Benalla Ensign

Month recognises history groups’ vital role in region

- By Simon Ruppert

Australia celebrates National History month each October and Benalla is privileged to have several organisati­ons who research and protect records of the town’s past.

From the Migrant Camp exhibition, to the Costume and Kelly Museum, Family research group and Historical society — there are a number of groups in the Rose City.

The Benalla Family Research Group (BFRG) is keen to let local people know what it does and it is always on the lookout for new members.

President Bill Willett said while the group applied for various grants, it was the membership fees that allowed it to operate.

“We’ve got a very experience­d research team and a librarian who can find anything, anywhere in the world,” Mr Willett said.

“It’s through their activity we generate an income.

“During the COVID-19 lockdowns we have seen an increased interest in family trees. We have all the local documents like the shire rates books to help research those. We have the only copy of those from 1869 to 1943 and they’re invaluable.

“If somebody comes and wants to know where their grandad lived we can look it up on the rate books, then we have maps so they can go and see the actual location.”

Mr Willett said while there were different ways to research this type of thing online, it was BFRG that had access to that type of document which meant it could get more informatio­n than was available from a typical online database.

The Benalla Historical Society is another local group with a rich variety of historic documents and photos.

It was created immediatel­y following the proclamati­on of the City Of Benalla in 1965, when a small group of locals had organised a display of memorabili­a as part of the celebratio­ns.

Secretary Alan Monger said there was so much public interest that the society was establishe­d in September of that year.

“In July 1967, the old Mechanics’ Institute building... came under the ownership of the city,” Mr Monger said. “(It was granted) to the society for holding meetings and also for the establishm­ent of a museum.

“Initially, the museum showed a small collection of local relics, with no particular theme or cohesion.

“However, in 1976 a significan­t collection of costumes was purchased to augment the museum’s display of local costumes and in due course it was resolved to make costume the major theme for future collection­s and displays.”

It was expanded in 1988 to include artefacts relating to Ned Kelly. Further expansion during the years since 1988 has seen the constructi­on of a third display gallery, a large storeroom and workroom, and a research room to house the society’s large collection of Benalla newspapers, photograph­s and other documents.

With the current proposal by Benalla Rural City to extend the museum building for the constructi­on of a cinema and café, it is now closed until all building work is completed.

Society members are in the process of packing up and storing the entire collection and look forward to moving into a the re-designed museum.

Keep an eye on The Ensign as to when it will re-open.

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