in communities – in conserving our heritage and building stronger communities – and describes the results of a Victorian Government pilot project established to support them. The pilot involved employing a Community Museums Officer as a ‘broker’ to work with the different organisations to explore opportunities and address the issues they faced. These included attracting volunteers and audiences, managing and maintaining their collections, and finding new ways to present stories about significant objects and collections.

The pilot has led to some innovative collaborations and projects that have improved the sector, strengthened collecting organisations’ role in communities, and increased access to significant historical objects and stories.

In this report, for convenience, community collecting organisations will be collectively referred to as ‘community museums’.

Caption: The education program at Kirrit Barreet Aboriginal Art and Cultural Centre engages school groups, the local community and tourists with local Aboriginal culture.

Conserving our heritage

A large number of organisations are involved in protecting Victoria’s heritage. The three tiers of government (local, state and federal) all have legislative responsibilities (for example the Victorian State Government administers the Victorian Heritage Act 1995 and the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006) and all run programs that fund and support museums. This includes funding national, state and regional museums (for example, the National Museum of Australia, Museum Victoria, the Sovereign Hill Museums Association Gold Museum). Federal, state and local government also support the local community museums that are the subject of this report, mainly through grants and the provision of land/buildings etc, but these organisations are largely independent from government. They are locally formed not-for-profit organisations that are typically run by volunteers on budgets of less than $5,000 a year (Freeman 1993; Brophy 2002).

The primary function of community museums is to collect, conserve and make accessible historical objects and records that describe the past. The material housed in community museums offers insight into the richness and diversity of generations of Indigenous, settler and migrant peoples. Community museums therefore have a critical role in conserving, sharing and developing Victoria’s identity and sense of place. They connect people to important stories and traditions, and enable us to experience a little of the lives of others. Community museums help tell us about our identity: who we are today, where we come from, and what we aspire to in the future.

The combined community museums collection across Victoria is unique and irreplaceable. Its accumulation represents an enormous investment of community time and effort and the collection contains material of local, state and national significance.

I enjoy working for the Blacksmith Cottage because I believe we need to preserve and enjoy our history. Knowing our history helps us to understand our present. It is good to set up a genuine cottage with items which give the visitors a little insight into the life of the people who lived and worked there.

Moira Smith – Bacchus Marsh Blacksmith Cottage & Forge

It is very rewarding and satisfying to help members and others find information relating to their ancestors. The joy that people experience as they learn to follow clues and make links from the information found in our society’s collection helps to encourage me and other volunteers in our society to provide all the support and assistance that we can.

Joan Hunt – Ballarat & District Geneaology Society

Caption: A volunteer at the Golden Dragon Museum, Bendigo holds the Heritage Council Victoria Heritage Registration (H2120) for Loong the Chinese Dragon. Loong arrived in Bendigo from China in c.1892.

Building stronger communities

While community museums are important for conserving and communicating our heritage, they also generate other benefits for communities.

They foster community participation and provide opportunities for community members to make connections and build social networks (Hoskins & Webber 2003). They provide a network of cultural facilities – exhibition spaces, meeting rooms, workshops, sheds, reading rooms – that Victorians not only visit but use to meet, work, learn and socialise. It has been estimated that more than a quarter of Australians visit museums annually (28% in 2006 (ABS 2006)) and membership of local historical societies and museums has been estimated to be as high as 16% in some communities (Hamilton & Ashton 2003).

As well as general participation, community museums create opportunities for volunteering, work experience and life-long learning (through their exhibitions, genealogy research, seminars, etc) (Hoskins & Webber 2003). These activities create enjoyable social experiences, generate skills and provide an avenue for meaningful activity in community life. In 2006 nearly 37,000 volunteers were involved in the arts/heritage sector (ABS 2006).

I enjoy working with community volunteers to preserve and record our goldfields’ heritage for future generations. I admire their knowledge and skills, and value the opportunity to learn new skills in cataloguing, documenting significance and creating displays, as well as being part of a network of museums.

Tiina Mugler – Talbot Arts & Historical Museum

The Lake Goldsmith Steam Preservation Society owns the 38 acre site which houses the most diverse collection of industrial and agricultural equipment in the southern hemisphere. Our members take great delight in welcoming thousands of visitors to our two weekend rallies each year, in May and November. Of course many thousands of hours are spent between rallies restoring the machines and preparing them for those weekend displays. On the site are some 50 individual display sheds, all but eight of which are privately owned. Each shed houses collections as diverse as large diesel and petrol engines, milk separators, tools, and large boilers and steam engines. The members are never happier than when they tend their displays and this makes for a really enjoyable social scene. Who wouldn’t enjoy working at such a place?

