PRECIOUS GIFTS GONE FOREVER
MILITARY items lost in the fire that destroyed Winton’s Waltzing Matilda Centre on June 18 were irreplaceable and “probably not covered by insurance”.
Townsville- based North Queensland RSL District branch president Steve Sergeant said his heart went out to people who had donated treasured military medals and other memorabilia for a World War I exhibit on display when the fire broke out.
He said it was unlikely they would be covered by insurance, but added the RSL would help and advise people who had lost items in any way it could.
“Medals and ribbons can be replicated, but you can’t protect things like war diaries and letters from fire,’’ he said. “Families had donated items handed down from other family members who served in World War I. Some things were saved, but unfortunately others were lost.’’
Mr Sergeant said one of the biggest losses in the fire was the Winton RSL Honour Board.
“We’re hoping there are photographs of it that show all of the names. We will need that to reproduce another one,” he said.
Helen Collins, from the Winton Historical Society, said five museum development officers, including Sue Valis and Ewen McPhee from Townsville, were travelling to the town this month to help and advise on restoration techniques.
“We’ve got 100- year- old woollen Word War I uniforms which have been singed and covered in soot. We can’t just put them in a washing machine,” she said.
Among the items that miraculously survived the fire was a gidgee tree from which Aborigines had carved a boomerang with flint axes. Another was a Light Horseman and his fibreglass horse. The soldier’s woollen uniform was singed and his bandolier and rifle covered in soot, but Ms Collins is confident they can be restored.
Richmond Mayor Butch Lenton said insurance assessors had visited the site and he expected to hear their response in about a week’s time.
“We have already started the Waltzing Matilda Recovery Fund,’’ he said. “We are finding there are people from around Australia who want to help financially and with exhibits.
“We are still working out where we go with federal and state funding.”
Cr Lenton said that as soon as the council’s insurers gave the all- clear, the building would be demolished. He said the council would then consult architects about a new centre.
“This is an opportunity to build something which will be appreciated and admired by all Australians,’’ he said.
DEVASTATED: North Queensland RSL District branch president Steve Sergeant in front of the destroyed Winton RSL Honour Board.
BURNT OFFERINGS: These pictures show the ferocity and extent of damage caused by the fire that ripped through the Waltzing Matilda Centre.