Council and Maritime Society at Loggerheads

City of Newcastle will retire trusteeship of the Newcastle Maritime Museum collection after the Newcastle Maritime Museum Society rescinded an agreement to donate the collection to Newcastle Museum.

Former Maritime Museum at Honeysuckle

The Newcastle Maritime Museum Society Board, which was elected in January, has written to City of Newcastle to say it will not honour an agreement by its previous Board to donate the collection to Newcastle Museum, unless several new conditions are met.

If the Maritime Museum Society fails to transfer ownership in seven days, in line with the resolution of its former Board in May 2018, the City will retire its trusteeship.

The ultimatum comes a month after the Maritime Museum Society wrote to City of Newcastle stating that the collection should be relocated to major a waterfront maritime exhibition of a world-class standard. A presentation by the Board president proposed this include a five star, maritime- themed hotel, to be built on the site of the Queen’s Wharf Hotel and over the harbour.

City of Newcastle CEO Jeremy Bath said 7,500 artefacts currently sit in a storage shed at a Carrington industrial site, where Maritime Museum Society volunteers tend them, under a lease the City funds. 

I and the former Chairman of the Maritime Museum shook hands on a deal that would see the collection saved from private sale and placed on permanent exhibition at the Newcastle Museum,” Mr. Bath said.

… the collection has sat in storage for 14 months while we wait for the new Board to transfer the collection.

The Maritime Museum Society does not recognise the agreement struck by its previous Board. This of course is their decision to make as they own the collection.

However, the suggestion that the transfer should be dependent on construction of a five-star hotel on the Foreshore is not something I can agree to in the foreseeable future. The collection deserves to be displayed in a museum that anyone can access, and that location is the award-winning Newcastle Museum.

The Board of the Society has written to me stating that ratepayers would also have to take on the debts of the former Board.

When an agreement was reached in May last year and announced to the community, I signed a lease to store the collection at Carrington. However, the landlord made it very clear that the collection could only be stored until September 2020….  For the sake of the collection, the Newcastle Maritime Museum should be focusing its efforts on identifying how the private collection will be stored from September next year.

We will retire trusteeship next Monday if the Newcastle Maritime Museum Society continues to refuse to recognise the agreement reached with the former Board in May last year.”

Pictured below ~ Some of the treasures locked from public view as negotiations drag on between council and museum society

Newcastle Museum Director Julie Baird said the agreement proposed by the Newcastle Maritime Museum Society would also breach Newcastle Museum’s accession policy.

The Board’s condition that it transfer all costs and responsibilities for the collection to ratepayers, yet … retain ownership and curatorial control for the foreseeable future, is both financially unsupportable and unacceptable to Newcastle Museum,” Ms Baird said.

It is standard for art galleries and museums to assume curatorial rights with any acquisition.

Other unreasonable conditions include settlement of outstanding debts, a commitment to provide storage and curatorial facilities indefinitely, as well as the Maritime Museum Society Board dictating how, where and when the collection would be exhibited.

The new Board of the Newcastle Maritime Museum Society has come up with an idea which could see ratepayers bearing the costs of storing the collection for up to 10 years but with nothing on show to the

So much goodwill and effort has been invested trying to save the private collection from leaving Newcastle. The NSW Government paid almost $100,000 last year to relocate the collection after the Maritime Museum waived its right to renew its lease at Honeysuckle. This was despite the Maritime Museum owing more than $80,000 in rent to the State.

The City of Newcastle has also provided rent-free storage of the collection for the past year, patiently waiting for it to be transferred and for our work to begin to display and conserve it.

… It’s time for Newcastle Museum and its staff to move on. We cannot be held to ransom, storing a private collection with no certainty after we have moved heaven and earth to save it from private sale or being moved out of Newcastle.”