Clive Phillips – Lake Goldsmith Steam Preservation Association

If diverse groups in communities are involved – for example, if museums connect older and younger or recently arrived with established residents – it can promote social inclusion and community harmony (DVC 2006). Volunteering can also lead to involvement in decision-making on committees of management, and this provides an avenue for residents to come together to consider how they could improve community life, solve problems and respond to community crises (DVC 2006). Involvement in community museums is therefore one way residents can have a voice in community life.

Over and above participation, some community museums make an important contribution to tourism and therefore local economies. Benefits can include new businesses, jobs, higher property values and diversification of local economies (Cultural Heritage Tourism 2009). The development of tourism can also improve quality of life for residents as they take advantage of the services and attractions tourism brings (Cultural Heritage Tourism 2009). Cultural tourism provides one way communities can develop economically, and improve their amenity, while holding onto the characteristics that make them special.

Finally, community museums contribute to a community’s sense of identity and local pride. They foster feelings of belonging to, and enjoyment of, living in a place (Sandell 2002; Hoskins & Webber 2003; Crooke 2007). They can act as ‘memory hubs’ that link people to place and affirm why and how particular communities matter (Hoskins & Webber 2003).

The role of local museums is to engage with their surrounding histories, cultures and environments. They seek to interpret and reflect on the local past and deepen understanding of the present. They collect and preserve significant aspects of a region’s material and visual culture. They provide a window on the creative talents and cultural expressions of a region. If they are truly connected with their surrounding community, they operate as fora for public debate and reflection.

Ian McShane. Article on Inside Story website (McShane 2009).

Caption: Talbot Arts & Historical Museum volunteers stand on the concrete slab of the new facility for the communications collection.

Caption 2: Volunteers learn and use computer skills in their work at the Clunes Museum.

Communities, change and sustainability of community museums

Community museums, like all community organisations, are not static. They change as their communities change. Over time communities grow, decline and change composition. Their circumstances change, as do local economies, and the social aspects and interests of their members. Change brings new challenges and community organisations need to be dynamic to survive and thrive (DPCD 2007).

Community organisations are often at the forefront of meeting changing patterns of community interest and social need. Their ability to grow and innovate is crucial to their long term sustainability.

Stronger Community Organisations Project report (DPCD 2007)

In addition to these broad changes, community museums face specific challenges related to the demands of protecting/expanding their objects and records over time, revitalising ageing facilities, developing skills in the sector, finding ways to connect to visitors and running organisations on small budgets and volunteer labour.

Volunteering represents a particular challenge. Victoria’s Volunteering Strategy 2009 shows volunteering is changing. There is an increasing preference, particularly amongst young people, for episodic volunteering rather than ongoing commitments (DPCD 2009a). Young people are also increasingly looking at volunteering as a way of gaining skills and an entry point to employment, and volunteers in general expect higher levels of management and support systems from organisations (DPCD 2009a). Community organisations are therefore faced with increasingly complex and formal management of activities for volunteers (such as skills development and training) but with less time commitment in return (DPCD 2009a).

The Victorian Government understands the challenges faced by community museums and strongly supports attempts to strengthen their role in social and economic life (DPCD 2007). Supporting the sector however, is complex because of the huge diversity of organisations involved. Government wants to recognise and promote this diversity and support the autonomy of small organisations to develop in their own ways. This means finding ways to be flexible in addressing the different issues faced by organisations, both large and small. One-size-fits-all support is unlikely to work in this area.

For these reasons the Victorian Government decided to test a model of support to community museums through a Community Museum Pilot Project.

Caption: Both past and current service history are on display at the Bendigo RSL & Soldiers Memorial Hall & Museum. A volunteer stands in front of a uniform worn by an Australian soldier in Iraq in 2005 holding a telegraph sent to the parents of Pte A Symes who died at sea during WW1 .

A pilot project to support community museums

In 2007 the State Government established a two year pilot project to examine ways it could support community museums.

The pilot, run by Arts Victoria and the Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD), was focused on the Central Goldfields region of Victoria (Figure 1) – which spans the Local Government Areas of Ararat, Ballarat, Central Goldfields, Golden Plains, Greater Bendigo, Hepburn, Loddon, Moorabool, Mount Alexander, Pyrenees and Macedon Ranges. Appendix A describes the Arts Victoria and DPCD policy context under which this work fell.

