The afternoon on Anzac Day a couple of weekends ago was spent at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka.
I had gone to a previous version of the museum, when it was known as the Eureka Centre. That had been quite a good museum, built on the most possible site of the Eureka Stockade itself, and told the story of Eureka quite well.
However it was not that sustainable and the centre shut, got rebuilt and then reopened as the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka, or M.A.D.E.
It was a chance to see this museum which has attracted a fair bit of attention for overspending its council-allocated budget. Rather than rely on the belly-aching of The Courier’s comments pages, I wanted to gauge for myself what it was all about.
The museum is not in the centre of town, but in the suburb of Eureka, in Ballarat East. You can enter via Stawell Street (which runs off Victoria Street, the road to Melbourne), or via Eureka Street.
M.A.D.E. is set in a hollow, in a park adjacent to the Eureka Swimming Pool. There is also a playground, fashioned in the style of a wooden stockade, with a dozen wooden statues of troopers. The playground was in good use!
There was ample parking, mainly because the swimming pool had closed for the season. It turned out that the car park I had entered was on the opposite side of the entrance, which was a bit confusing.
Signage is an issue as the entrance door wasn’t really well marked, and it was really the presence of a sandwich board which alerted us to the entrance.
As we were Ballarat residents, we were allowed free entry- all we had to do was show evidence of our residential postcode. We were given a map and brief instructions and then entered the exhibition.
The museum has function rooms and a theatrette, but the actual exhibition space consists of a large room with alcoves. There is also a cafe on site, a small temporary exhibition space, and office space.
What I liked
The content of the museum and the concept is really good. It is a great expose of the history of democracy and they do very well to place Eureka within that context. It is seen as a part of workers agitating for greater representation
There is an exploration of people who are disenfranchised due to their race, gender or sexual identity, songs of protest, an expose of banned books and an interactive rotunda depicting the history of Eureka. A display of flags and their significance led to the Eureka Flag on display in a darkened space to preserve the fabric.
What could be better
I wish there was more! The exhibition space is quite small and there is a temporary exhibition space which is quite tiny. What this means is that concepts are not fully explored, or you are left wanting. A mention of the Goldsboro 4 left us with questions that weren’t answered in the museum and we had to go home and google it. I would have liked to see more about Women’s Suffrage, other Civil Rights movements such as in Northern Ireland or Solidarity, and the Fall of Communism, but there isn’t the space.
Sometimes the interaction is too quick to see- the banned books exhibit of a screen with spines is a bit tricky and as a librarian who goes to bookstores, it would have been a better option to display the books on the screen face out, rather than relying on the spine to read on the interactive screen.
The function areas take up some space and there looks like a large space for offices from the maps provided. Unless they are being frequently utilised, they look like a waste of space.
What I would like to do with it
Create better signage to the museum or at least a better entrance- the placement of it in a hollow makes it a bit tricky.
I think the cost puts visitors off initially and sets the museum up for failure. There should be a significant reduction in the cost of entry to encourage people to attend.
More events and programs should be scheduled there, as presently there are just two and none appear to be forthcoming.
While there are activities for children to do in M.A.D.E. such as create your own flag, providing something for children like a democracy passport to ensure they visit each section and engage with the exhibition. Much of the material is skewed towards a secondary student demographic, which didn’t help with energetic kids. Luckily the playground outside was put to good use :).