Interview – Sugar Valley Library Museum

Sugar Valley Library Museum

Sugar Valley Library Museumkirantakamyari is the state’s most recently established co-located library and museum in Cameron Park, Lake Macquarie.

The library offers a contemporary service for visitors with a media space, workshop area and a dedicated children’s zone.

The museum, the first of its kind in Lake Macquarie, showcases the rich history of West Wallsend with the inaugural exhibition Westy: we built this history.

Recently, we had the opportunity to interview Priya Mathew Johnson, the Sugar Valley Library Museum Leader, at Lake Macquarie City Council.

How long did it take to develop the Sugar Valley Library Museum, when was the idea conceived, and what was the process of establishing it?

In 2018 within the grounds of the West Wallsend High School, Council staff met with the West Wallsend District Heritage Group and school community, who had a dilemma, the school needed to expand and the community museum was to either relocate or disband. At the same time, the new location for the city’s newest library was being finalised so the opportunity to construct a new building that was a state-of-the-art semi-permanent museum and library was proposed and was supported by Council. The building officially opened to the public in April 2023.

What is the focus Sugar Valley Library Museum and what can visitors expect to see and do?

Westy: We Built this History is the inaugural museum exhibition at Sugar Valley Library Museum, kirantakamyari and based on words said by Mrs Thompson, who was recorded 35 years ago as part of the 1988 West Wallsend Oral History project – “History is made by ordinary people like us, who want to do something and go out and do it.” It’s the spirit of this community. In the spirit of Westy, the exhibition and interactive content were created as a collaborative work undertaken by the Council Exhibition Development Team and West Wallsend District Heritage Group. With a shared and collaborative approach, this team have worked tirelessly to tell the story of this community. The team included Rebecca Dallwitz, Deborah Waddell, Joanne Smith, Judy Messiter, Sherrie-lee Evans, Jacqui Hemsley, Errin Edwards, Priya Mathew Johnson and Adam Jarrett.

The exhibition contains stories of people who worked, lived and played in the shadow of Mount Sugarloaf. Sugar Valley Library Museum includes a Virtual Reality experience of Killingworth Colliery tunnels in 1910 and 1979 complete with digitised objects. Other interactive elements include a 1980s mine phone, a 1950s hair dryer, both fitted with oral history audio files, and an interactive TV to access our image gallery and games that are designed to educate and entertain visitors. Visitors can extend their experience one step further by following the Heritage Walking Trail brochure and explore the built heritage of West Wallsend.

Sugar Valley Library Museum

What do you perceive are the challenges for you going forward?

Sugar Valley Library Museum is the first museum in the city and we hope to use this as a template to construct future museums in the city. As identified in our Heritage and Museum Strategy 2023-2026, we want to be regional leaders in raising awareness and building an audience for museums and local history.

You recently launched a number of Conservation talks and workshops that are taking place this year, can you tell us a little about this program and is it open to anyone in the museum and gallery sector to attend?

Saturday Series is aimed at supporting the volunteers within the city’s heritage network as well as within the wider Hunter Valley community. Started in 2017, the Heritage network provides our heritage custodians with an opportunity to be fully involved in the preservation of the city’s heritage. The Council assists in providing networking opportunities, training and professional development, semi-permanent exhibitions and initiates interpretive programs around the city.

Sugar Valley Library Museum


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