The pilot involved employing a Community Museum Project Officer as a broker to run demonstration projects to explore opportunities and address the issues faced by individual community museums in:

– attracting new and diverse volunteers and audiences;

– forming new collaborations and partnerships to increase opportunities for learning and growth;

– managing collections and accessing resources, skills and infrastructure needed to ensure collections are properly maintained; and

– identifying and presenting stories triggered by significant objects and collections.

Caption: Volunteers at the Linton & District Historical Society share morning tea.

Image: Figure 1. The Central Goldfields region – the location of the pilot.

In addition to the demonstration projects, the broker organised information forums and training for the sector and was a source of expertise and knowledge for non-demonstration project community museums looking for assistance for issues such as:

– funding for building maintenance, extensions, new buildings;

– grant applications; and

– museum operations (interpretation, cataloguing).

Some examples of demonstration projects and information sessions are provided in the following section to give a sense of the breadth of the work of the broker.

Over 60 Goldfields community museums have received some support over the period of the pilot (Table 1). That support has been provided in partnership with a range of other organisations the broker worked with including:

– the DPCD Grampians and Loddon Mallee Local Teams;

– the City of Greater Bendigo and City of Ballarat and the rural councils of Mount Alexander and Macedon Ranges;

– the Royal Historical Society of Victoria;

– Museums Australia (Victoria);

– the Bendigo Art Gallery;

– Immigration Museum (Museum Victoria);

– Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre;

– the Sovereign Hill Museums Association;

– the Public Record Office Victoria;

– the Goldfields Employment and Learning Centre;

– the Daylesford Neighbourhood Centre;

– Ballarat Collections Network;

– Central Highlands Historical Association;

– Regional Arts Victoria; and

– participating artists including: Malcolm McKinnon (film maker), Julie Millowick (photographer), Ratartat: Geoff Bonney and Peter Widmer (visual artists), Fiona Blair (performance artist), Berni M Janssen (writer / performer / multi- media artist), Sarah Cathcart (performing artist).

Caption: A Friends of the Kyneton Museum volunteer looks after the c. 1863 family wagonette of Joseph Palmer, an early Kyneton solicitor.

Table 1. The Goldfield community museums that have received support from the pilot.

Arapiles Historical Society

Ararat & District Historical Society

Avoca & District Historical Society

Bacchus Marsh & District Historical Society

Bacchus Marsh Blacksmith Cottage & Forge Project Special Committee

Ballaarat Mechanics Institute

Ballarat & District Genealogical Society

Ballarat Archives Centre, Public Record Office Victoria

Ballarat Tramway Museum

Beaufort Historical Society

Bendigo Historical Society

Bendigo Joss House

Bendigo Regional Archives Centre

Bendigo RSL & Soldiers Memorial Hall & Museum

Bendigo Steam & Oil Engine Preservation Group

Bendigo Tramways

Bendigo Trust

Blackwood & District Historical Society

Buda Historic Home & Garden

Campaspe Run

Carisbrook Historical Society

Castlemaine Art Gallery & Historical Museum

Castlemaine Historical Society

Central Deborah Gold Mine

Clunes Museum

Cornish Association of Bendigo & District

Creswick Museum

Daylesford & District Historical Society

Daylesford Spa Country Railway

Eaglehawk Heritage Society

Elmore Progress Association Museum

Golden Dragon Museum

Goldfields’ Historical & Arts Society

Harcourt Valley Heritage Centre

Huntly & District Historical Society

Inglewood & District Historical Society

Inglewood Development & Tourism Committee

J Ward Museum Complex

Kirrit Barreet Aboriginal Art & Cultural Centre

Kyneton Historical Society

Kyneton Museum

Lake Goldsmith Stream Preservation Association

Landsborough & District Historical Group

Learmonth & District Historical Society

Linton & District Historical Society

Maldon Museum & Archives Association

Maryborough Midlands Historical Society

Mortuary Museum Bendigo

Newstead & District Historical Society

Sovereign Hill Museums Association Gold Museum

St Arnaud & District Historical Society

Talbot Arts & Historical Museum

The Eureka Centre

University of Ballarat Art & Historical Collection

Wedderburn Museum

Woady Yaloak Historical Society

Woodend & District Heritage Society

Caption: Captain John Hepburn’s Red Ensign flag is cared for by Creswick Museum volunteers.

Demonstration projects

The collection assessment project saw the broker work with five community museums to trial a collection significance assessment tool developed by Heritage Victoria (Victoria’s Framework of Historical Themes (Heritage Victoria 2007)). The tool allows museums to assess their heritage places, collections and objects so they can consider the best ways to maintain and manage them. The trial uncovered significant objects that triggered new exhibits including other demonstration projects (for example, see The Exchange: the Linton Party Line project).

The OBJECTS, FACES, PLACES: Community Museums project created a touring exhibition to celebrate and promote a range of community museums from the Victorian Goldfields region through a photographic exhibition. Via the broker thirty-three community museums from the Goldfields submitted an expression of interest and a professional photographer visited each, taking photos of their volunteers with the historical objects in their care. Through a further broker assisted grant the exhibition toured the region to promote the community museums (to Sovereign Hill Museums Association Gold Museum; Kyneton Museum; Bendigo RSL Museum; Arts Victoria Foyer; and Central Goldfields Art Gallery). The project demonstrated a novel way for community museums to join up to promote themselves.

The Exchange: the Linton Party Line project involved a collaboration between the Linton & District Historical Society and four local artists (visual artists, a performer and a writer). They created an interactive exhibition where visitors can pick up the receiver of a 1937 telephone exchange, plug into one of four lines on the switchboard, and hear about life in Linton from the 1850s onwards. The stories came from interviews with Linton residents, readings from Linton’s Grenville Standard, and snippets from local historian Letty Armstrong talking about objects in the collection. Local schools are now working with the Historical Society to develop new history programs based on the exhibit. The project began when the broker organised the first ever significance assessment of the Society’s collection and assisted with securing a grant to purchase digital sound recording and editing equipment. This project demonstrated a new way to create visitor experiences through collaboration with other organisations including those in the arts and education.

Caption: One of the most popular images from the OBJECTS, FACES, PLACES: Community Museums exhibition shows a volunteer stoking the boiler at Lake Goldsmith Steam Preservation Association.

Image: “Allo, allo: everyone used to listen in on the old party line as Christopher McDermott from Arts Victoria, Letty Armstrong and Rosemary Manlon were trying to do, at the Linton phone exchange launch ...” – Golden Plains Miner Thursday May 16 2009.

Letty Armstrong passed away in October 2009. She was one of the founding members of the Linton & District Historical Society in 1981 and provided 28 years of dedicated service as its Secretary.

The Ballaarat* Mechanics Institute: volunteer management and development plan project bought the Institute together with the City of Ballarat to develop a plan to ensure the best possible experience for volunteers. Founded in 1859, the Ballaarat Mechanics’ Institute is one of the State’s largest community museums. It has a large archive collection of documents and objects, a library that includes old and rare books and runs talks and tours. It has recently commenced a $4.5 million refurbishment plan for its historic building and has matched this with a volunteer plan to attract about 100 new volunteers to run the expanded range of activities at the site. The plan outlines a recruitment strategy, volunteer management practices, position descriptions (in areas such as visitor enquiries, reading room support, exhibition display and building tours), and the needs and funding sources for training. This project demonstrated how planning with a range of partners can make a community museum an attractive experience for volunteers, thereby increasing its sustainability.

The State-wide Art Deco 2008 regional festival project linked local community museums to the festival accompanying the National Gallery of Victoria’s international art exhibition Art Deco: 1910-1939. The broker advertised the festival and assisted community museums from the Goldfields to run exhibitions, events, tours, activities and lectures within it. Examples of festival activities included a bus tour of Maryborough’s Art Deco buildings and houses, an exhibition of domestic items in an historic home in Castlemaine and walking tours in Ballarat. Over 7,000 people attended the festival across Victoria and increased visitor numbers were reported by the community museums and cultural institutions involved. 57% of the visitors (over 4,000) reported they were “first-time” visitors to the venues. A survey of the visitors found they spent an average of $43 whilst attending the festival which means around $300,000 was spent by tourists attending the festival – most in regional Victoria. There are likely to be other indirect benefits created from the cross-over and collaboration of cultural, arts and tourism sectors and the development and utilisation of local skills and talents (Museums Australia (Victoria) acquittal report to Arts Victoria on Art Deco 2008 Regional Festival (unpublished)). This project demonstrated how collaboration, and being able to link to “the bigger picture”, helped community museums create a genuine tourism product.

* The double ‘a’ spelling of Ballarat was used in the first official survey of the area in 1851. When the new Ballarat City Council was gazetted in 1994 the single ‘a’ version was adopted. The original spelling can still be seen on buildings and is used by the Ballaarat Mechanics Institute.

Caption: Making volunteers central to the development of the Ballaarat Mechanics Institute will engage a new generation of members and visitors and make the Institute a vibrant cultural hub within Ballarat’s Arts Precinct.

Other demonstration projects included:

– The Culture Victoria Central Goldfields Pilot tested a ‘self-publishing’ model for contribution of content to the Culture Victoria website.

– The Celebrating the Centenary of Women’s Suffrage in Victoria project involved a collaboration between the Castlemaine Art Gallery & Historical Museum and an artist to produce a the short documentary film ‘Validating Women’s Work in a New Nation’ for the Centenary of Women’s Suffrage (McKinnon 2008).

– The Wombat Hills Tales and Trails project saw adult education students from the Daylesford Neighbourhood Centre research and develop interpretive material for a walking trail based on the Daylesford & District Historical Society’s collection.

– The Working with Others: Community Museums and Adult and Community Education (ACE) Organisations project brought these agencies together to network. The networking triggered some collaborative project ideas and small grants were given to support these. For example, volunteers from the Castlemaine Historical Society undertook food handling certificate training through ACE for their functions and fundraising ; and

– Making links with Tourism Victoria to explore community museums as an asset to tourism.

Caption 1: The Heritage listed Castlemaine Art Gallery & Historical Museum, with its classic art deco design, was built in 1931 .

Caption 2: The Bendigo RSL & Soldiers Memorial Hall & Museum at dawn.

Information forums and training

In addition to the demonstration projects, the broker held a series of information and discussion forums for the sector. The forums provided an opportunity to share experiences and gain insight into collection development, exhibition and education practices. Each forum was organised around a key issue and was led by a museum industry specialist. They included:

– Developing Heritage Collections – the Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre Sydney;

- Community Museums, Education and Lifelong Learning – Sovereign Hill Museums Association and Morrison House (an adult and community education provider);

– Sharing Heritage Collections – an actor, writer, director and teacher of theatre who had a residency with the State Library of Victoria; and

– Museums, Diversity and Social Inclusion – the Immigration Museum.

Each forum was attended by over thirty people and feedback surveys were positive. All but two participants reported the forums had provided them with ideas and strategies that they would apply in their own community museums in areas such as planning, education, exhibitions, generating greater community involvement and use of technology. The informal networking that occurred at the forums was also reported as helpful in considering how to do things better.

The forum opened my eyes to what we could do.

Forum attendee

A real benefit of these evenings is often the chatter that takes place over the supper table ... [we] were able to obtain valuable information concerning digitisation of images’.

Focus group participant

The broker also organised for training to be brought to the region. For example, they worked with the Royal Historical Society of Victoria to develop low cost local training in cataloguing software and Museums Australia (Victoria) sent collection management and significance assessment training to the area on the basis of the pilot being in operation.

...during her time there’s been a good steady stream of useful [training] particularly for people who are new to the local history movement. It’s been good grounding stuff ...

Focus group participant

Caption 1: A volunteer looks over the Mr L. J. Mooney collection donated to the Ararat & District Historical Society in 1956.

Caption 2: A Daylesford Spa Country Railway volunteer with a former Station Master’s desk lamp.

Evaluation findings: the value of a community museums broker

Eighteen months into the two year pilot a number of evaluation activities were undertaken to gather information about the projects and feedback from the forums. Representatives of key community museums were interviewed in a focus group and the Steering Committee and broker were interviewed individually by an independent research company.

All parties involved with the program felt the broker model in general, and this particular broker specifically, was successful. They would all like to see the role continue and be expanded to other geographic areas.

Representatives from the community museums saw the broker as helpful for five reasons.

1. Connecting the sector

The first was that they kept a bird’s eye view over, and helped make sense of, what is a complicated sector (“it’s a bit of a spider’s web”). This connected community museums to opportunities they may not otherwise have heard about and gave them someone they could approach if they wanted to know something. It also meant someone was ensuring activities (such as forums) were not duplicated and wasting precious volunteer time.

... the universe can look a bit like the Balkans but now you’ve got someone pulling all that together. That’s been tremendously valuable ...

Focus group participant

The broker was also able to look for common issues and bring people together to resolve them. For example, one forum was held in response to feedback from small community museums wanting to know how they could interact with school groups more effectively. Participants reported they gained a better understanding of what schools are looking for, what the teachers are looking for, and what they might need to do to encourage the connection.

Caption: At the Campaspe Run (Elmore Agricultural Museum) a long time supporter stands with a HV McKay Harvester, Ballarat c. 1902.

2. Fostering collaboration

The second reason the broker was seen as useful was that they fostered collaborations between community museums and other organisations, for example, in education, tourism, the arts and local government. Community museums appreciated the networking opportunities provided and had used these to source new information, think about operating differently and find funds. State and local government representatives also reported the networking allowed them to find ways to be involved in the aspects of the community museums work that linked to their objectives (for example, conserving heritage or community building).

The broker model was seen as well suited to building collaboration because the broker could look at each community museum’s case separately. Some were “collaboration-ready” and wanted to take formal action to partner with others, while others were just interested in opportunities to “meet and greet”.

... I just thought that was wonderful ... meeting other people and just that networking opportunity so now we all know lots of people from other similar groups ....

Focus group participant

3. Supporting volunteering

The third reason the broker was seen as useful was for examining new approaches to support volunteering. Training and professional sector skills development was particularly appreciated, with focus group participants commenting on the value of having training bought to the volunteers, saving them time and money.

4. Locating and leveraging resources

The fourth reason the broker was seen as useful was for locating and leveraging resources. This included finding and applying for the right grants and considering ways of sharing facilities and resources. Of note in the focus groups was discussion about new ways to combine purchasing power across organisations to achieve more and get better outcomes.

... you’ve got to manage a constellation of funding providers each offering small amounts of money for which small community museums compete against one another ... and you put all that money together you’d get a better outcome across all of those groups. Just working with [the broker] on a couple of projects ... her awareness of where funding is available and how to position your application better with her knowledge of who’s talking about the same thing ... It means that you can add strength to a funding application which might cross a region or an area ... that has more chance of being successful. Rather than putting us constantly in competitive situations with one another sometimes just by ignorance of not knowing what everyone else is doing or wanting to achieve.

Focus group participant

5. Advocating back to government

The final reason community museums appreciated the broker was that the role was seen as impartial and was therefore able to take information about their issues back to government, particularly those related to funding.

There should be [brokers] around Victoria on a broader basis than there are... [they need to] look not just at training for volunteers but [to change] government direction in funding.

Focus group participant

The funding has always been a vexed question and will always be and governments do tend to have little bits scattered to the four winds. Annual grants come out and everybody scratches their head and tries to look at the criteria and ‘this doesn’t fit, that doesn’t fit’ and all of us try and conjure up something that might squeeze through the eye of a needle. That’s sort of ridiculous. One of the most effective programmes that was run in recent years was by Museums Australia [Victoria]. They had a pot of money, it wasn’t an enormous amount, but they just sent a person around to look and talk [which gave you a better] chance of getting funding.

Focus group participant

Caption 1: Significant historical stories are uncovered as volunteers research the suffragettes of the Maryborough region at the Maryborough Midlands Historical Society.

Caption 2: Ballarat & District Genealogical Society volunteers engage with the community and tourists as they present the Ballarat Cemetery tour.

Success factors

Brokers have been demonstrated to have worked in other sectors where success relies on the collaborative action of a range of agencies from federal, state and local government, community organisations and business.

In 2008 DPCD published the results of a large evaluation that examined brokers from ten programs dealing with complex issues ranging from the development of new growth area suburbs, urban regeneration, Aboriginal community development, and regional sport and transport development (Pope & Lewis 2008). The evaluation reported that a good broker was the main factor behind the success of a project. The reasons for this were similar to those described above, in particular those related to keeping a bird’s eye view over the bigger picture, fostering cooperation and providing organisations with assistance in finding opportunities and resources (Pope & Lewis 2008).

In the large study, successful brokers were reported to have particular skills and experience, specifically:

– communication, networking, facilitation and negotiation skills;

– project management skills;

- local knowledge and some standing in the community at a leadership level;

– knowledge of the workings of state and local government;

– to be seen as independent by all partners; and

– to be highly personable and enthusiastic (Pope & Lewis 2008).

These skills were also reported as the reason the community museums broker was successful. Both the Steering Committee and the community museums reported the broker had the right professional and communication skills and connections to government. It was also viewed as important that the broker was from the local area and had a museums background – which gave the broker a good understanding of the sector in the region.

An interview with the broker revealed other factors they felt were critical to success. These were:

– focusing on a large enough area to have a critical mass of community museums but also geographically small enough to maximise the ability to foster networks between community museums;

– locating the broker within a DPCD local team area (of which there are five regionally) to capitalise on the opportunity to link the community museums to the “bigger picture” community, regional development and planning projects running from the local teams;

– ensuring the broker’s region has:

a well-resourced regional cultural facility (such as a museum or gallery) to provide an auspice and some infrastructure support for projects;

at least one local government in the area with some capacity and willingness to support the work; and

a State Government Steering Committee, representing a broad range of investors and stakeholders, to foster relationships with State Government and increase the brokers ability to leverage resources from State agencies.

For this region it also helped to have an overarching tourism element/theme (“gold” in the Goldfields) to assist in linking community museums through a common interest, although it is acknowledged this may not be apparent for all regions.

Caption 1: The Worsley Historical Cottage, built in 1894, is home of the Maryborough Midlands Historical Society.

Caption 2: The Langi Morgala Museum is home to the Ararat & District Historical Society

Caption 3: This cricket bat belonged to former Bendigo cricketer the late William (Billy) Midwinter (1851-1877), and is now housed at Eaglehawk Heritage Society. Midwinter was the first Australian cricketer to score a double century.


The community museums pilot program – that put a broker into a local area to support community museums – has been successful. A relatively small expenditure has added value to the enormous amount of creativity and effort generated by the sector, by linking organisations and helping them find new opportunities, funding sources, training and solutions to the issues they face.

The pilot has led to creative collaborative projects that have:

– attracted new volunteers and audiences,

– increased opportunities for learning and growth,

– increased the ability of community museums to manage and maintain their collections and;

– found new ways to present significant objects and collections.

The projects have provided avenues for community museums to communicate the stories that their collections tell about the past. Projects that increased visitor numbers had an economic impact on the region.

The model has worked because it provides flexibility when dealing with the enormous diversity of the sector. It allowed individual community museums to determine their own issues and provided support in finding solutions. It fostered connections that encouraged innovation and efficiency and supported collaboration rather than competition.

The broker, Karlie Hawking, won the Museums Australia (Victoria) 2009 Individual Achievement Award (paid staff) for her work with the Goldfields Community Museum Pilot Project. Karlie’s award recognised her exceptional ability to work proactively with both museum professionals and volunteers, setting high standards of practice for community collecting organisations.

The success to date of the model has resulted in an extension of the pilot for a further two years, supported through Arts Victoria and the DPCD Grampians Regional Team.

[In terms of] an overarching strategy for looking after the whole of Victoria, for development of the small community museum sector ... that would seem to me to be more about the people which is why having a person there to me is so important to broker relationships because that’s what will work to make the sector work.

Focus group participant

Caption 1: A Lake Goldsmith Steam Preservation Association volunteer.

Caption 2: University of Ballarat students research the University’s historical collection.

Caption 3: At the Huntly & District Historical Society collection local sporting history is on display with the Huntly Football Club Owens Trophy 1893, O’Neill Trophy and team photos 1894 – 1916.


Appendix A. State government support for community museums – the policy context

Arts Victoria

Arts Victoria provides support to the museums sector under its policy Creative Capacity +, arts for all Victorians (Arts Victoria 2003). This policy recognises the contribution of the cultural sector to economic, social and educational life in Victoria. It aims to ensure all Victorians have access to, and engage with, the wealth of Victoria’s cultural heritage and creative talent.

Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD)

a) Heritage Victoria

Heritage Victoria identifies, protects and interprets Victoria’s most significant cultural heritage resources. It administers the Heritage Act 1995, maintains the Victorian Heritage Register and supports the Heritage Council of Victoria. It provides support to community museums through the whole-of-government strategy Victoria’s Heritage: Strengthening our communities. This policy outlines a broad vision for heritage conservation in Victoria including: delivering programs and initiatives to strengthen communities; providing new opportunities to manage and interact with the State’s diverse heritage; and providing practical assistance to owners and managers of heritage places and objects, especially community groups (Heritage Victoria 2006).

b) Adult, Community and Further Education

Adult, Community and Further Education supports Adult Community Education (ACE) providers and recognises the importance of ensuring Victorians can choose to access the quality community based education that ACE providers deliver.

The A Stronger ACFE – Delivering Skills for Victoria policy builds on the Government’s ongoing commitment to growing skills and employment opportunities through the sector (ACFE 2009).

c) Office of the Community Sector

The Office of the Community Sector is working through an action plan to support community organisations by reducing regulatory burden, building the capacity of community organisations, supporting innovation and growth, enhancing the role of community organisations in community life, recognising organisations, and coordinating support efforts across government (DPCD 2008). The plan was developed after two years extensive consultation with the sector (DPCD 2008).

d) The Grampians and Loddon Mallee Regional Teams

DPCD has metropolitan and regional offices to support planning and community development across the State (DPCD 2009b). The regional teams work in partnership with councils and key stakeholders in a region to deliver State Government policies and programs and are the local ‘shopfront’ for a wide range of the Department’s services. They can assist local organisations in planning, finding information about grants and sourcing other State Government support for local projects.

e) Aboriginal Affairs Victoria

Aboriginal Affairs Victoria (AAV) works in partnership with Indigenous communities, government departments and agencies to promote knowledge and understanding about Victoria’s Indigenous people. AAV also administers legislation that protects Aboriginal cultural heritage. AAV is available to work with community museums to document and understand the Aboriginal cultural heritage objects they hold in their collections and to promote relationships and understanding between community museums and registered Aboriginal parties.

Caption 1: Volunteers get together to research the Captain Robert Page (1819-1905) collection at the Maldon Museum & Archives Association.

Caption 2: A Friends of J Ward volunteer displays a straight jacket and gloves used during the time when the criminally insane were incarcerated in J Ward, Ararat.


Arts Victoria (2003) Creative Capacity +: Arts for All Victorias. Department of Premier and Cabinet: Melbourne.

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) (2006) General Social Survey, Victoria, 2002 cat no. 4159.2.55.001. Available at Accessed August 2009.

ACFE (Adult, Community and Further Education) (2009) A Stronger ACFE: delivering skills for Victoria. DPCD: Melbourne.

Brophy C (2002) Marketing Victorian Museums 2002. A report on marketing and audience development in small to medium-sized museums in Victoria. Museums Australia: Melbourne.

Crooke E (2007) Museums and community: Ideas, issues and challenges, Routledge: London.

Cultural Heritage Tourism (2009) Studies on the Economic Impacts of Heritage Tourism research webpage. Available at: (go to Resources > Research). Accessed August 2009.

DPCD (Department of Planning and Community Development) (2007) Stronger Community Organisations Project: report of the Steering Committee. DPCD: Melbourne.

DPCD (Department of Planning and Community Development) (2008) The Victorian Government’s Action Plan: strengthening community organisations. DPCD: Melbourne.

DPCD (Department of Planning and Community Development) (2009a) Victoria’s Volunteering Strategy 2009. DPCD: Melbourne.

DPCD (Department of Planning and Community Development) (2009b) DPCDs contact us webpage. Accessed August 2009.

DVC (Department for Victorian Communities) (2006) Indicators of Community Strength: a framework and evidence. DVC: Melbourne

Freeman K (1993) The 1992 Victorian Museum Survey Report. Museums Association of Australia Incorporated, Victorian Branch: Melbourne.

Hallett M (2003 (unpublished)) Key Issues for Victoria’s Community Museums. Arts Victoria: Melbourne.

Heritage Victoria. (2006) Victoria’s Heritage: Strengthening our communities. State Government of Victoria: Melbourne.

Heritage Victoria (2007) Victoria’s Framework of Historical Themes. State Government of Victoria: Melbourne.

Hamilton P & Ashton P (2003) At home with the past: initial findings from the survey. Australian Cultural History. 23: 5-30.

Hoskins I & Webber K (2003) ‘”Hooked on history”: The response of museum volunteers and paid employees to “Australians and the Past”, Australian Cultural History. 23: 117-128.

Pope J & Lewis JM (2008) Improving Partnership Governance: using a network approach to evaluate partnerships in Victoria. Australian Journal of Public Administration. 67 (4): 443-456.

Sandell R (2002) ‘Museums and the combating of social inequality: Roles, responsibilities, resistance’. Chapter in Richard Sandell (ed) Museums, Society, Inequality. Routledge: London.

McKinnon M (2008) Validating Women’s Work in a New Nation (short film). Castlemaine Regional Art Gallery & Museum: Castlemaine.

McShane I (2009) What might, and did, happen. Article on Inside Story: current affairs and culture website. Accessed August 2009.

Published by Policy and Strategy

Department of Planning and Community Development
1 Spring Street Melbourne Victoria 3000
June 2009

Also published on and

ISBN 978-1-921607-26-4

Copyright & Disclaimer

The materials presented in this report are for information purposes only. The information is provided solely on the basis that readers will be responsible for making their own assessments of the matters discussed and are advised to verify all relevant representations, statements and information and obtain independent advice before acting on any information contained in or in connection with this report.

While every effort has been made to ensure that the information is accurate, the Department of Planning and Community Development will not accept any liability for any loss or damage which may be incurred by any person acting in reliance upon the information.

This report is copyright. No part may be reproduced by any process except in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Act 1968.

Authorised by the Department of Planning and Community Development.

Caption: A Ballarat Tramway Museum tram built by Duncan and Fraser and used in Ballarat between 1830-1971.

Image: Art Victoria Logo

Image 2: DPCD logo

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